Oswald's legacy: Fast cars and fascism

Max Mosley is one of the driving forces behind the global success of Formula One. He is also the son of the man who led the Blackshirts. So it was more than a little unfortunate for him to be accused of taking part in a Nazi-themed orgy. By Cahal Milmo
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The Independent Online

For the best part of four decades, Max Mosley has made a point of publicly declaring his desire to escape the long shadow cast by his father's fascism. He spurned a career in politics "because of my name" and immersed himself in motorsport after finding that his surname also evoked memories of Alf Mosley – a moderately famous coachbuilder – and not Oswald, the notorious leader of Britain's blackshirts.

Imagine, therefore, the reaction of the architect of this assiduous campaign to lay to rest the ghost of his father's extremism when he was called in the early hours of Sunday at his home in Monaco – from where he conducts his role as one of the most powerful figures in global sport - to be told his alleged participation in an orgy with prostitutes dressed in Nazi-style uniforms and striped pyjama suits evoking the victims of the Holocaust was to be unveiled across five pages of Britain's biggest-selling newspaper.

Within hours, lawyers acting for Mr Mosley, who as president of the Formula One governing body, the Fédération Interna-tionale de l'Automobile (FIA), is the key arbiter in a sport worth £25bn a year, had forced the News of the World to remove from its website a video purporting to show him spanking a sex worker in a Chelsea basement, dressed in one of the striped uniforms while counting loudly in German.

The untameable nature of the internet means that the video, which also showed the multi-millionaire allegedly being subjected to a search for lice by a jack-booted vice girl asking if he had been "keeping clean at the other facility", was yesterday still widely available in cyberspace.

Supporters and enemies of the man whose robust character and outspoken nature in the intensely political world of elite motor sport has earned him the predictable moniker "Mad Max" were united in their belief that his apparent sexual peccadilloes should be of no consequence to a career that has earned Mr Mosley plaudits and brickbats in almost equal measure for his efforts from improving driver safety to refereeing last year's spying scandal involving the McLaren team.

But when those interests were accompanied by an alleged fantasy centred on Nazi death camps – resurrecting in one fell and ignoble swoop a link between the Mosley name and Adolf Hitler, who attended Oswald Mosley's wedding – questions were inevitably asked about whether the 67-year-old FIA president should continue as the public face of the Formula One hierarchy. Jewish groups, including the Holocaust centre, have called for his resignation and Sir Stirling Moss, the former F1 world champion, has said he does not see how Mr Mosley can continue in his post.

Amid reports of dismay among F1 teams from Germany, where BMW and Mercedes are based, to Japan, one senior figure in a European team said yesterday: "On the one hand what Max supposedly does in the privacy of a London sex dungeon is his own business. On the other, it is unbelievably damaging for his name of all names to be identified with a fantasy about one of the biggest crimes in human history.

"When he is flying around the world acting the supreme ambassador for motorsport that raises issues about credibility and judgment which he has to answer to our satisfaction. But it's difficult to see how he can and a lot of people believe he should quietly take a turn into the pit lane."

It was doubtless with such remarks in mind that Mr Mosley's friend and fellow Formula One oligarch Bernie Ecclestone advised him to stay away from this weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix, suggesting that the Muslim principality's royal family "wouldn't like" his presence.

Mr Ecclestone, who controls the commercial rights of Formula One while Mr Mosley heads the organisation that decides its rules, said: "He shouldn't go, should he? The problem is he would take all the ink away from the race and put it on something which, honestly and truly, is nobody else's business anyway."

The diminutive billionaire said he was standing by his friend and would not be joining the calls for him to resign. "What Max should do is what he thinks is right because it is only him that's involved, not the FIA. He must do what he believes, in his heart of hearts, is the right thing.

"If Max was in bed with two hookers, they'd say, 'good for you or something like that'. But this, as it is, people find it repulsive. I think that's the problem."

So far there is little sign that Mr Mosley, who has been married since the age of 21 and has two sons, will be heeding those calling for his departure from the marble-clad headquarters of the FIA on the Place de la Concorde in Paris.

After spending yesterday in consultation with his lawyers about a possible legal claim against The News of the World for breach of privacy, an FIA spokesman made it clear he would not be resigning and intended to carry on at least until his current term as president expires in October next year.

Those who know the Oxford-educated former barrister say such a bloody-minded refusal to bow to intense pressure – and opprobrium – is a typical of man who grew used to public disapproval when he stepped in to protect his father during a clash in the East End in 1962. He was later clear of a public disorder charge after telling a magistrate: "It was my duty to go to my father's aid."

