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Max Mosley’s legacy still felt in F1

Max Mosley’s actions several years ago continue to reverberate around Formula 1, as was well-illustrated last week with two of the biggest F1 news stories of recent years: Bernie Ecclestone will stand trial in a Munich court on a charge of bribery and Ron Dennis has staged a successful internal coup to wrest back control of the McLaren F1 team. Aside from their timing, what the back stories to those headlines also have in common is Max.

f1  Max Mosleys legacy still felt in F1

I sat in the Monaco press room back in 2000 as Max, almost as an aside, explained how he’d just leased out F1’s commercial rights to Bernie Ecclestone for a further 100 years once the then-current deal expired in 2010. He then moved onto how the FIA had helped research into the design of a safer helmet – then swiftly left.

I wasn’t actually in the press conference room, but rather in the press room alongside where the interview was being played on the TV screens, and had been only half-listening as I worked against a deadline on something else. I looked up and asked a colleague, ‘What did Max just say? It sounded like he said he’d extended the lease to Bernie by a hundred years.’

‘Yes, that’s what I thought he said,’ replied my colleague in the same tone of bemusement. We couldn’t have heard right, could we? Upon further investigation, yes we’d heard right. But not only did Max’s long-time close associate Bernie now have F1’s commercial rights until 2110, he’d acquired them for the sum of just $360 million (or less than one year’s F1 revenue and about one-and-a-half years’ of profit at the time). Or about as much as would cover NASCAR’s commercial rights for one year, not 100.

Twenty years earlier Max and Bernie had stood shoulder-to-shoulder in a war against the FIA for what were effectively the sport’s commercial rights. They’d failed to do it by force then. They’d succeeded by infiltration now, with Max as the FIA’s President and Bernie serving on its senate.

f1  Max Mosleys legacy still felt in F1

“Well, there were no other bidders,” said Max at the time. “I got a call from [then-Fiat boss] Mr. Cantarella, who was at that time in charge of GPWC [an alliance of car manufacturers then involved in F1]. He told me that they were interested. I said, sure, make a bid. If they were prepared to offer more, we would have been obliged to look at it. We had a meeting in June, where Cantarella told me that they were not able to make a decision before September.

“I then said to the World Council: ‘We have Bernie’s firm offer on the table, or we can wait until September and maybe the manufacturers will offer more, but we can’t be sure.’ We weren’t talking about a billion dollars a year for five years. If they had offered $400 million, Bernie would have either had to match it or we would have had to take it. The thing is, that they could not even agree to offer $400 million to buy all the rights from 2010 to infinity.”

There might have been other bidders – if the outside world had known that the rights were potentially for sale at this time. But putting that troubling, trifling point aside, it’s what Bernie then did with those rights that led to where he is now: in the dock.

Max Mosley’s career
1969-77: Co-founder and commercial director of March Engineering
1974-82: Co-founder of Formula One Constructors’ Association (FOCA)
1986-91: President of Fédération Internationale du Sport Automobile (FISA) Manufacturers’ Commission
1991-93: President of FISA
1993-09: President of FIA

With his commercial rights secured indefinitely, he sold them at vast profit to a succession of banks and media companies before the current owners CVC, a private equity company, paid $2.5 billion for a controlling interest in the business in 2005. Pretty much every one of F1’s current ailments – on track and off – go back to that buy-out. The German court will decide whether or not Bernie used bribery to secure the sale to CVC, but whatever its verdict the sport and its fans have been left to pay the price.

f1  Max Mosleys legacy still felt in F1

Max agreeing it was a good idea to grant those rights for such a valuably long time has caused the sport to be financially raped ever since. Without that, there’d have been no need for the technical sterilisation of the sport (engine freezes, spec tyres, etc), the phoney ways of trying to please the new, less hardcore audiences or the ever-increasing presence of pay drivers on the grid – and more than half of the teams would not be in a financially perilous state.

One of those speaking out when the rights were originally transferred from the team collective FOCA (with Bernie at the helm) to Bernie’s own company FOM was Ron Dennis. Back in 1997 he was perceived as the ringleader of a dissent that played its part in the thwarting of a planned stock market floatation of the sport. From that moment on, Ron was watching his back.

