Features - Interview


Poacher turned gamekeeper: Max Mosley


Max Mosley, the president of the Federation Internationale du Sport Automobile and nominally the most powerful man in the sport, is an intriguing character. He was elected in October last year, defeating Frenchman Jean-Marie Balestre, who had held the office for 13 years. It was a dominant victory with polling 43 votes to Balestre's 29.

Max Mosley, the president of the Federation Internationale du Sport Automobile and nominally the most powerful man in the sport, is an intriguing character. He was elected in October last year, defeating Frenchman Jean-Marie Balestre, who had held the office for 13 years. It was a dominant victory with polling 43 votes to Balestre's 29.

Mosley has perfect qualifications for the job. There was not a lot that he had not done in motor sport: he had been a competitor, a manager, an administrator and even a constructor of racing cars.

He clearly understood the sport.

The first thing he did after the election was to tender his resignation.

"I said I would do it like that,' he explained at the time, "and I did. Now everyone knows that there will be another election in a year. If I don't get something done in a year, I'll be out."

We are now halfway into his presidency and Mosley has had a rough time. Already, the motor sporting world is looking forward to the next election - to see what will happen...

To date Mosley has struggled - notably with the world sportscar championship. A matter of weeks after he was elected, Mosley presided over a meeting of the FISA sportscar commission which decided to recommend that the championship should be cancelled. It was a cavalier decision - and the procedures involved where far from correct. Immediately Max's style of management came into question, not least because he chose to escape press questions after the meeting by leaving the conference through a window!

Those who know Max well, know that this was not a way of dodging questions for, as a lawyer by training, there are few people who can compete with Mosley when it comes to verbal exchanges. The reality of the situation was that to Mosley dodging the press was not a necessity, but rather poking fun at the journalists.

It was a joke.

Mosley is an accessible president. If a pressman needs to talk to him, he will answer and if he is not present, he will return a call at a later date. He knows the value of the media and, throughout his career, has learned how to use it to his advantage.

It is not altogether surprising for Mosley is a politician not just by experience, but also by birth.

Max is the son of Sir Oswald Mosley and Diana Mitford, his English antecedents were wholly aristocratic.

Sir Oswald was one of the brightest young British politicians of the 1920s and 1930s, he has suffered for his father's reputation. Oswald Mosley was the British Union of Fascists in 1932. At the time fascism was seen by many as the system which could save Europe from the economic hardships after the Wall Street Crash in 1929. In Italy Benito Mussolini had put the people to work, renewed national pride; in Germany Adolf Hitler was beginning to do the same. As things turned out, Hitler and Mussolini went off the rails and their excesses led to the outbreak of the Second World War. Mosley was interned by the British, his name forever linked with the evils associated with fascism - suddenly a dirty word.

After the war Mosley attempted to form a new pro-European political party in Britain. It failed and Mosley left England.

Max's mother's family history is equally fascinating for his mother Diana was one of the famous Mitford Girls: four sisters who took the European social scene by storm in the twenties.

Max inherited many of his father's political skills and much of his mother's family's charm and non-conformity.

At Sir Oswald's insistence, Max was educated in Europe - to be a European. He was educated at Stein an der Traun, Germany, becoming fluent in French and German. He won a place at Christ Church College, Oxford where he studied physics. He became the Secretary of Oxford Union Society - a job held by many political high-fliers.

But Max could never become an English politician - the family name being electorally disastrous.

In 1961 Max embarked on a legal career, reading for the bar at Grays Inn, a wild young man by all accounts, he was arrested in 1962 after a fracas with anti-Mosley demonstrators at Ridley Road, Dalston. He was cleared at Old Street magistrates court of threatening behavior, his defence being that he was trying to protect his father, by then an old man.

During this period he was a member of the Territorial Army and trained as a parachutist. This led to him being linked by English national newspapers to the neo-fascist OAS organisation at the time of the Algerian war.

In 1964 he began to practise as a solicitor and embarked on a motor racing career. He competed in over 40 races, scoring 12 wins and several class lap records in national level racing. He graduated to international F2 in 1968 with the London Racing Team which he formed with Chris Lambert.

Lambert was killed at Zandvoort in August 1968 and Mosley became team mate to Piers Courage in Frank Williams's F2 team, competing against the best drivers of the day including Clark, Hill, Stewart and Rindt.

In 1969, realising that he was not quick enough to race at the highest levels, he founded March Engineering ('M' was for Mosley, 'AR' for Alan Rees, 'C' for Graham Coaker and 'H' for Robin Herd).

In the years that followed the company grew to become the most famous racing car production manufacturer in the world. Max ran the March F1 operation and from that became involved in the politics of the sport as a representative of the F1 constructors at the CSI (the forerunner to the FISA).

In 1978 he left March, but retained his links in Formula 1 as legal advisor to the Formula One Constructors' Association (FOCA).

He played a leading role in the celebrated FISA-FOCA war of 1980-82, championing the FOCA cause against Jean-Marie Balestre, the FISA president and earning the nickname 'Max the Axe'. The war, however, resulted in the Concorde Agreement, which is still the basis on which Formula 1 operates today.

