From allegations of hi-tech espionage to the perils of hurtling around a Formula 1 racetrack at 256mph, the marble-clad halls of the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile in Paris have echoed to some impassioned debates over the years. But never before has motorsport's ruling body had to debate the intricacies of whether or not its illustrious president was involved in a Nazi-themed orgy.
Shortly after lunchtime today, Max Mosley, the beleaguered head of the FIA and son of the British fascist leader, Sir Oswald Mosley, will learn whether or not he has survived a vote of confidence called at his own instigation to decide whether lurid allegations about his sex life should cost him his job.
The 68-year-old barrister who, as president of Formula 1's governing body is one of the most powerful figures in world sport, has never denied his participation in an apparently sado-masochistic orgy involving five prostitutes, which was unveiled to readers of the News of the World in sumptuous detail across five pages a month ago.
But he has resolutely refused calls to stand down from senior figures in motorsport, who were last week joined by his friend and F1 magnate Bernie Ecclestone, and some leading F1 teams. Instead, Mr Mosley has staged a determined fightback and, last week, launched a formal claim for libel and invasion of privacy against the Sunday newspaper, which includes a firm denial that the sex session involving women in military-style uniforms and striped pyjamas had Nazi overtones.
The campaign will reach its pinnacle today when the FIA's 222 members hold an extraordinary general meeting called by Mr Mosley to decide whether his tenure, which is due to end in October next year, should end immediately. The proceedings inside the grand FIA headquarters on Place de la Concorde will include the presentation of a report by the eminent British lawyer Anthony Scrivener QC on whether the claims of Nazi overtones by the News of the World were justified.
The incumbent president has to win a straight majority of the votes. A significant number of members were expected to abstain, despite the publication of a letter from 22 national motoring clubs calling on Mr Mosley to step down and stating "there is no way back". Commentators said the vote was likely to be close.
Sir Jackie Stewart, the three-time F1 world champion and one of the FIA president's sternest critics, has suggested that Mr Mosley's iron determination to cling to power is akin to Robert Mugabe's resolve to remain as President of Zimbabwe despite worldwide condemnation.
In recent weeks, Mr Mosley has been stepping up his campaign, with a letter from the FIA to the member clubs being carefully leaked. In it, he claimed that it was essential for him to remain in power in order to complete delicate negotiations about the sport's future, among them the creation of a new Concorde Agreement by which to run it.
That prompted his longtime ally, Bernie Ecclestone, the sport's commercial rights holder, to write his own letter to the clubs: "I think the general assembly of the FIA was called for one reason only – to decide whether or not they think Max is the right person to be their president. The vote will be on that, not about the Concorde Agreement."
He added: "It's nothing to do with anything else and I don't quite know why he's come out and said these things. I sincerely hope it isn't a declaration of war because, if that's what the message should be, then we'll have to defend ourselves. I don't believe that's what Max wanted the letter to say. I don't want to have a war with Max. I hope he doesn't want one with me."
Much of that was seen as hyperbole, with the two collaborators once again working together to create a worrying scenario that would persuade the clubs to vote in Mr Mosley's favour. However, 24 of them – including the United States, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Israel, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden, Singapore, Spain and Switzerland – signed a letter at the end of May calling on Mr Mosley to resign before the vote.
"We strongly believe that the only respectable way forward for the FIA, and for yourself, is to have an orderly transition, with an immediate agreement and your commitment to step down," the letter said. "The FIA is in a critical situation. Its image, reputation and credibility are being severely eroded. Every additional day that this situation persists, the damage increases."
The clubs also proposed a deal whereby Mr Mosley could stay in power until November this year but agree to step down then to avoid the vote of confidence.
He immediately rejected talk of crisis, and responded robustly to the clubs. "I did not accept the proposal from some (but not, as you incorrectly suggest, all) members of the Mobility World Council because it was the worst possible solution," he wrote in another letter. "I would have resigned, yet still spent the summer carrying out all the day-to-day work with neither the time nor the authority to complete the major outstanding tasks. Better to stop immediately than accept this muddled compromise.