He saw McLaren’s regular thwarting by the governing body on various technologies very much through that prism, felt that his team would never be granted leeway. And just because he was paranoid didn’t mean that ‘they’ weren’t out to get him. So there came a time when a disaffected ex-Ferrari employee gave McLaren’s chief designer very detailed plans of Ferrari’s 2007 car – and then the infamous Woking photocopier shop owner who decided he should put in a call to Ferrari’s Jean Todt (honestly, you couldn’t make it up could you?).

Ron knew Max would choose to get involved in this – and did he ever! One hundred million dollar fine (almost a third of the sum Bernie had needed to acquire F1’s rights for a century!), loss of all points (costing McLaren what would otherwise have been the 2007 Constructors’ Championship) and a suspended ban pending two years of future good conduct. All for an unproven case.

f1  Max Mosleys legacy still felt in F1

McLaren’s understandable paranoia then played its part in it tripping itself up again within the probation period with ‘Liegate’ – when Lewis Hamilton and the team’s sporting director Dave Ryan gave a false account to the stewards about an innocuous on-track incident at Melbourne 2009. Ron was certain this would be a perfect opportunity for Max to steer things in a way that hurt McLaren.

In fact, with the possibility of being banned from the championship the team’s very future was in doubt. Ron stood down, de-coupled himself from the team to allow it a better chance of survival – and it duly received a fairly soft punishment. But a few months later, with Max gone from his position of power… that’s when Ron began to appear at Grands Prix once more.

He hankered for control of ‘his’ team again – and it has taken this long for him to persuade the board that it’s a good idea. In a feature for the April issue of the magazine, we’ll be providing further detail and insight into that story of intrigue, betrayal and revenge.

Things were never dull with Max around, but the sport is struggling with the consequences still.

More from Mark Hughes
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f1  Max Mosleys legacy still felt in F1

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41 comments on Max Mosley’s legacy still felt in F1

  1. Jock Hiddleston, 22 January 2014 12:35

    Yes, between Moseley & Ecclestone they have stuffed F1 up.
    Moseley has gone, hopefully Ecclestone will go shortly.
    But their “fiddlings” well be felt for years to come.

  2. Pat O'Brien, 22 January 2014 12:56

    The fix is in. I couldn’t at the time understand why there was no hue and cry re Mosely/Ecclestone stealing the crown jewels right in plain sight. This was the crime of the century. Media rights like these sell for big, big multiples of one year’s profits as they require little to no reinvestment and the revenues were growing rapidly. How were the FIA members bought off? I don’t know how the FIA’s bylaws work but the website lists Albania as the first memebr in its alphabetical list. I’d guess that the majority of the 130 countries who are members engage in corruption as a way of life. This was in no way an “arms length” transaction.

  3. Aldo, 22 January 2014 13:04

    Brilliant piece but I’m very depressed now

  4. IM, 22 January 2014 13:08

    Let me withdraw my doubts about your new writer – this is a very good piece, calling a spade a spade (something that the other mag seemingly doesn’t do but MS clearly does – I trust you’ll get your paddock passes for this year). There is only one way out of this mess and that is to set up a new series.

  5. C C, 22 January 2014 13:18

    What a great article and yet so depressing to read. Its the stuff about the 100 year deal that always gets me and the ramifications of that deal that we still feel.

    You say the deal “has caused the sport to be financially raped ever since”. Strong language, but absolutely on the mark.

    When i see pictures of the ‘old’ Hockenheim in its current state, dug up and covered in grass, i feel genuine sadness. Hopefully in a few years i’ll see the same image but on a Tilkedrome when this mess is finally sorted out – Break open the Champagne!

