Motor Racing: The driving force of Formula One: Max Mosley has a convincing vision for the sport he loves and leads. Derick Allsop reports

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The Independent Online
MAX MOSLEY has had to negotiate hostile waters in his two and a half years at the helm of motorsport's governing body, FIA, but as the voyagers line up for another world championship, he is content he has led them into favourable conditions. 'Formula One is now set fair,' he said. 'How competitive it is, how good it is, is really out of our hands. It's up to the engineers and the drivers and the mechanics.'

That challenge might be interpreted in some quarters as passing the buck, but surely the objective of any sporting organisation and its leader is to give the sport to the participants and the spectators.

A sport which involves machinery inevitably provokes more argument and controversy than those which do not. Formula One has been embroiled in dispute over the stripping of sophisticated driver aids, and the debate may well continue.

However, Mosley, the FIA president, has more than enough cars to fill the grid and he, for one, is convinced the new, more affordable arena of grand prix motor racing will sustain the stature of the sport as well as the dreams of those who dare to take part.

He said: 'I'm quite excited about the new season because I think Formula One was in a very dangerous situation and it had become too expensive for the amount of money available to support it. I think we've put that right. For a small team to come into Formula One and survive the season is now much cheaper than it was two years ago.

'The top teams will always spend whatever they can get and they will get what the market's worth. The problem is always the little teams, getting them in and keeping them in so that we have a healthy grid. I welcome Simtek and Pacific, very much so. The fact that we've got 28 cars entered after going down to 24 last year shows we've done something right.

'One change in the regulations was fundamental, which was to move away from the trend of computers taking over from the driver, except for a limited area. Now we've done that I think basically we are on the right path.'

If conflict is a burden for Mosley, he does not believe it undermines Formula One. 'I think it's very tiresome for the participants but I don't think it actually damages the sport very much because the public are really mainly interested in whether Senna is going to be quicker than Schumacher or whether Hakkinen might be quicker than both or whether Damon Hill will get the job done.

'It's only the insiders who suffer from the conflict. I think that people who don't follow the sport find it very boring and indeed a lot of people who do follow the sport find it very boring.

'I think we are succeeding a bit in avoiding conflict in that there's much more dialogue with teams than there was a year ago. I talked to the teams regularly and I will always take calls from drivers. Nobody's out to work against any particular team. We try to be fair.'

Patrick Head, technical director of Williams, claimed in The Independent that Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone, the president of the Formula One Constructors' Association, were working against his team. Head suggested Mosley should go off and become a politician.

'Well, it's a political job,' Mosley replied, smiling politely. 'Any administrative job is by definition political, so I suppose in that sense I am a politician. I'm more politician than engineer and Patrick's more of an engineer than a politician, but I wouldn't say either of us was completely innocent in both roles.

'It doesn't upset me. I think he's fully entitled to say that. I will do the very best I can to make sure that Formula One functions by every possible means and occasionally that will conflict with what Patrick wants, which is for Williams to win every single race. But I am quite thick-skinned. It's no good worrying about criticism.'

As the son of Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the pre-war British fascist movement, he has developed resilience by necessity. Motorsport, he discovered, was a safe haven. 'The only place where my father has been an issue is in England. There was an effect, when, for example, I was at the Bar or trying to do anything of that kind. As soon as I went into motorsport, even in England, it was zero.

'The first time I noticed this was at a club race, about the third time I ever did one. They were reading out the names and somebody said 'Mosley? He must be some relation to Alf Mosley, the coach buider from Leicester'. As soon as I heard that I realised I'd found the right place.

'Of course, abroad it's a non-issue. That's one of the nice things about motorsport. My position is not a British position, it's an international position. And they couldn't care less about my father's politics.'

Mosley's position at the head of the FIA has given him a more onerous task than he anticipated. 'The problem is that you've got all the difficulties of any sport, the rules, the people and stuff like that, but in our case we've got to worry about rallying, karting, drag racing, truck racing and touring car racing as well as Formula One. And that's only half of the job as far as the FIA is concerned. The other half is dealing with the problems of the motoring organisations and the ordinary motorist. The complexity of the thing is enormous.'

Aytron Senna gave Mosley and his world council a tricky problem when he threw a punch at Eddie Irvine following the Japanese Grand Prix, in October. Senna received a suspended six-month ban. 'We were lenient with him,' Mosley now concedes.

'I think Senna did a good job of explaining and Irvine was also sensible, and in all practical purposes he was let off. We should possibly have been tougher with him but there were a lot of extenuating circumstances and I think there's no doubt that when he went to speak to Irvine, Irvine was extremely irritating. All of us have done something like that at some stage of our lives.

'If it happens again, then it will be serious, but it won't. Nobody knows better than Senna that he exposes his chin, as it were, himself. Senna is extremely intelligent. I have a lot of time for him. I really like him, I must say that. I don't expect more problems.'

Mosley, educated at Christchurch, Oxford, fluent in German and French, 'primitive' in Italian, once a barrister with a specialised practice in motor racing, charming and persuasive, he has a ready case for the defence of grand prix racing's place in a world fast running out of natural resources.

'Formula One is completely justified,' he said. 'First of all, it's a major entertainment and it consumes in fuel over a whole year, racing and testing, I think less than a jumbo from London to Singapore and back, about 500,000 litres. It also contributes in all sorts of ways to the motor industry.

'The demand for motorsport in general will grow as the car becomes more regulated, more self-drive. People will put up with being totally regulating in their car and living in a society where sporting driving on the road is not acceptable if you allow them sporting driving at the weekend. It's a safety valve and people enjoy doing it.'

Mosley is endeavouring to spread the gospel to the developing world, 'encouraging' the production of cheap karts and dispatching people to help run rallies in Malaysia and Indonesia.

'Who knows how many talents there are hidden away in China, or Africa, or elsewhere, that are never going to get near a racing car?'

The flagship, of course, is Formula One, and, apart from re-establishing a route to the United States, Mosley is intent on anchoring in new ports in the Pacific basin, in Indonesia and in China.

But does Formula One give the public value for money? 'I think it does. The trouble is they have to pay the full price, whereas a lot of things that are expensive are subsidised, like, for example, opera. You have to compare like with like. It compares with the real heavyweight boxing championship. If you look at it in terms of world television audiences, you've got the summer Olympics, the football World Cup and Formula One.'

Mosley never made the top as a driver, and the fantasy still lingers as he approaches his 54th birthday. 'I'm afraid there is still a boy racer in me. I know I can't do it myself but I still very much enjoy it. For example, getting in a proper rally car with a top driver and going through a special stage - wonderful. The day you stop wanting to do that you've got to hand over to somebody else because it's time for the next generation.

'I think all the top four or five grand prix drivers are fascinating to watch and, of course, the things these cars can do are just unbelievable. The more you understand it, the more extraordinary it becomes.'

So how about this season's championship. 'I think Schumacher is going to give Senna a very hard time. If the Peugeot engine produces times comparable to the Renault, Hakkinen will give them both a hard time. If the Ferrari starts to work that could be very interesting, and you can't discount Sauber.

'I am happy there are enough guys coming up to compete with Senna and Schumacher. A very good example is Hakkinen. The first time he got into the car he went as quick as Senna in practice. Senna and Schumacher are quite extraordinary, yet there are another three or four people, who, in the right circumstances, might challenge them. I think it is very healthy.'

And a final wish: 'What we want is a very successful sport that's completely fairly run and is as safe as possible. I'd like the sports side of FIA to be one of the best, if not the best sports federation worldwide, and I'd like the other side, all the motor clubs, to have a really effective voice in defence of the motorist and his mobility.'

(Photograph omitted)