Profile: From silver spoon to Silverstone: Max Mosley, big wheel in world motor sport

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The Independent Online
IT IS HARD to exaggerate what a position of political and economic power running one of the great international sporting federations is. Juan Antonio Samaranch who rules over the Olympics; Joao Havelange, who presides over world football - such men are like the rulers of medium-sized countries. Once such positions were the natural perquisites of Anglo-saxons, but those days are long gone.

None of these jobs, however, is more powerful than the presidency of the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), the International Automobile Federation, For the FIA does not just run motor sport; it runs just about everything that has a motor and wheels; it represents the world's manufacturers, it federates all the automobile clubs of the world, and it lobbies for road and automobile interests in general.

That the post as head of it should be once again in the hands of a Brit, and that that Brit should be the son of Sir Oswald Mosley, is a coup-and-a-half.

Max Rufus Mosley will be at Silverstone this weekend, and it is under his aegis, his control, that the whole show goes on. But for all the high visibility of Formula One, the apex of motor sport, on television and in the commercial development it supports (one study showed that the global impact of F1 amounted to some pounds 2bn annually), the circus comes to Silverstone in a state of crisis: waning public interest and waning sponsorship, at least for now.

In times of recession the sponsors have gone into hiding, and the richest of them, the tobacco companies, are increasingly threatened by adverse legislation; with increasing technological development, operating a team has become a financial nightmare; the obdurate refusal of the Americans to take F1 seriously, and the increasing threat of their own Indy Car formula, has stunted the globalisation of the sport; the Japanese intrusion, once hailed as salvation, has turned out capricious and, to say the least, inscrutable; and the domination of a few teams at the top (principally Williams and McLaren) has reduced the power and attraction of drivers to the point where the famous dictum that 'drivers are as interchangeable as light bulbs' has become alarmingly true and counter-productive for the average racing fan. Nor can anyone say that, for all their qualities of intelligence and calculation, their technical expertise and cool skills, Alain Prost or Ayrton Senna are exactly charismatic figures.

It is a crisis that Moseley has been addressing with a set of proposals which, next year, should considerably change the shape of the sport. He has set about levelling out the competition between teams by returning the sport to the drivers. By limiting super-expensive, leading-edge computer technology, the poorer teams will have a better chance of competing and, at least in theory, more of the drivers starting a race will be in with a chance of winning - thus making for more exciting racing.

What manner of man, then, is Max Mosley? Those who know him well will each tell you of the Max they know: the madcap racer, the bon vivant, the austere, the passionate, the lawyer, the promoter, the loyalist, the gentleman, the rake, the racing-team owner, the wheeler-dealer. What they will also tell you is that if you talk to someone else, what you will get is a very different story. That is no surprise, for though Mosley is no schizophrenic - on the contrary, he is one of the most controlled and single-minded of men - he is many different things to many different people. At 52, he has aged well, as becomes a man who has made it with the advantages of birth, and its not inconsiderable disadvantages.

He had scientific and technical qualifications from his university days (Christ Church, Oxford); he was an accomplished barrister with a specialised practice in motor sport; he had been a brave no-hoper as a driver, but had gone on to found a team, March, that met with some success; he had worked in every aspect of motor sport, from television rights to circuits; he was archetypically English, though every bit as European as any Continental; he had a talent for languages (German first and then French) as well as charm, vivacity and energy; he

had worked his way up as a conscientious and capable administrator of the FIA's Manufacturers' Association; and, above all, he had two essential qualifications: he adored cars and auto-

sport and he was and is a gentleman - cool, under control, and very good at detail.

To face a crisis as big as Formula 1's is a big job, especially for a man as essentially private as Mosley. But when a man is private while occupying a public position, there is usually a good reason for that privacy, a compromise. In Mosley's case, his behaviour is the obverse of his ambitions. The compromise derives from his family background as the son of Sir Oswald Mosley and his second wife, Diana Mitford.