  6. Dean Stewart, 22 January 2014 13:40

    Excellent article, Mark. With the current furore over BE’s ongoing legal struggles and the uncertainty over the finances of the teams outside of the ‘big 4′, surely the time has come for everyone to finally force a decision on the ongoing viability of F1. Everyone realises the system is broken. For far too long they have relied on the loyalty of the sports fanbase and the tenacity of the ‘traditional’ circuit owners to prop up F1′s failure to exploit big markets ( US, Korea, India, China etc ) due to collective apathy. The way the sport controls media and imagery does it more harm than good. Ensuring a younger generation grows up with the sport is key to sustaining its long term future and the lack of access via digital media for those who want to find it will come back to bite. In addition, circuits need to be able to offer cheaper tickets for families etc to encourage attendance – look how successful the Worrld Series by Renault events were in the UK.. In some ways its a pity the breakaway never happened in 2009, but then the car manufactureres were probably not the answer as events subsequently showed. Ron Dennis may have his ( many ) critics but the running of F1 needs the input now of the experienced team owners more than ever and they need to finally make decsiions for the benefit of the sport rather than looking after their own interests. The first priority is to rid the sport of CVC…….

  7. Paul Fearnley, 22 January 2014 13:42

    Despite and throughout all of this, the major manufacturers have still been unable to provide a truly unified front and a viable alternative. Perhaps that is even more depressing.

    And I can’t help feeling that Ron Dennis is a glutton for punishment. It’s good to have him back, though. Formula 1 needs its genuine racers more than ever. The sport’s recent treatment of him has been disrespectful at best.

  8. Jamie, 22 January 2014 13:59

    Max and Bernie…a funny old part of history.

    Did some very good things, dragged F1 out of amateur level and into a global brand, improved safety MASSIVELY and helped grow F1.

    And then on the flip side put their own interests ahead of others, and crippled the sports finances to the point where F1 has an uncertain future, with no end in sight to the financial woes.

    I wonder what the future will hold!

  9. Andrew Bodman, 22 January 2014 18:03


    If you had read **t*sport for the last few years, you would have had absolutely no doubts about Mark Hughes. He managed to unearth technical details which other journalists probably were not even looking for. His articles were the ones that I most looked forward to reading in that magazine.

    **t*sport’s loss is very definitely Motor Sport’s gain.

  10. R.E.B, 22 January 2014 18:57

    Difficult to argue with the thesis advanced here. However, the F1 they built will not last the distance. Something else will take its place. That 100 year deal may not count for much in the long run.

  11. patrick, 22 January 2014 18:59

    IM – I’d second that – Mark Hughes kept me reading Autosport for rather longer than I think I would have done otherwise (though I eventually gave up on it a year or two ago). A worthy addition to the Motorsport team. I recommend his biography of Tommy Byrne, Crashed & Byrned, too.

  12. John Read, 22 January 2014 19:55

    Max must think we are all dopes by justifying the ‘sale’ to Bernie because Bernie was the only ‘bidder’. The issue was not the bidding process but that there was a ‘sale’ in the first place and that it was for 100 YEARS!!!

    Anyway, I am becoming more attracted to the breakaway series idea, better tracks, better cars, lower race promotion fees etc etc.

  13. Nigel (not that one), 22 January 2014 20:03

    Ah yes, I recall Max selling a billion dollar franchise for 100 years to his old mate for next to nothing, didn’t he move to Monaco, the popular tax haven shortly after?

    Don’t know why that springs to mind.

  14. The Original Ray T, 22 January 2014 20:12

    Yes, this is depressing. Fortunately, fans do actually have the power, because F1 can be incredibly responsive when TV ratings drop and money is at stake. I blame F1 fans for some of the problems in F1, they seem to pretty much watch anything.

  15. Mikey, 22 January 2014 20:17

    100yrs is a long time to flog a dead horse. A split was on the cards a few years ago but what is to stop the FIA from laying F1 to rest sooner rather than later and starting it’s own new “pinnacle of motor sport” category? They could lease the rights in manageable chunks and maybe tweak the rules so that it resembled Grand Prix racing. Probably not as easy as it sounds; the FIA has its own strange methods – see how they vote in the president. I’d forgotten Mr T… (easily done given his gossamer touch) perhaps not the man for such a task.

  16. Pat Kenny, 22 January 2014 22:15

    A lot comes back to that time alright. The only way out of this is for the teams to make credible moves to break away. Ferrari is key, always has been. I can’t see it all holding together absent BE. Everyone with an interest wanted this all passed on in Singapore. Not going to happen now.

