Columns - Big Al

Mosley fends off F1 teams


Despite all the speculation in the run-up to Wednesday's meeting of F1 Constructors at the Hilton Hotel next to Heathrow airport's Terminal Four, Max Mosley has successfully fronted down disjointed attempts by various team owners to dislodge him from his post as FIA President.

Quite what the teams really thought they were up to is not quite clear. Mosley is not the sort of person to shy away from a fight and resign simply because the teams don't get their way. My money is now on him re-submitting himself for a third term when the next Presidential elections come round in October 2001. I mean, put simply, who on earth else is even vaguely qualified to carry out this job?

The way I understand it, the hard-line rebels met in the Hilton coffee shop for a pre-briefing an hour before the start of the official 11.00am meeting. It's all too easy to say that the teams bottled it. It is also a gross over-simplification. Once Bernie Ecclestone tipped off Max that there was dissent in the ranks - through the medium of some comments published through Autosport magazine this week - there was simply no chance of a change to the status quo.

Word has it that Mosley's most vehement critics were McLaren's Ron Dennis and Benetton's Flavio Briatore. But Mosley took the initiative, so my sources tell me, by confronting them and asking them whether they'd got a problem. From then on, it seems as though the whole meeting degenerated into a damage limitation exercise with the teams attempting to salvage as many of their own ideas for the FIA's serious consideration as possible.

Insiders report that there was a highly charged exchange during which Mosley vigorously rebutted any suggestions that the FIA had been showing any partiality towards Ferrari, as has been suggested by several other teams.

These include the feeling that Michael Schumacher has been allowed to get away far too often with contentious moves across the circuit to block rivals. In addition, there is still much resentment over the way in which an FIA court of appeal last year reinstated the Ferraris of Eddie Irvine and Schumacher to first and second places in the Malaysian grand prix after they were initially disqualified.

"There is quite a high level of unrest with all the teams over a range of issues," said Dennis, before the meeting. However by the end of a tense day, Eddie Jordan emerged to say; "it was a good day, very productive and a good open forum."

It became quite clear that Mosley is determined to continue in his role at least until the end of his presidency in October 2001. Last week the 60-year old indicated that it was "quite possible" that he would stand again for another five year term.

"The majority of the teams were very constructive throughout the meeting which was certainly useful," said Mosley last night. "The general feeling is that we should have such meetings more frequently and I think that is what we will try to do."

Yesterday's meeting had been originally convened to discuss ways of improving the grand prix package for both television and spectating fans. But it quickly moved onto more weighty matters in the wake of some comments from Bernie Ecclestone, the FIA vice president and formula one commercial rights holder.

"I know that some of the teams are complaining that Max is interfering in things that they say have nothing to do with him," Ecclestone told Autosport magazine.

"But the F1 teams don't have any votes in the election of the president of the FIA. It's up to the 120 odd countries (in the FIA) that will vote whether they want Max as president or not."

In particular, the teams are concerned about the uncertainty which surrounds the implementation of the formula one technical regulations. They believe that the rules should be less ambiguous and clearly understood from the outset, rather than the current position where the FIA uses its right of "rule clarification" to effectively effect a rule change

Mosley was first elected as president of the FIA in 1991 when he ousted the controversial Frenchman Jean-Marie Balestre who had presided over the governing body during its battle for commercial control of formula one against Ecclestone's formula one constructors' association in the early 1980s.

Throughout that period Mosley, who had been one of the co-founders of the March grand prix team in 1970, increasingly fulfilled the role of Ecclestone's closest confidante and legal advisor.

That fact in itself makes it very difficult to judge precisely where Ecclestone currently stands on this issue as he has yet to show his hand. "If you're telling me that Max and Bernie have suddenly fallen out big time, then I simply don't believe it," said one top designer yesterday.

Yesterday Mosley was absolutely unyielding when it came to rejecting demands for an extra official grand prix qualifying session on Fridays.

He also said that the FIA wanted to reduce grand prix meetings to two day events, but was prepared to retain Friday free practice only if the teams agreed to further limitations on testing.

He has also agreed to examine in detail suggestions from some teams to expand the use of electronic driver aids, in particular traction control.