In Conversation with Max Mosley

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Max Mosley is the chairman of FISA’s powerful Manufacturer’s Commission, and has a seat on the World Motorsports Council. Born to an illustrious family 50 years ago, Max’s controversial father was once tipped as a future prime minister, while his mother took her place in literary circles. Mosley read physics at Oxford then practised law between 1964 and 1969, specialising in patents and trademarks.

Mosley also raced, first in the Clubman’s category then moving up to Formula 2. He “retired” in 1968 when Jochen Rindt lapped him at Hockenheim in an identical Brabham (“I thought I was on the limit, until Jochen went past me on the outside”), then became the ‘M’ in March Engineering which he founded with Robin Herd, Alan Rees and Graham Coaker. He sold his shareholding to Herd in 1977 and worked for Bernie Ecclestone’s FOCA organisation until 1982. Now, as chairman of the Manufacturer’s Commission he represents the interests of all manufacturers involved in Group C, saloon car racing and rallies . . . . but not in Formula 1 which is governed by the Concorde Agreement.

Max Mosley stresses that where he has expressed opinions in this interview they are personal, and don’t necessarily state FISA’s policy on certain matters.

Michael Cotton: Clearly Bernie Ecclestone is a powerful figure but he’s never been to a sports car race in his life.* Do you come to the races as his eyes and ears? (* A few days after the interview Ecclestone did attend a qualifying session at Monza).

Max Mosley: Absolutely not. I attend races only to represent the interests of the manufacturers. I am independent of Bernie, and less independent of the FISA. Bernie will come to a sports car race sooner or later but he has many responsibilities in Formula 1 and they take up all his time. He’s got his own staff and he’s well informed about Group C. The championship is run by FISA, the commercial management is in Bernie’s hands but that doesn’t require his presence at the events.

MLC: There was a fear, when you were frustrated in the silhouette formula, that you’d try to turn sports car racing into a Grand Prix alternative, Formula 1 cars with two seats and a roof. Have you abandoned that concept?

MM: The idea behind silhouette was that we needed a formula where manufacturers would be racing against each other; In Formula 1 it’s the drivers who race against each other and the public thinks of Grand Prix racing as a driver’s championship. FISA wanted a championship where manufacturers would be the key players. The logical solution was to allow them to race cars which resembled production models. However, not enough manufacturers would commit themselves to it, so it never got off the ground. The main problem was that silhouette represented technology so far in advance of anything they were familiar with, that they were quite concerned with taking it on. Sports cars are in between, with two drivers, so that the manufacturer will be more prominent. And next year we’re running races to a four hour format, so I think that answers your question.

MLC: M. Balestre stated that the World Sportscar Championship would quickly build up to the same level of popularity as Formula 1; perhaps even exceed it. I’m not sure I see it in those terms, that what we used to call endurance racing should be turned into a TV slot, and anyway, everyone says that the atmosphere in sports car racing is much nicer. We’d like to keep it that way. If sports car racing is more about manufacturers than drivers, do you really think it can rival the popularity of Grand Prix racing?

MM: A lot of people hold that view, but I’m not sure that what they say is right. In the late 1960s there were huge crowds at Le Mans, when you had Ferrari versus Ford versus Porsche. You see, I can remember what the competition was but I can’t remember who the drivers were. Even last year there were a lot of people at Le Mans who wanted to see Jaguars, Mercedes and the Japanese cars, but I doubt if there were very many who could name the drivers of the first three cars. I am certain that if sports car racing is properly promoted, properly built up, it will be just as interesting to the public as Formula 1 is. Don’t forget, when we started March in 1969 there were sometimes only 13 cars on the Formula 1 grids and sports car racing was altogether bigger and more successful. The reason why Formula 1 is so successful today is that it has been properly organised and promoted for the past 20 years, and sports car racing hasn’t. If sports car racing is properly handled and promoted from now on, with the know-how that we’ve gained from Grand Prix racing, it could be back on that sort of level in three or four year’s time. The prospect of a major technical confrontation between the Japanese, the Europeans and possibly the Americans as well, is quite fascinating and I’m looking forward to it very much. The technology that I’m hearing about now, in engines and transmissions is quite staggering. I think there’s going to be a great deal of marketing prestige and image to be gained in the contest between these major manufacturers. Surely this is more interesting than a confrontaion between two or three drivers who might, let’s face it, retire at any moment. Drivers come and go, but the manufacturers have a greater long term commitment.

