Max Mosley: Formula 1's saviour or sinner?

In May, motor racing lost one of its most notorious characters, but was Max Mosley the hero or the villain within his own lifetime? Throughout his career as a barrister, amateur driver, constructor and eventually head of the sport worldwide, he split opinion like no other. Damien Smith looks at his legacy

Max Mosley F1 pass

Surely things couldn’t get more political after Jean-Marie Balestre... could they? Buckle up, Max Mosley’s FIA presidency was far from straightforward

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No breed is more effective – or deadly – than the poacher turned gamekeeper. As the ‘M’ of March, that arch ‘disruptor’ of constructors, Max Mosley served the ideal apprenticeship during the 1970s for the ultimate switch from anti-establishment to the FIA presidency that became his calling. In Bernie Ecclestone, for all their differences and contrasting backgrounds, he found a kindred spirit as together they turned Formula 1 on its head through 30 exhilarating and tumultuous years. When Ecclestone described Mosley as “like a brother” following his friend’s death aged 81 on May 23 2021, it was no glib cliché said for effect. He meant it.

Individually and together in pot-stirring partnership, few men can claim to have influenced and shaped F1 to the same degree. Both found their limits as racing drivers all too easily. Neither were engineers nor designers who shaped F1 in any direct, inspirational sense as Colin Chapman did. And while Ecclestone tasted much greater success at the helm of Brabham than Mosley at March, they were never cut from the same cloth as team ‘lifers’ such as Frank Williams, Ken Tyrrell and Ron Dennis – men with whom both would clash through the years. Yet for all the wins, world titles and sporting history these team owners would orchestrate, the bigger picture was always centred on Mosley and Ecclestone, and their desires, demands and sheer lust for control over a fiefdom they dominated.

From the governance of increasingly stringent and convoluted technical regulations to dollar-churning TV rights, the expansion of increasingly exotic race schedules to eye-watering sponsorship and team budgets, this double-act diced up grand prix racing between them, sparking a carefully evolving revolution that turned F1 from a relative sporting backwater into a ‘major’ that punched at the same weight as the Olympics and football’s World Cup (except more impressively on a cycle that peaked every other week rather than every four years). Mosley deserves equal credit/ blame (take your pick) for almost every aspect of this incessant revolution – but more on the most significant: safety.