Max Mosley, the boss of Formula One motor racing, was fighting for his professional life last night after eight racing teams, including McLaren and Ferrari, said they intended to break away from the sport's mainstream and set up a rival series instead.
The 69-year-old head of the FIA governing body has been at the centre of an ongoing dispute over the capping of team budgets that yesterday plunged Formula One into the biggest crisis in its history. It is certain to overshadow this weekend's British Grand Prix at Silverstone.
Senior figures in motor racing have called for Mr Mosley's resignation, and a rift with Bernie Ecclestone, the other half of Formula One's most influential duo, may have widened irretrievably.
It marks the latest episode in a nightmare 15 months for the son of 1930s fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley. Just six weeks ago his 39-year-old son Alexander was found dead in his west London flat following a drug overdose. The restaurateur and economist was discovered by his cleaner wearing just his boxer shorts after taking a lethal combination of six different drugs. He had dined with his father just four days before.
In July last year Max Mosley won a High Court battle with the News of the World. He was awarded £60,000 for breach of privacy after the Sunday tabloid claimed an orgy in which he took part had Nazi overtones. Mr Mosley admitted to a sadomasochistic sex session with five prostitutes but vehemently denied the event had a Nazi theme.
But, as he confessed in court, the publicity surrounding the case was a source of severe shame to him. He described the episode as "totally devastating" for his wife of 48 years, and added he could think of "nothing more undignified or humiliating" for his sons to experience.
Critics say that his troubles have been of his own making. Mr Ecclestone, who initially stood by Mr Mosley during his very public legal battle, later declared that he "should go out of responsibility for the institution he represents".
Now a series of high-profile figures have called for his departure from the sport altogether. Eddie Jordan, the former team boss, said this week that "heads would have to roll" to save Formula One. Yesterday, Sir Jackie Stewart, the three-times world champion, was clear that Mr Mosley must quit.
"I think a lot of people are kind of fed up with the dictatorial attitude," he said. "It's been coming for some time. I think the teams feel that they have been bullied in some way for quite a long time, trying to force things through."
Mr Mosley remained defiant yesterday, saying his FIA would sue the F1 Teams Association (Fota), the coalition of teams planning a rival championship in 2010. He has insisted that a voluntary £40m budget cap for each team is the only way to avoid a "financial arms race" gripping the sport. Fota agrees that costs should be reduced but won't abide by Mr Mosley's conditions. That has prompted Ferrari, McLaren, Renault, Toyota, BMW Sauber, Red Bull Racing, Toro Rosso, and Brawn GP – for whom current championship leader Jenson Button drives – to take drastic action.
Mr Mosley has been in a similar quagmire before, having dragged Formula One back from the brink of collapse four years ago, when leading teams also threatened to walk away. With no obvious mechanism by which the teams can remove him, and a World Motor Sport Council meeting next week at which he may announce he intends to stand for another term, Mr Mosley is unlikely to go quietly, as some wish he would.