MLC: We think that spectators are important to our series; I’m sure the manufacturers are concerned about the public, but you now exclude the public from the paddock and treat sports car racing as if it was Formula 1. The move to the top paddock at Spa, depriving the public of a view of the pit stops, is a manifestation of this. Are you sure we’re going the right way?

MM: You can only allow the public into the paddock if there are very few of them. If there are a lot of people it starts to get very difficult. In Formula 1 it’s not because we want to kick the public out, but it becomes impossible to work once the numbers exceed a certain level. At the moment the numbers are much smaller in sports car racing but we expect them to rise, and we’re trying to organise events on the same basis as Formula 1

In football you don’t allow spectators onto the touchline, or into the dressing room; it simply isn’t practicable. The enthusiasts may moan, but they can see similar cars at club meetings. They can get as near to a F3000 car as they like. World Championship events are not primarily for the enthusiasts; they’re for the general public and, of course, the media. I don’t mean that to sound offensive to the enthusiasts but it is the simple truth. There are too many people there to accommodate as they might wish to be accommodated.

MLC: On behalf of the manufacturers, did you resist the change of date for the Spanish round of the World Sports Prototype Championship, from July 1 to June 24? It makes life very difficult for everyone, except Mercedes, to have a championship race a week after Le Mans, and last year Kenny Acheson felt that he wasn’t ready to race for at least a fortnight.

MM: No. June 24 was the only date suitable for the Spanish authority, and Le Mans is not in the World Championship. You can’t take events outside the World Championship into account no matter how important they may be. For exactly the same reason nobody takes account of Indianapolis when fixing the date for the Monaco Grand Prix. They did 20 years ago, but now it’s not feasible.

MLC: Now, no-one would think of competing at Indianapolis and Monaco . . . . Le Mans isn’t in the same category at all. All the major teams but one will be at Le Mans, and FISA has made life particularly difficult for them.

MM: The whole Le Mans problem lies with the ACO. I can’t think of any valid reason why the race should not be part of the World Championship, why they should not run their race to our regulations. I suspect that all this will be sorted out in the next year or two. It’s the responsibility of the French Federation to mediate between the ACO and the FISA, and a solution will have to be found. Every manufacturer, certainly would like Le Mans to be part of the World Championship, but if everyone gets busy from the outside that will just confuse the issue and slow things down.

MLC: You represent the manufacturers who do want Le Mans to be part of the World Championship. Furthermore, if television rights are a major issue that’s in Bernie Ecclestone’s department. So, outside influences will be brought to bear. It’s not as simple as a negotiation between the ACO and the FISA.

MM: That’s true. I have to say to the FISA at every opportunity that the manufacturers want Le Mans to be in the World Championship, and FISA has to take that into account. As for television, I can see — as an outsider — that it isn’t possible to deal with television rights for the sports car series unless you can deal with all television rights. It’s better for the World Championship that Le Mans should be outside, then that they should be dealt with differently, separately. The day when Grand Prix racing got up onto the same level as the Olympic Games and the World Cup, was the day that all the races were covered by one contract . . . . including Monaco. Paradoxically, once the event such as Monaco or Le Mans is within the package the value of the event increases, in terms of trackside advertising and everything else they have to offer, all of which belongs to them. But it is not for me to interfere. It is for the FIA to say to Le Mans, if you want to be part of the World Championship you have to release your television rights. They’d be better off, there is no doubt about that. It is my personal opinion that Le Mans really has no future without the World Championship, but equally I think the World Championship is poorer without Le Mans. We may hope now that all the people concerned will reach a sensible agreement.

