James Lawton: Formula One should take a reality pit stop before claiming pole position on morality

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The Independent Online

Unfortunately for Max Mosley it is not much help that he is being judged by a sport which so often wouldn't know a moral dilemma if it was wearing not only the uniforms of Nazis and their concentration camp victims but the full kit of horns and a tail.

Moral outrage is not, you suspect, what will sooner or later put an end to his career as the head of motor sport's ruling body, the FIA, but the ridicule – and, let's be honest, distaste – of even those who do not normally judge a man's public work on his idea of private fun, however squalid.

Supremely ironic, of course, is that Mosley, a man of some brilliant accomplishments, has spent most of his career distancing himself from his father Oswald, who, whatever you think of his devotion to Fascism, at least had the conviction to do his dressing up in public.

The family link with extreme right-wing politics, and admiration for at least some of Hitler's working principles, was always going to be the killer for Mosley when it was revealed that his idea of relaxing recreation was to recreate, in the company of five hookers in Nazi fancy dress, a grotesque sexual parody.

This brings us to the classic question of how we divide public and private responsibility. Is the music of some of the great composers any less sublime because its creators died raddled with syphilis after lives of debauchery? Some of the world's most distinguished servants have, we know, died between the brothel and the confessional, or vice versa. Is a judge who likes to dress in a gymslip any less capable, because of this, of delivering a Solomonesque verdict?

John F Kennedy inspired a significant section of a whole generation of young people to think of others as much as themselves and this remained so even after it was revealed that he sometimes developed a headache if he went too long without some extramarital adventure. The case of the former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, who resigned so quickly after it was found that he was a serial user of an escort agency, was perhaps more straightforward, in that his career had been built on apparently unimpeachable moral rectitude.

Mosley has never campaigned on implacable standards of justice for the sport he has supervised, of course, and this would give him a position of some strength if his dalliance had been conducted in a less offensive wardrobe. Still, here we are not in the area of moral absolutes but taste – and toleration of what, by some rough thumbsketch, is acceptable and what is not.

Certainly Mosley's counter-offensive – after first asserting that he had been set up and had not intended to become involved in a Nazi fantasy – on grounds that his privacy has been invaded seems doomed at birth. YouTube is no place to keep a skeleton. None of this, however, can give much endorsement to the forces within Formula One that are now being marshalled against the FIA president. Mercedes, one of the leading critics, are, let's not forget, in partnership with McLaren, who stood to gain so hugely by the extraordinary decision to allow their drivers, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton, to benefit from one of the most outrageous examples of industrial espionage.

Tony Blair might also have reason to reflect ruefully on the current Formula One agonising when he recalls that the first serious question mark against his regime came when it was revealed that the Labour Party had received a £1m donation from Bernie Ecclestone after the sport had received some helpful delay on the enforcement of anti-tobacco advertising regulations.

Michael Schumacher is also entitled to a cynical chuckle when he examines the knuckles which went virtually unscathed after he attempted to drive Jacques Villeneuve off the track and retain his world title. Schumacher received a piffling fine, a meaningless loss of old points and the order to improve his driving manners.

It was a classic example of the sport's willingness to put first the compelling need to protect the marketability of the product, which before the relentless work of Sir Jackie Stewart to improve track safety also included the allure of extreme danger, so much so that Ecclestone asserted that driver deaths represented a kind of natural "culling". One lasting memory of that time was the fans of Ferrari, paragons of virtue in last year's great espionage controversy, baying at Niki Lauda when he chose to stay in the pits on a rain-smeared day – not so long after escaping incineration at Nürburgring.

Against such a background, the moral lectures directed at Mosley, and stretching from Mercedes HQ to young Hamilton, somehow lack the force of authentic fire and brimstone.

Mosley may be a dead man walking but no one should imagine that Formula One had an easy task selecting the thrower of the first stone.

The red rose has been blooming awful to Ashton

The word is strong now that the appointment of Martin Johnson as all-powerful manager of England's rugby union team is a fait accompli.

If it is so, no one emerges from the affair with credit. The reigning coach Brian Ashton, if this is not a pitiable description of his status, for one reason or another during most of his office has been cruelly delivered to the mill of Twickenham politics – and cluelessness about how to assemble a winning organisation in the wake of Sir Clive Woodward. Rob Andrew, a heroic figure of the past, has behaved as elite rugby director with all the transparency of a harassed junior minister at a difficult question time.

There is one overwhelming impression. It is of a near total failure to grasp the importance of strong leadership, the kind that Wales, with such brilliant effect, have handed to Warren Gatland and his assistant, Shaun Edwards.

Perhaps the decision to go with Johnson is some kind of admission that only such a Herculean figure has any chance of imposing some authority.

Certainly Johnson, if he does take the job, is right to insist on absolute power. You cannot run any team by committee. Whether he has the experience to translate his aura as a player into the management role is now the key question. The instinct here is that Johnson is one of those characters whose achievements are rooted in an instinctive knowledge of how professional sport works and that the leadership he will provide will come from a most basic assessment of available strength.

Such figures are generally described as men of action. Ashton, who has many admirers for his knowledge of the game and his coaching touch, could not easily be seen in such a way, especially when he dithered over the need to play Danny Cipriani. This doesn't begin to excuse the treatment he has received from the Rugby Football Union – or quell the feeling that whatever Johnson achieves, it will be more than his employers deserve.

My lords, ladies and Mr Teazy Weazy: the National

Depending on your nature, you may have conflicting views about your first defining moment – was it the first significant kiss or the first bet?

Here, the suspicion is that it was the first bet – 45 years ago on Carrickbeg, the Grand National mount of John Lawrence, later known as Lord Oaksey. The venture was not rewarded with victory, but something rather better than each-way odds. It was an exhilaration that only partly died in the last strides, when Oaksey was overtaken by Pat Buckley on Ayala, a 66-1 shot trained by Lester Piggott's father, Keith, and owned by Pierre Raymond, better known as the celebrated hairdresser Mr Teazy Weazy.

On the eve of the race the BBC took Oaksey, who was also a brilliantly accomplished racing journalist, on a course-skimming helicopter ride. He described the difficulties of each fence and, unforgettably, he imagined the long run in from the corner, how it might be when the hooves of a pursuer grew stronger in your ears. It was prophecy that was soon enough made almost surreal.

Of course, so much glory has accumulated since, not least that of Red Rum and the McCain family, who are poised to strike again today, but the ultimate star, as always, is the great race.

It is a reach of the heart and the imagination. It is a day of courage and also democracy, as the great Lord Oaksey acknowledged all those years when he made way for Mr Teazy Weazy.

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