Speaking earlier this year about previous controversies that have dogged his tenure, Mr Mosley said: "I don't mind flak – I come from a family where we have had flak all our lives – but I realise some people do. I love reading the blogs when they are being furious about me, it's very entertaining."

Born in April 1940 when his father, the former Labour minister who became leader of the British Union of Fascists, had been interned by a government concerned at his calls for an accommodation to be sought with Hitler, Max Mosley was separated from his parents for the first two years of his life. His mother, Lady Diana Mitford, one of the notoriously non-conformist Mitford sisters, was also interned 11 weeks after Max's birth, although Winston Churchill, an acquaintance of Diana, saw to it that she was allowed regular access to her infant son.

After an itinerant private education in France, Germany (where he learnt the fluent German allegedly deployed during the £2,500 sado-masochistic sex session) and Britain, it was followed by a degree in physics at Christ Church College in Oxford and a pupilage at Gray's Inn to hone his skills as a lawyer specialising in trademark law. So far, so very typical of an entry into the post-war British Establishment.

As young man, Mr Mosley became involved with his father's new political party, the Union Movement and, in the early 1980s, considered standing as a candidate for Margaret Thatcher's Conservatives. But when his interview dwelt on his father's political views, Mr Mosley decided his natural urge to become a politician would be permanently handicapped by his family history. At the time, he said: "If I had a completely open choice in my life, I would have chosen party politics but, because of my name, that's impossible."

Instead it took a pair a free tickets to visit a race at the Silverstone circuit in the 1960s to persuade the young barrister that his future lay in the comparative anonymity of motor sport.

Explaining the attractions of the daredevil world of car racing in the late 1960s, he said: "There was always a certain amount of trouble [being the son of Oswald Mosley] until I came into motor racing. And in one of the first races I ever took part in there was a list of people when they put up the practice times and I heard somebody say 'Mosley, Max Mosley, he must be some relation of Alf Mosley, the coachbuilder'. And I thought to myself, 'I've found a world where they don't know about Oswald Mosley'. And it has always been a bit like that in motor racing: nobody gives a darn."

At least, that is, until this weekend's revelations. Despite rumblings of discontent from within some Formula One teams, the organisation of the FIA, which represents some 222 motoring bodies worldwide and also runs the other motor racing "formulas", means that it would take more than a vote of no confidence from Formula One bosses to force Mr Mosley's premature departure.

Since he first began a moderately successful career as a racing driver in 1966, the blond-haired entrepreneur has slowly worked his way up through the ranks of the motor sport "blazerati", first setting up his own racing car construction company, March Engineering, and then joining the administration of the sport. His skills as a negotiator and legal expert allowed him to climb to the pinnacle of the FIA, unseating its French president, Jean-Marie Balestre in 1993.

Mr Mosley's subsequent 15-year tenure has seen him steer the sport through several crises, starting with the deaths of Brazilian world champion Ayrton Senna and German driver Roland Ratzenberger in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix which led to calls for Formula One to improve its safety record or face outside intervention.

A set of measures spearheaded by the FIA president, including a reduction in the power of engines and improved protection of drivers, contributed to a renaissance in interest in Formula One with a slew of new circuits and purpose-built Grand Prix venues such as Shanghai bringing the sport to a growing audience in the Far East.

He has also pledged to improve the competitive nature of the sport, suggesting reforms such as placing a cap on the budgets of Formula One teams for improving their cars.

But in the frequently fractious world of motor racing's internal politics Mr Mosley, who was recently awards the Legion d'Honneur in France for his wider work to improve road car safety, has proved himself both a survivor and an adept operator.

It was his negotiations with Tony Blair in 1997 that led to Labour's decision to postpone the imposition a ban on tobacco advertising on Formula One, resulting in a public apology from the new prime minister when it emerged his party had accepted a £1m donation from Mr Ecclestone months' earlier.

Despite criticism that his style of management can be arrogant and authoritarian, Mr Mosley has emerged relatively unscathed from rows over the 2005 United States Grand Prix, where he was accused of taking a decision that resulted in 16 of the 22 participating cars being withdrawn, and last season's McLaren spying affair, where the British team was fined a record £50m amid claims of a personality clash between the FIA president and McLaren's owner, Ron Dennis.

It is that track record which yesterday caused those who would like to see Mr Mosley's retirement after allegedly telling a semi-naked prostitute "she needs more of ze punishment" to admit privately that he will remain a force to be reckoned in Formula One for some time yet.

As he put himself recently: "Provided I remain relatively sane I won't quit before 2009."