    Well done to Mark Hughes – light is the best disinfectant

  17. Jesus, 22 January 2014 23:14

    F1 has become a farce nowadays with fake teams (Marussia, Catherham), fake circuits (all Tilke ones) with fake empty stands, with plenty of pay-per-drive pilots, and fake competitiveness, with just 2-3 teams fighting for the victory.

    Are we going to suffer this for another 100 years?

    Remember that life expectancy is growing, so maybe we motor racing enthusiasts can be punished with this sad show.

    It is better for teams to part and create a new championship. F1 is just a single empty name and no one would miss it as it is today. Let’s CVC keep their empty case and see what kind of benefits they can generate

  18. David, 23 January 2014 00:10

    About time! Why has this not been on the front pages of every motoring magazine that reports on F1 for years now?
    How about the rumors that Ferrari has had the ability to have developments it doesn’t like banned for some time now? Is it true and if so why aren’t we hearing a whole lot about it! I am not fan of Ron Dennis but it seems to me that the ‘friends’ of Bernie & Max have consistently had the rules bent in their direction and that somehow more money flows to them than to any team that dares to criticize the Bernie & Max show! As a Brit who lives in the US where bribery is illegal it amazes me that no one has taken action yet even though Bernie has publicly admitted to paying bribes. Does the UK law allow that now providing you call it something else? I guess ‘hush money’ must be legal there now.

  19. H. Donald Capps, 23 January 2014 01:04

    “1974-82: Co-founder of Formula One Constructors’ Association (FOCA)”

    The “Formula 1 Constructors’ Association” (F1CA), which changed its name to the Formula One Constructors’ Association (FOCA) in 1974, was formed in the Winter of 1963/64, so it is difficult to see how Max could have been a “co-founder” of the organization.

  20. Charette, 23 January 2014 04:43

    I think somebody has to look into the possibility that the TV rights were not the FIA’s to sell in the first place… That sale to BE would be null and void, along with the rest.That would cause a bit of a stir.

  21. Terry Jacob, 23 January 2014 07:31

    Love the idea of a new premier category with CVC and the other ‘rights holders ‘ holding the rights to bugger all ……

  22. John B, 23 January 2014 08:58

    Beautifully written sir. Everything I had hoped for and so much more when your move was announced. I look forward to reading you for years to come.
    Bring on the breakaway series – Bernie and CVC must go NOW.

  23. Jean Musy, 23 January 2014 12:45

    By what reasoning does FIA “own” F1 to the extent that they can sell it’s rights to anyone ?.It does not financially support circuits,teams,drivers,etc and is a self appointed political entity composed mainly of countries not even remotely connected with motor racing.The solution to this mess is for F1 to divorce itself completely from FIA,nullify the sale,and start fresh with parties directly involved in the sport.I cringe when I hear gibberish about how much B. & M. have done for the sport.(Like there is no one else on the planet who could have evolved things more sanely).

  24. PeteC, 23 January 2014 18:23

    Max should be applauded for having improved safety in F1 and nothing more.

    As for Bernie, he has been living on the edge for a long time but at least he will be able to afford the best lawyers….

  25. Pat Kenny, 23 January 2014 22:34

    I see that there was no change in the Dubai Double points Debacle today in Geneva. The sport has truly lost its way.

    I have often thought that F1 barely manages to get onto the sports highlights on news programmes – which is nonetheless important in terms of viewing eyes. It must be a hard sell with some sports editors – hostile ones, and I suspect there are many of them, will certainly have a good argument to kick it off this year. Will broadcasters push out the boat to buy the rights for such a transparently manipulated event in the future as viewership falls? Why, next year who knows what the geniuses will come up with – if double points for the last race don’t work why not go for BE’s wish for the last 4 races, viewer votes ….. Whatever Midas touch these people may have had in the past is rapidly deserting them – sports wax and wane in popularity based on the choices of broadcasters. We all remember in the British Isles there was a lot of snooker on TV 25 years ago. Hardly registers now at all.

  26. Pat Kenny, 23 January 2014 22:37

    Last post should have referenced Abu Dhabi not Dubai.

  27. David H, 24 January 2014 04:14

    Thank you Mr. Hughes and Motorsport. No one else has near the courage of yourselves to publish articles of this sort.

