Authors of many epitaphs on Max Mosley found the need to make heavy use of a thesaurus. One writer, searching for an alternative to ‘calculating’, had liberally sprinkled his piece with ‘unsavoury’, ‘antagonistic’, ‘Machiavellian’, ‘malicious’ and ‘vindictive’; adjectives which, in certain moments of Mosley’s 81 years, played their part. But by no means did they define the whole when it comes to assessing his contribution to motor sport and the wider world.
As motor sport correspondent for The Observer, we had our moments, but never crossed swords. For someone who understood and respected the right to express a point of view, it was not in Mosley’s character to engage in table-thumping argument. We always agreed to disagree over the occasional column that had annoyed him because of its perceived inaccuracy. The worst offender in his eyes was a full-page commentary one week after the debacle at the 2005 United States Grand Prix. Seconds before the start, 14 cars had pulled into the pits, leaving just six to race in front of a disbelieving and outraged crowd. I accused Mosley of ‘mismanaging the crisis’ and claimed he was out of touch with the sport’s fundamental obligation to the paying spectator and global TV audience while he, as president of the FIA, laid down the law by remote control from his apartment in Monaco.
‘Law’, in fact, was the critical word. As a former barrister, the Rule of Law was as essential to his way of life as the right to conduct it as he saw fit (something Rupert Murdoch and the News of the World would later learn to their cost). Mosley argued that Michelin had failed to provide a race-worthy tyre (the left-rear could not cope with the 190mph stress imposed by the Indianapolis banking) and Bridgestone should not be penalised as a result. While some of the solutions proposed by the Michelin runners were marginal, none seemed as daft as Mosley’s suggested compromises (the worst being that Michelin runners should back off on the banking). His refusal to concede, while technically valid, led to a farce that would have a deleterious effect on F1’s reputation in North America. Mosley did agree that some of the alternatives to go racing might have been viable and said he could see my point – but this was irrelevant when it came to his responsibilities as president. Even when we later met on other business following his retirement from the FIA, Mosley would, if the opportunity arose, remind me of the importance of law; an indication the Indianapolis question continued to niggle, even if he did not mention it as such. (‘Max Factor Gives Fans the Finger’ – the headline over the offending feature – probably hadn’t helped.)