As Ron Dennis can testify, Max Mosley is not a man with whom you would voluntarily wish to tangle. But when it comes to pouring on the charm, nobody does it better than the controversial FIA president.
Thus it was when he invited members of the media – mostly the dissidents who had failed to take the ruling body's line in the Stepneygate spy scandal that rocked Formula One last year – to dine in London.
Whether you agree with his politics or methods, Mosley can be engaging company. Initially, he discussed his implacable conviction of McLaren's guilt off the record before inviting his critics to express their views.
"The thing is," he admitted at one stage, "when somebody you have known for 40 years looks you in the eye and says, 'I am not lying,' it is very hard not to believe them. And when dear old Ron said that to me, I had to wonder whether he really knew what was going on in his team."
This is classic Mosley, appearing to give while simultaneously taking away. Dennis might be honest, but if so, he was also naïve. Each claims the media exaggerates the level of their personal discord. Perhaps. Perhaps not.
It does not bother Mosley, who gives every indication that he will seek re-election, "probably around October this year. That is when the decision will be made, a year before the election. It really depends on how you feel; what the clubs feel. I would not want to go on doing it for ever."
Dennis also shows little inclination to change jobs, but clearly Mosley believes that McLaren's business partner, Mercedes-Benz, may bring about a change of leadership within the British team. Alluding obliquely to the matter, he simply said: "It would be wrong for us to interfere."
The evening was full of banter. There was little sign of the steel with which the FIA pursued McLaren seeking evidence that they had used stolen Ferrari intellectual property in the design of their own car.
Did he think that the scandals damaged Formula One? "No," came the immediate reply. "I think it was enhanced by what happened. It proved that we do take fairness seriously. It was also thanks to the fact that a new driver can come in and do as well as Lewis Hamilton did, so that he became a major figure internationally and boosted the whole thing. It is better and stronger than it was 12 months ago."
But the show, he suggested, is not yet good enough. "We need closer racing, and plans to reduce downforce by a large percentage to make overtaking easier won't come into effect just yet, but when you look at the totality of F1, it continues to grip people."
His greatest accomplishment during a presidency that has frequently taxed his political skills as much as it has the patience of competing teams, has thus far been the manner in which he handled the aftermath of the deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna at Imola in 1994. But he has his eyes on a different kind of epitaph as he leads the sport into its new green, cost-conscious era.
Gone for 2008 is the frivolous "fuel-burn" period in final qualifying. Now it will be a 10-minute slugfest between the 10 fastest drivers. "I think it will be tight," he said. "It might have been better to have 12 minutes, but I think this is going to make it very exciting."
The immediate aim is to cap budgets, something he believes the FIA can now police after what it learnt hunting down McLaren. But the real prize will be the introduction of energy recovery technology such as KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems). Mosley firmly believes that, by forcing the pace of development in this area, Formula One will create significant benefits for everyday drivers.
"My last big project is to get the search for extra horsepower away from making the engines run faster and moving towards KERS, heat recovery, exhaust energy recovery. It is to get F1 to be part of the accelerated development of systems that will be used in the car industry."
Whether you choose to believe his view on McLaren, the message was delivered with the elegance you would expect. Job done, and with an almost self-deprecating smile as he thanks his guests for attending, the most powerful man in motor sport slipped away like a phantom into the Knightsbridge night.Reuse content