JUNE 26, 2009

A return to war?

Max Mosley has written to FOTA President Luca di Montezemolo saying that he is reconsidering his decision to stand down as FIA President in October. In a letter leaked to the media he said that he has decided on this course of action because of FOTA's "deliberate attempt to mislead the media" after the deal was struck on Wednesday, regarding the role of Michel Boeri, the president of the FIA Senate, who was initially rumoured to be taking over all F1 negotiations for the FIA.

That rumour was quickly dispelled and no-one is now seriously suggesting that anyone other than Mosley is at the helm for the next three months.

The effect of Mosley's letter is that the hearts of F1 fans all over the world will sink again. There was joy on Wednesday that the sport's problems were settled. Now these hopes appear to have been dashed again.

Mosley is obviously upset by the interpretation in some sections of the media that the settlement with FOTA was a major political defeat for him, arguing that he achieved what he wanted. This is true, but only up to a point. The fact remains that much of dispute was settled before the Wednesday meeting and that the real sticking point was the question of governance and, from FOTA's point of view, the presence of Mosley himself. What happened behind closed doors in Paris on Wednesday remains secret but after the meeting Mosley said he would not seek re-election. That seems to have been enough for the problems to have been solved. Now the problem is likely to be revived.

If there was a problem with what was said after the World Council, it would have been wiser if the FIA rather than Mosley himself had written to FOTA. By doing it himself Mosley will underline the perception that he thinks of himself as the FIA. He may not like that interpretation, but that is very much how it is seen in the F1 world, and by fans across the world.

What is needed in F1 is peace and sensible discussion about the future and with his attitude - based on this occasion on what appears to be a personal matter - Mosley is threatening the equilibrium of the sport again. It does not ultimately matter how Mosley is viewed by the wider world (in any case, he would probably not wish to hear what many people think after last year's sex scandal). What is important is how the FIA is viewed. Its job is to protect the sport and by calling the Paris deal into question Mosley is throwing F1 into turmoil once again.

The threat of a renewed breakaway, if it comes, will put the ball back into the FIA court once again. The last deal seemed to have been sorted out without much FIA involvement, beyond rubber-stamping the back room settlement agreed by Mosley, Montezemolo and Bernie Ecclestone. This sadly underlined the impression that the FIA is a weak body, unwilling to do anything that would upset its principal. It remains unlikely that the FIA will do anything to remove Mosley from office.

That would in any case require a General Assembly, a process which would take several months. By the time that happens it will be almost time for the regular annual meeting at which there will be the election for the FIA President. This means that unless he relents and agrees to be bound by the deal struck in Paris, the sport's agonies will be prolonged.

If the dispute does revives, there will be no doubt about the key issue. There will be no hiding behind budget caps. If the presence of Mosley as FIA President was only one issue beforehand, it will now become the central question.

Mosley says, quite rightly, that he is still president of the FIA with "the full authority of that office" and that it is up to the FIA to decide on who leads the federation. This is all true but the FOTA reaction to the letter will probably take us back to where we were before the FIA World Council meeting on Wednesday with the FOTA teams once again turning their back on the FIA and heading off to create their own World Championship. One cannot imagine that they will risk ignoring his threat to stand again.

If the FOTA teams say they are breaking away again then the FIA will once again be faced with the decision of whether it wishes to destroy Formula 1 to keep its president or whether it is wiser to accept that he has gone too far and gently remove him from office and get on with the more important business of running the sport. It is very clear that FOTA does not wish to replace the FIA as its sanctioning body. This has been said over and over again, but the problem is with Mosley's management style. Although the FIA is a long-established institution, and has some influence in areas beyond the sport, its fundamental relevance and value comes from its sporting involvement. The F1 World Championship is key to that. The other FIA World Championships are there but are of little importance in the overall scheme of things. Protecting the integrity of the FIA is thus the key point for the federation and it is a clear choice of whether Mosley stays or goes.

The other sad point that must be made is that the letter creates the impression that Mosley is clutching at straws to claw his way back.