AUGUST 11, 2001
The FIA elections
IN a few weeks from now Max Mosley will be re-elected president of the FIA for a third term. There is no opposition to Mosley within the FIA, or at least none that has the courage to stand up publicly against him. Mosley has often been a controversial figure but there is no doubting the fact that he has achieved a great deal for the organization since 1991 when he was first elected President of the FISA (which was the sporting subsidiary of the FIA at the time). He engineered a merger between the FISA and the FIA two years later and in October 1993 became the FIA President for a four year period. He was re-elected in October 1997 and then began work to merge the FIA with the international touring association (AIT).
People involved in motor racing think of Mosley as someone who only interferes in the sport but this is to ignore his achievements in the wider picture. The FIA's work in road safety - often using F1 people - has reduced the death toll on European roads, notably through the NCAP crash-testing program. Mosley now says that he has too much to do and if he is re-elected he says he intends to reorganize the FIA. This is likely to involve the appointment of two deputy presidents who will take a more active role in the organization than that role previously implied. It is likely that one of these deputies will oversee the administration of the sport and the other will look after automotive issues, allowing Mosley to continue to develop new ideas in relation to the environment and the move towards intelligent cars.
The FIA's role in motor racing, which is often criticized, is to ensure that the sport is administered properly and run safely. After several years of negotiation with the European Union, the organization is now on the verge of breaking off the commercial aspects of the sport to sub-contractors such as F1's Bernie Ecclestone or David Richards of the World Rally Championship. The FIA has now established a research foundation from the money raised and will be able to continue to fund its work for many years to come as a result.
The biggest problem now is for the FIA to find ways of keeping the sport safe without destroying the spectacle. Technology is such that F1 cars could virtually drive themselves but the electronics and aerodynamic development have made it very difficult for the sport to remain as interesting as in the old days when cars developed less grip. Mosley's argument has been to constantly cut back on downforce and grip. This has been done by introducing grooved tires. Critics argue that there would be more overtaking if slick tires were allowed but that would mean that there would have to be huge changes in the safety at tracks all over the world - and that costs money.
The need to balance the sport with the business and competition with technology is not an easy one because motor racing cannot afford to reject progress and present itself as a NASCAR-like circus. Perhaps this is the most successful route in purely economic terms but to F1's credit, it has tried to remain a purer form of competition. To a large extent this has been successful and people continue to watch F1 in huge numbers. Mosley has always argued that it is the expectation and anticipation in modern F1 that is its attraction rather than the spectacle of meaningless overtaking. F1 races are flat out from start to finish whereas even the biggest fans of NASCAR and CART will admit that it is only the last few laps which really matter. At the recent Michigan CART race they could not give the lead away at the start of the race because everyone wanted to conserve fuel.
Mosley has his flaws - he likes to play at politics - but to a large extent he is responsible for the way the sport has developed in recent years. The old fashioned race fans may say that he has ruined things but there is a strong argument that says that he has merely fitted the sport around the reality that technology will ultimately wipe out all competition if allowed to run rampant.
Where Mosley has failed is in his quest to make the sport a more global one. There has been some small progress in the last 10 years but Formula 1 - the highest profile championship - remains fundamentally European in nature. There are still two races in Germany, two in Italy and, effectively, two in France (if one considers Monaco to be French in all but name and tax law). There are fewer races in South America than once there were and while F1 is now back in the United States there is still much to be done. The Middle East and Asia are promising great things but after 10 years one would have expected more.
Mosley is now 61 and the next four year term will likely be his last. He now needs to find the next generation of leaders to take his work forward. We expect Mosley to give some indication of who these people will be when he reorganizes the FIA.
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