    Admittedly a small consolation for such blank blank but karma will have its way—hopefully soon while the rest of us are present to rejoice.

  28. Patrick Flynn, 24 January 2014 14:40

    Hughes is actually readable when he isn’t blathering on about tyres. Good piece.

  29. Morris Minor, 24 January 2014 16:13

    For those grinding their teeth at the rampant skulduggery mentioned above, it will be of some comfort to recall the words of Christ, coming to us via His angel, to John the Revelator, written for us in the Holy Bible, Rev. 22:6-8 KJV;

    “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.

    He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.

    But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”

    Nobody “gets away with” anything.

  30. Pavlo, 25 January 2014 00:48

    Remind me who was the first to say that politics in F1 where more interesting than the racing??
    Have not followed f1 since 2007, but I just read this

  31. Ben O'Driscoll, 25 January 2014 22:58

    Just wanted to say, great article, I love Hughes’ rage:

    “Max agreeing it was a good idea to grant those rights for such a valuably long time has caused the sport to be financially raped ever since. Without that, there’d have been no need for the technical sterilisation of the sport (engine freezes, spec tyres, etc), the phoney ways of trying to please the new, less hardcore audiences or the ever-increasing presence of pay drivers on the grid”

    Clearly, **t*Sport couldn’t abide this sheer honesty. Hughes was far too good a writer for them anyway – he was the only reason I kept up my subscription to the rag for so long. Good luck to them with Paddock Pass worshippers, Johny Noble and Edd The Last Straw running the show.

  32. Juan, 26 January 2014 23:54

    Congratulations Mr Hughes. This is what journalism is all about. And congratulations Motorsport, for publishing it. It was about time.

  33. Jp, 27 January 2014 14:52

    How refreshing for me to be so effortlessly able to understand the sordid machinations of this tawdry affair.

    Yet again, a concise and germane analysis.

    Thanks Mark

  34. Ray In Toronto, Canada (Ray T (The other one)), 27 January 2014 16:42

    The Roebuck-Hughes 1-2 Punch is going to be very hard to beat!

    As a fellow reader said: “Ferrari is key”.

    I understand Luca di Montezemolo was to get a slice of that flotation.

    I’m curious to know for how long he signed Ferrari up to the current deal.

    McLaren, Williams, Mercedes and Red Bull/Toro Rosso might also be ‘keys’ as a collective.

    Perhaps the governments might have a chance to ‘break’ this up under anti-collusion / anti-monopoly laws…IF they got something out of it.

    $360 Million was less than peanuts for 100 years – and the real issue is that Mosely didn’t act in the best interests of the FIA by making the initial tender or bidding process more widely known.

    At least in tthe world’s capital markets there are vast numbers of potential bidders in what are ‘public’ auctions and ‘public’ market tenders.

    Here, there was only one bidder – Bernie.

    It was obscene back then and and it was obscene a year ago when Bernie’s daughter bought that $110 million mansion in L.A.

  35. xyz, 5 February 2014 21:59

    Dear Mark,

    While you’ve swept up spygate as Mosley’s folley quietly under the carpet, as elegantly as you did, would you please take a few minutes to explain the following? Why McLaren (Ron)/ Whitmarsh didn’t let their 2008 car go through scrutiny if they were so innocent, and instead chose to send an apology letter to FIA, even agreeing to not further development in three areas (especially relevant for braking technology employed by Ferrari, but copied by McLaren)?

  36. Mark Hughes, 7 February 2014 14:54

    xyz. Certainly. Because, with the Max-controlled FIA sitting as judge and jury McLaren could not risk being banned from the championship – which could well have put it out of business. So it appeased. To the max.

  37. xyz, 7 February 2014 17:25

    Dear Mark,

    Thank you for taking your time to answer the question. I appreciate it a lot.