During this time he was closely associated with FOCA boss Bernie Ecclestone. Ecclestone would go on to become the Vice-President of Promotional Affairs of the FIA (FISA's parent body), while Mosley later became the president of the FISA Manufacturers Commission - acting as the liaison between the world's automobile manufacturers and the sporting body.

These links have led many to believe that Mosley and Ecclestone are in league. Mosley argues energetically against such suggestions.

"People always think of us two together," he explains, "and I like to think of Bernie as being as close friend. That's a completely different thing to being under his influence. The thing about Bernie and me is that in 1971 we were elected by the F1 teams and, in one way or another, we were always the two elected representatives of FOCA. We worked very closely together. That continued until 1983. Since then, although we see each other and have discussions - particularly since I've been chairman of the manufacturers - we haven't been working closely as it was before. We haven't agreed about everything by any means. I've never worked for Bernie and I'm not in any sense under his influence but we remain good friends and I can work with him."

Working with Ecclestone is essential in his role at FISA for it is Bernie who holds the purse-strings of all the FISA championships. The irony, of course, is that the men who fought the anti-establishment battle of the early eighties against FISA are now the establishment. The lunatics, if you like, have taken over the asylum.

Mosley denies that there is any masterplan in all this. His decision to run against Balestre in the election was based on the belief that FISA was just not working as it should.

"The reason for this," he explained at the time, "is that Jean-Marie Balestre has three other jobs that he does; he is the chairman of his ASN (the French Federation); he is the chairman of the FIA and is also involved in the setting up of a new French motor club.

"The FISA Secretary-General and people like that at FISA cannot talk to him, nor can the presidents of the commissions. At the same time he doesn't want people to get on and run things by themselves. The net result is that we get one mistake after another. As a direct result of that championships are badly run.

"An example is the Sportscar World Championship. At the beginning of 1991 the date for the closing of entries was changed. That immediately put two of the teams out of business. This was done without any consultation at all.

"There was then the opening up of Le Mans to anyone, even if they weren't part of the world championship. That was done by telex vote of the FISA World Council, without any consultation with the sportscar commission. That was such an obvious mistake that it was corrected a week later.

"By then I think Bernie had probably had enough. No-one could expect him to run that championship from the promotional side with this sort of thing going on.

"We then had a meeting in Monza in September where decisions were taken about the 1992 championship. There was no consultation with the sportscar commission, there was no-one from Japan, no-one from the United States. Balestre didn't even tell me the meeting was taking place. It was completely impossible for me to operate in those circumstances because I got rung up, for example, by General Motors and I had to say 'Well, I've no idea.'

"It was even worse in Japan. You have the second biggest manufacturer in the world, Toyota, which had a multi-million dollar programme about to start. They were not invited - despite being on the Sportscar Commission.

"Perhaps I am wrong, but it seemed that this was a completely absurd way of trying to run things.

"The general feeling was that the FISA wasn't functioning. And we have great problems coming up in the long-term to do with the environment, with political difficulties, with finances, which were not even being thought about. Discussion was not encouraged. Dissent was not encouraged and the collective wisdom of the people there was not being used.

"I think you have to encourage people to say what they really think and listen to what thy have to say.

"Tremendous reorganization of the commissions is needed. One or two new commissions are needed. It is essential to have a strategic planning commission immediately, to look at fundamental reform.

'Overall the only area that works properly is F1 and, at the moment, that is the area where most time tends to be spent. I think that's a great mistake. There are so many things in the FISA which don't work that I would be devoting most of my time to them. I think if you had a similar system to F1 in other areas the whole of motor sport would be much stronger. F1 gets on and runs itself. I think that Bernie has created an arena which operates very successfully. The checks and balances in F1 are probably about as good as anything could be in an area like that. Everyone watches everyone else and FISA is supposed to be the sporting referee. I see no need for the FISA president to become involved in the thing at all."

Mosley promised a quiet revolution.

How has he fared thus far?

In the early months of his presidency there seemed a touch of arrogance in his dealings and an over-confidence that things could be pushed through. This, he now realized was a mistake.

The quiet revolution is underway. There have been important changes in the structure of FISA. The secretary-general Yvon Leon was appointed to head the manufacturers' commission, taking Mosley's job and a new secretary-general Pierre de Coninck recruited from the world famous INSEAD business school in Paris. Many of the departments of FISA have been shaken-up.

But will there have been enough concrete changes to enable Mosley to be re-elected in October? That remains to be seen. His decision to resign immediately after his election was a good way to gain votes in the last election, but it may prove to be Mosley's downfall. Still, whatever happens in the future, Mosley will always be credited with ending Balestre's reign at FISA and instituting change. He has already taken steps to end the FISA war with American racing, drawing the United States towards FISA rather than fighting against it. It is a beginning.

Not everyone agrees with some of the decisions taken by Mosley, but almost everyone wants to see the sport unified and working for a common goal. This, in the end, may be his saving grace, for the time was right for change. How the change is accomplished will not always be easy, but gone is the overt conflict of the Balestre years.

Sometimes that has involved tough decisions and unusual procedures. For this, Mosley is well qualified, his family motto sums it up best of all.

"Moderation in all things," it says, "especially in moderation."