That Max had political ambitions is beyond doubt; as is the fact that these were, as he has privately admitted, blighted by his father's past. A passion for cars was to be the channel in which all that ambition flowed. Max had the spirit of adventure (and some money, though not all that much); he had charm and brains; he had skills and appreciation. All he lacked was an objective worthy of his ability.

The Mosley family, with its Mitford and Guinness connections provided Max with a network of European connections, both personal and political, which it would be difficult to match. But had his father not been Sir Oswald, what might not a public Max Mosley have become?

It was his long association with Bernie Ecclestone, the boss of the Formula One Constructors' Association, Foca, that brought Mosley to the pinnacle of Formula One power. Ecclestone waged a long and successful campaign on behalf of the British-dominated constructors' association against the sport's ruling body, Fisa, and its turbulent president Jean Marie Balestre.

Mosley depended on Ecclestone's instincts, his knowledge of human beings and their essential venality; Bernie depended on Max's larger view, on his weighing up of advantage and disadvantage, on the politics of life. As the sport grew more complex and Foca more powerful, Ecclestone soon saw that the organsiation needed a legal adviser. A sports insider, Mosley was the obvious choice. From being just Ecclestone's lawyer he moved on to becoming his confidant, until over the space of a few years the two were rarely seen apart. Each had his briefcase: Bernie's contained the money and Max's the contracts. It is no accident that Ecclestone pointed Mosley in the direction of the FIA, a body on which Max sat as the constructors' representative.

Motor racing is full of fury and disagreement. To see Mosley deal with it is to see a master in action. Take, for example, the time the drivers went on strike in Spain in the late Seventies. The result was a long, seemingly endless, session in a motor home parked on the hot asphalt of the paddock. Only two parties to this scene retained their cool throughout: the by-then well-known Max and Bernie act. The rest of the players were in a state of constant confusion.

The governing body for the race was the Spanish federation, but the Spanish federation at the time was split into two waring parties. The overall governing body. In charge of the officials' body was Jean Marie Balestre, whose fits of rage at all the other parties in a confined space were something to see. The drivers came in and out, looking variously shamefaced, arrogant or fearful for their jobs. Throughout it all, Max dealt with all the parties equably, his voice rising only to the niceties of contracts and law, and obviously very much at home with all the necessary details: just why one Spaniard was more right than another, why one Frenchman ought to shut up, why certain drivers ought to grow up. This was a scene to be repeated many times in Mosley's inexorable rise in the world of motor racing, and throughout it all he always remained a point of real stability and common sense.

No one ever said that if you gave Mosley a job, however difficult, he didn't get on with it; and his reputation in motor racing and in the FIA rests firmly on his brokering of the famed Concorde agreement, which settled the great wars of the early Eighties between the constructors and the officials. His undoing of Balestre and then his diplomatic reconciliation of the man are very much Max's own achievement. He won his election to the presidency of Fisa hands down, but not without having done his homework. It is significant that whilst Balestre had fought him the past, he backed him for the ultimate job.

Balestre, whom Max once called 'quite mad' and whose unseating he handled with diplomatic skill, shares not a few traits with Mosley. He is choleric and subtle, passionate and devious, warm and violent. Both men have a past (in Max's case not his own, but his father's) with rightist associations. But unlike Balestre, with his black shirts, his strut, his French megalomania, his cult of personality, Mosley is a behind-the- scenes man. Balestre was above all visible; Mosley has made a career of being a grey eminence. Balestre alienated many; Mosley cultivated the important few.

The sport may be what Mosley loves, but as president of the FIA he has to, and does, take a wider view. He is concerned with automobiles in general and their future. A man who personally believes in the 'ultimate white-knuckle drive', Mosley is also the man who believes in the primacy of drivers, and therefore on a level playing field for those in the sport, a man who believes it is a driver's right to 'come in young and go without hurting himself'.

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