Features - Interview

OCTOBER 1, 1991

The new president: Max Mosley


Last Wednesday in Paris Jean-Marie Balestre was ousted after 13 years as the president of FISA. Max Mosley is the man who beat him - with 43 votes to Balestre's 29 - in the election.

Last Wednesday in Paris Jean-Marie Balestre was ousted after 13 years as the president of FISA. Max Mosley is the man who beat him - with 43 votes to Balestre's 29 - in the election.

Max had been president for about an hour before he was met by an excited French press. They had not expected the downfall of Balestre, who had become something of a monument in motor sport, carved from stone.

It was Balestre himself who announced the result of the vote in the grand conference room of the Automobile Club de France, decked out with flags of the FISA nations.

'The system,' explained Max, 'is that, if you are elected, you become presdident immediately. Monsieur Balestre left his seat and offered it to me. I was a bit shocked.

'He was extraordinary. He was completely calm and he behaved impeccably. The plenary conference recognised the work he had done and he was elected president of honour.'

But was Max surprised to have won?

'Theoretically we were there,' he explaind, 'but with a secret ballot you never know. I thought I had about 49 votes - let's say between 48 and 52 - and I was wrong. I had 43.

'The first thing I did when I was elected was to give Yvon Leon, the secretary-general of FISA, my resignation for next year's plenary. I said I would do it, 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.'

For the English press present the result was not really a surprise, but the French were keen to know how Mosley had conducted his campaign.

'It was a lot of work,' admitted Max, 'but it wasn't just me. I think that people decided that it was the moment to change. That is not a criticism of Jean-Marie Balestre. Everyone agreed that he had done good work, but often in large companies or governments, there is a moment when it is necessary to change.

'I couldn't start my campaign too soon because there was a possibility of changing the statutes of the FIA to say that you have to be put forward by a certain country, so I had to wait until that was too late. The first person I actually sat down, and started the whole thing in June, with was Lars Osterlind from Sweden. He was the first co-conspirator. Then very soon after that I started having discussions with one or two of the big countries and then we really started the campaign in August. I started making phone calls.

'Then I went on holiday with my family to a villa in Tuscany and I sat by the phone. When the mane came at the end of the fortnight he said: "My goodness, you've used the phone a lot. You've used 3000 units." And I said: "Yes, but it's been round the clock twice as well. So it's 23000 units!

'We started on the outside of the empire and came in. We started outside Europe and the thing that made me realise that it was doable was that we were nearly 30 countries before anyone said anything. Anyone who studies politics knows that if there is a move to change the leader, when you tell five people he knows. Now if you tell 30 people, and he doesn't know, that is significant.'

Were there any electoral deals? A vote in exchange for a major event. Anything like that?

'No-one asked me to hold a Grand Prix here or there,' said Max, 'but I was able to say that I will safeguard their interests - on condition that they are in the general interest of motor racing. The principle is to make a better balance between European interests and the intersets of the rest of the world. What I was able to do to convince people was to offer them the possibility to be involved much more than in the past. That is not a criticism. Mr Balestre has his own style, his style was to direct things. My style is completely diffrent. I work with the concensus and listen to people's ideas.'

The vote, which had been expected early in the morning, did not take place until lunchtime. Was there much debate over who should be allowed to vote?

'There was a lot of discussion about three or four countries which were not on the voting list and thought they should be. There were 75 member countries of which 72 voted. That is quite impressive. It was the biggest number there have ever been at the plenary and an awful lot of countries came in person. Very often they send proxies. The election was conducted very well by the FISA staff and Mr Balestre. You couldn't criticise one aspect of it.'

And what happens now? Will we be seeing a lot of quick change?

'I have to have a very good look at everything,' explained Mosley. 'I always think that if you get put into one of these jobs, you can have all these preconceived ideas, but when you sit down, and open the dossier, you find it is all different, because you have a whole lot of information you didn't have when you weren't there. It's dangerous to say you are going to do a whole lot of things because there are a whole lot of factors you were not aware of.

'My task, first and foremost, is to protect the interests of the licence holders from around the world. The second task is to make sure that the manufacturers maintain their interest in motor sport.'

And what about Balestre's warhorse, safety, Max was asked. Would he continue that campaign?

'When I started Formula 2 in 1968 on the starting grid in April there were 21 cars,' explained Max. 'In July three of them were already dead: Jim Clark, Jo Schlesser and Chris Lambert. I didn't know Jim Clark very well, but I knew the others and when things like that happen when you are young, you never forget them. There is nothing worse than to lose friends in a situation like that. I am very happy that we are now in a situation where such things are rare, not just in F1 but also in other formulae which have less publicity where there are also risks. When you are young you take risks, that's normal, but the governing body must look after the sport and ensure that people survive. There are many things to do.'

And what about the championships outside F1, what can be done to improve them?

'It is the public which decides,' said Max. 'You either see people in the grandstands or you do not. It is possible to improve sportscars and F3000, but you must not forget that it took F1 a long time to get to where it is.'

Although Balestre has been dethroned by FISA, he still remains president of the FIA, which has nominal control over the World Championships. Will that be a problem?

'Mr Balestre is still the boss. He's the FIA President. FISA is important, but legally it is still a commission of the FIA, but if you divide the word into blocks: Western Europe, Africa, Asia, the Americas and so on, you will find that in Europe that there is only one member which is a member of the FIA and not FISA. When you go outside Europe, you get about 30. These are all the places where, we have reason to believe, we have substantial support so I ma sure we will have a majority in the FIA. This is soemthing I thought of at the beginning because if you stand for FISA and win and then the FIA comes and handicaps you there is no point. A careful study - and it has been careful - shows that this won't happen.'

So hwta happens next?

'There will be a world council meeting in December but we are going to have another plenary in the Spring - probably in February. That will enable us to have very serious look at what is going on. I didn't want to start shooting from the hip because when you don't know you are going to be elected it's very hard to make serious plans and I shall need a careful, calm look at everything.

'The real changes will start happening at the world council in December.'

And will FISA stay in Paris?

'As far as I am concerned, it will,' said Mosley, 'but I don't decide things all by myself. I will rely heavily on the World Motor Sport Council.

And the new president? Will he live in Paris?

'No. I won't live in Paris,' said Mosley with a smile, 'but I will spend a lot of time here - that's not so disagreeable, is it?'