    What really shocks me about the whole incident is the fact Dennis kept suggesting a “witch-hunt” was taking place. However, after the fact that McLaren was properly in possession of Ferrari IP, and were using it to their own ends which was also established by Alonso (i know, it is a palava), was it really a witch-hunt? McLaren had a choice to cooperate with the FIA and weed out dodgy characters, instead they played victims and to a great effect for most of the year where media was also bashing the FIA (not that FIA doesn’t deserve it for a million proper reasons). McLaren which are the team with most wins/ titles right after Ferrari, were never under the threat of a ban till Dennis overplayed his hand. As strange as that sounds, at the time, FIA just would have been happy with dq’ing the team (which they did anyways for 2007), but Dennis kept on playing the victim. What course of action in your opinion the much maligned FIA at the time could have taken? Should they have left the team McLaren out there with an ill-gained advantage because media was crying itself hoarse? Or, should they have stood up for themselves and do what they are supposed to do? Mosley (er, he was FIA!) sought that apology, as he had been much maligned by the “independent/ neutral” press. I mean, would you and i do anything different if we were put in such a place by someone? This is why Dennis has only himself to blame. Adam Cooper who wrote for ESPN F1, did a piece on it, and he also feels the same way.

  38. xyz, 7 February 2014 17:30

    erm, Adam cooper did a piece on closure of Spygate. The character limit was reached by me and quite easily (to my surprise.)

    Thank you Mark!

  39. Mark Hughes, 7 February 2014 23:20

    xyz, that’s certainly a valid interpretation. But it isn’t mine. The FIA had no obligation even to get involved – just as it didn’t when ex-Ferrari employees took information toToyota. An entirely appropriate and proper civil case ensued within a proper legal framework. Neither was any FIA penalty applied when an ex-McLaren employee took detailed plans of McLaren’s car to Renault. McLaren’s fear was that the FIA could have chosen to find anything it wished on the 2008 car and could have interpreted it anyway it wished. Ron stepping down and McLaren then issuing an apology maximised the team’s chances of staying alive. Submitting the car to the FIA did not.

  40. xyz, 8 February 2014 05:11

    Thanks once again for replying. I really do appreciate it. :)

    A lot of information of Toyota case is not publicly available. There was/ is little worth considering from reputed sources (compared to both McLaren and Renault cases) to be honest.

    Civil charges were indeed filed against Stepney & if i remember correctly, against Coughlan too. The cases were handed differently by FIA as in one case, results were significantly impacted (wins & potential titles & McLaren scored more than Ferrari in 2007, if you factor in Hungary), or would you disagree? Then to top it off, Renault didn’t blame the FIA for the stupidity of their staff & what transpired in their premises, instead they cooperated with the FIA. Something which McLaren didn’t.

    Dennis could have had tendered an apology himself, but he got Whitmarsh to sign it. Let us not mistake what is but ego on display to be something else, that is love of his team. Dennis made McLaren into what it is, but he also caused very nearly the downfall of the team. I personally think the whole episode was avoidable, but Dennis couldn’t look beyond his pride. Ecclestone got the drivers to continue in what were deemed illegal cars & also got Mosley to agree to a fine. How bad could it have been for McLaren? Very, as pro McLaren media always suggested & repeatedly so. However, this is forgetting that McLaren were the team with second most wins, & they weren’t going anywhere, except if they had a poor run like Williams. By & large F1 is British & Ecclestone did make sure McLaren stayed in the game. “Bernie gets what Bernie wants!”

  41. Mark Hughes, 9 February 2014 12:40

    Hi again xyz. Yes, as I say, that’s all totally valid interpretation. I just don’t share that interpretation. Also, I wasn’t saying there was no civil case with ‘spygate’, I was simply saying the civil case is all that needed to have happened and the FIA had no obligation to get involved – just as it did not in the Toyota case. Would I disagree that wins and titles were affected? Yes, I would. The cars were not even similar. Do I believe that the race wins/title argument was the motivation for the difference in the FIA’s reaction to the 2 cases? No, I do not. Do I believe that the poisonous relationship between Max and Ron Dennis had much more to do with Max choosing to get involved? Yes, I do. All, I stress, just my personal opinion having talked to many of those involved on all 3 sides and having witnessed Ron and Max’s relationship over the years and knowing how much ideas and technology are always being transferred from team to team under ethically dubious circumstances (that’s just the way it is and has always been). The undisputed logic of your intrepretation (and Adam’s) notwithstanding, I still believe it as outlined. Regards, Mark

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