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JUNE 2, 2008

The FIA stands on the ledge

This week will be of huge importance to the international automobile federation as it decides what to do about its disgraced president Max Mosley.

The 68-year-old was caught in a sordid sex scandal six weeks ago, involving two prostitutes and three dominatrices. Mosley, who lives in the somewhat rarified world of Monte Carlo and does not socialise much, decided that he would not resign - as would be normal in the circumstances. By staying in his position he dragged the FIA (and indeed the Formula 1 world) into the scandal, leaving himself open to the charge that he has damaged the sport and brought it into disrepute.

His argument is that what he does in his private life is his own business and that it has no effect on his ability to do his job. That might have been true before the expose in the News of the World, but once the knowledge was in the public domain, the argument is tenuous at best. You cannot put the genie back in the bottle. Mosley may win legal actions against the newspaper for invasion of privacy and perhaps even libel, but the reality is that the revelations have affected his position, not simply because of the disgust that some people feel, but also because of the ridicule he faces and because in his role as FIA president he had a responsibility (unstated though it may be) to not involve himself in such things. This bring into question his judgement.

In recent weeks Mosley has all but disappeared from the motorsport world despite much noise in the media and many leaked documents. There have been some attempts to make changes so that he is seen to doing business as usual, but his personal appearances have amounted to a low-key visit to a rally in Jordan and an early morning walk-through in the F1 pitlane in Monaco.

It is very clear that many people do not wish to be seen with him. He has avoided any kind of press conference, which is not normal at all.

Mosley justifies his decision to stay on by saying that the FIA needs him to avoid a meltdown. His detractors say that it will be disaster for the FIA if he stays. Their argument is that a vote of confidence in Mosley will send out the message that his personal morality is something that the federation accepts. This will undermine the moral authority of the federation and damage its position as the legislator of the sport and as the advocate of the automobile world.

Mosley has rejected all calls for his resignation, despite the fact that clubs representing 86% of the FIA membership have asked him to leave. His argument is that the decision should be democratic and that 86% of FIA members amount to only 13% of the votes because a club like America's AAA, with 55m on its books, is no more important than an automobile club in Africa with a few hundred members.

One can argue democracy whichever way it suits you.

Trying to predict what the clubs will do in the General Assembly is not easy to do. Many of those involved, particularly in the far-flung corners of the FIA world, have little understanding of the issues involved and are worried simply about their positions within their own clubs; or about their big local events. Some never even read the dossiers. They do not wish to rock the FIA boat. The problem they face is that by not voting out Mosley they may create what one FIA insider described as being "Armageddon for the federation" with the big touring clubs, representing about 80% of the membership, simply walking away, leaving the FIA without the political clout to do its work at government level. Doors that were once open to the FIA will be closed, particularly if Mosley is the man doing the knocking. Another danger is that whoever organised the sting on Mosley may have more embarrassing revelations. Mosley has admitted to indulging his unusual passions for more than 40 years and it is entirely possible that some of this may have been recorded in one form or another. This might end up with more legal actions, but there may be people out there who would be happy to take that risk to get rid of him.

The Guardian newspaper in London has conducted a poll of 100 FIA clubs and associations and says that 37% of them want Mosley to go, 25% will vote for him and 9% are either undecided or not qualified to take part in the voting procedure. The problem is that 29% declined to make a comment and while these clubs may be planning to vote against him, it could also signify the opposite.

Other sources indicate that Mosley will score an easy victory, but there is a fear that this is propaganda, a game which Mosley and his team have been playing much more effectively than the opposition, which appears disorganised and unprepared.

Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone has come out against Mosley and that means that even if Mosley wins the vote he will not be welcomed by the stakeholders in F1 and all that will be left for him to do in his final 15 months in office is to try to put an ally into power. That could be former Ferrari boss Jean Todt. Opposition to that idea in F1 circles is muted but violent and inside the FIA there are fears that Todt is not the right man for the job. Other ideas that have been bandied around include such names as Ari Vatanen and Gerhard Berger, but neither of these has much credibility in touring club circles. The membership seems to prefer the idea of someone they know. A solid pair of hands. In all probability the leading role for the next year (whether Mosley stays or goes) will go to Monaco's Michel Boeri, the President of the FIA Senate. He has been around the FIA for more than 30 years and has much influence. The FIA Deputy Presidents may also get a bigger role, but we have heard suggestions that Marco Piccinini, the deputy president for sport, will probably stand down in the coming weeks, for reasons that are not entirely obvious.

In order to win the vote Mosley needs half the votes plus one. In the case of a confidence vote, abstentions must count as votes against for the simple reason that they are not for the motion. Mosley could find a large number of clubs abstaining, as they do not want him to stay but do not want to be seen to vote against him. Thus, if Mosley gets 60 votes in his favour and 40 against, he could still lose if there are 40 abstentions.

Predicting the result in these circumstances is difficult.

If the FIA President resigns - either before or after the vote - the FIA Senate will announce another Extraordinary General Assembly for the election of a new president. This must be held no less than 2 months and no more than 4 months from the date of the resignation. Thus the identity of a new president could not be known before August 3. This would mean that the latest date at which the FIA would get a new president would be October 3.