"Your suggestion of a 'crisis' is nonsense. Although I am personally embarrassed and greatly regret that this affair has become public, no one fails to call for roadside assistance because of it. As I said in my earlier letters, the communications I received from club presidents were overwhelmingly in favour of my remaining as president. I therefore had no choice but to submit the question to the FIA membership as a whole. I certainly could not have simply ignored the majority and resigned."
Further damage came when Mr Ecclestone was finally forced to come out against Mr Mosley last week when revealing the pressure he has been under from investors, sponsors and manufacturers in F1. "They point out that as a chief executive or chief operating officer of a major company they would have gone either immediately, or within 24 hours, in the same circumstances. They cannot understand why Max has not done the same," Mr Ecclestone said.
"He is a strong man. Once he makes a decision he sticks to it. He feels that there is still important work to do at the FIA. But in my view he should stand down out of responsibility for the institution he represents, including F1. Everyone who I speak to in a position of authority across F1 rings me to say he should leave. It is regretful that he has not made that decision.
"The general feeling is that people would no longer be comfortable speaking to him in the same way. I have spoken to Max about this and advised him to stand down in November and not to go to the vote .
"He is being punished for the wrong reasons. He deserves to be remembered for all the positive work he has done, not for an exposé in a tabloid newspaper.
"That is why he should announce his decision to resign now and not go through with a vote of confidence. That is not in his best interests, the FIA's or the sport's."
The 24 clubs represent 86 per cent of the FIA membership, but only 25 per cent of the votes, one of the factors that Mosley is most relying upon. He is adamant that he has the support from the smaller member nations that will give him the majority he needs.
It remains to be seen whether he is right, or has fallen into the trap that claimed his predecessor, the late Jean-Marie Balestre. The latter went into his election fight against Mr Mosley in October 1991 firmly believing exactly the same thing, only to find that Mr Mosley and Mr Ecclestone had turned the smaller clubs in their favour. It may yet be that the declaration of force by the bigger clubs will persuade their smaller fellows to shelter in their shadow on the day – and vote against the man who believes he can rely upon them.
Should Mosley be sacked?
YES, SAYS SIR JACKIE STEWART, Three times world champion
If Max was the head of any other major federation or sporting body, or of any corporation, he would already have had to stand down. Resigning is what any serious leader would do to ensure the dignity and credibility of their organisation was protected.
He cannot properly undertake his duties as president of the FIA – meeting heads of state and representing the sport globally – because some of them do not want to meet him. Look what happened in Bahrain, Spain and Monaco, where royalty spurned him. The FIA is a global organisation dealing with different religions, cultures and morals all around the world.
I believe he is doing untold damage to motor sport. He is destabilising the sport and threatening its commercial viability because multinational corporations will not want to be associated with a sport whose president has brought it into disrepute in the manner that he has.
Back in the early 2000s a junior driver in the Jaguar F1 team was arrested for kerb-crawling. He was fired immediately.
*Others who share Stewart's view are the former world champions Jody Scheckter, Niki Lauda and Damon Hill, and Sir Stirling Moss and Jacky Ickx.
NO, SAYS ALAIN PROST, Four times world champion
This is a private matter. I know that everybody says that, but it's true. You cannot judge private matters. The effect it is going to have on the sport of Formula One is another issue. But how bad is it really?Should we really be interfering in a private affair?
People either like Max or they don't. He has a lot of friends, but he also has a lot of enemies. However, that should not be used against him.
I think the decision needs to be left to the people involved in the thing, the constructors and the politicians, because there are a lot of very important decisions that have to be made about the sport in general. And the problem is that Max is a really key person.
Problems will arise if those people cannot talk to him or have a close relationship with him because of what has happened. Only they can judge and then they have to make the right decision.
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