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OCTOBER 12, 2004

FIA celebrates 100 years

The Federation Internationale de l'Automobile this evening celebrates its 100th anniversary with a gala dinner in the Louvre museum in Paris with the federation having invited as many World Champions as it can gather in addition to all the major personalities in the sport.

The FIA traces its history back to a meeting in June 1904 when when representatives of the six countries (France, Germany, Italy, Great Britain, Austria and Belgium) taking part in the Gordon Bennett Cup race at Bad Homberg, near Frankfurt in Germany met and agreed that it would be a good idea to have an international federation of motor clubs to run international motor sport. The Association Internationale des Automobile Clubs Reconnus was quickly joined by seven other clubs (Denmark, Holland, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, the United States and Russia) and in 1908 the organization issued the first international sporting calendar and regulations for Grand Prix cars and world speed records.

This was followed by a series of campaigns for carnets, the standardisation of driving licences and road signage and in 1922 the first International Sporting Code. Dormant during World War Two, the organisation was revived in 1946 as the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile and the FIA Formula 1 World Championship in 1950.

By 1978 the sport had outgrown the federation and the sporting commission was transformed into the Federation Internationale du Sport Automobile (FISA), a semi-autonomous body in charge of all sporting matters. This was the brainchild of Frenchman Jean-Marie Balestre who then began to fight a robust campaign with the Formula 1 teams between 1980-82, known as the FISA-FOCA War, for the commercial control of the sport. By ceding some of the FISA's power Balestre gained a percentage of the television rights from F1. This revenue meant the in time the FISA began funding FIA activities and in October 1986 Balestre became FIA President. Two years later Balestre's chief opponent in the FISA-FOCA war, Bernie Ecclestone, was appointed FIA Vice-President (Promotional Affairs). This suited both parties because Ecclestone wanted to continue to make money out of F1, to which the FIA held all the rights, and Balestre wanted someone to do the job properly and make the FIA more money.

In October 1991 however Balestre was beaten to the FISA presidency by another of his former opponents Max Mosley although Balestre remained FIA President until 1993 when he supported a restructuring of the FIA with Mosley in charge of everything. He developed the FIA in a number of new directions, making the federation a much stronger voice in the automobile and political world and secured the power base of the FIA with official recognition of its powers from the European Union. He also negotiated a deal with Ecclestone for the lease of F1's commercial rights for 100 years in exchange for $350m which was used to establish the FIA Foundation. This year he completed a merger between the FIA and the Alliance Internationale de Tourisme, bringing together 150 different organizations into one body representing the world's motorists.

Mosley now says that the job has become too big for man and plans to reorganise the FIA-AIT before the next presidential election in October 2005.