MLC: Let’s talk about next year’s World Sportscar Championship. FISA has now agreed to let the unlimited cars run for another year — I’ll call them unlimited because we’re also talking about 7-litre Jaguars. Is it the FISA’s intention that the 3 1/2-litre cars should win all the races?

MM: Yes. What we hope to achieve, with a limit on fuel consumption plus an air restrictor, is a situation where the 3 1/2-litre cars ought to win all the races . . . . unless something goes wrong with them We do not, however, want to handicap the unlimited cars to such an extent that there’s no point in them turning up. One way of getting the formula right for a single year would be to reserve the right to change the unlimited formula at short notice. Whatever happens we must avoid a repetition of what happened in Formula 1 in 1988, when the turbo cars were supposed to be handicapped out, but still they won all the races.

The competition has to be attractive to Jaguar and Nissan, and the Porsche customers next year, but it must be more attractive to run 3 1/2 litre cars, otherwise there is no incentive to get the new cars ready. Le Mans might be a slightly different case I suppose, where people might prefer to run with well-tested models. Because it’s a time event, not run to a distance, it has a different fuel calculation and it may be that in 1991 it will favour the existing unlimited cars.

But in 1991 Le Mans ought to be in the World Championship and have a field consisting entirely of 3 1/2 litre cars. By that time there would have been plenty of opportunity to test the 3 1/2 litre engines for 24 hours, and no particular problems should arise. It’s nonsense to say you can’t run these engines for 24 hours. Keith Duckworth and Paul Rosche agree that they’ll do very well, providing they’re run slower. Even the DFV won Le Mans a couple of times, and we’ve come a long way since then.

MLC: Let’s talk about the race formats for 1991.

MM: One 24 hour race, Le Mans. All the circuit races will be four hours — the idea is that the manufacturers can give two drivers fairly equal time in the cars — and a couple of urban races are proposed, lasting up to two hours. The street races don’t have to happen and honestly, I don’t know where they may be, but the United States is an obvious candidate. We’d like to go there, but it’s a simple fact that they don’t have one single properly equipped road circuit in the whole country.

All the American tracks are like Mallory Park or Snetterton, they’re not up to scratch for World Championship racing (MLC: Nor is Dijon!) I don’t think there’s anywhere in the States that even comes up to the level of Dijon, and improvements are being carried out there. If we have an urban race, it’s because there isn’t a permanent circuit in the right place, but that doesn’t mean the urban circuit has to be primitive. Where Grands Prix are held in streets the facilities are very good.

MLC: The IMSA organisation will adopt 3 1/2-litres as a benchmark in 1992, but won’t abandon turbos or stock-blocks. Do you think there’s a chance of reconciliation?

MM: Well, IMSA is a national formula, a very good series based on equivalence, on handicapping. It has worked well up to now. If we can demonstrate that you can have an excellent championship based on 3 1/2 litre engines, and the cost is not prohibitive, I dare say they’ll follow. If the World Championship gives rise to some really good 3 1/2 litre customer cars, Porsches or Lolas, then there would be a ready market in the United States.

Then, if the IMSA championship flourished along those lines then manufacturers might enter cars, so it would be like a mini World Championship but with a bigger proportion of private teams. That might diminish the World Championship in the States, but I think it more likely that the interest would grow, and actually increase demand for a World Championship race. There are three main areas where motor racing flourishes: Europe, Australasia and America which tends to go its own way. I think it’s in everyone’s interests to have a rapprochement, to bring everyone together a bit more. There are various ways that might happen, and the bringing together of IMSA and the World Championship is one way. I think it’s up to FISA to have a World Championship that’s so successful that the Americans will find it irresistible!

MLC: Surely the Americans are too insular for that?

MM: America is a big problem. They have their enthusiasts but the majority really don’t want foreign car racing, and by the same token there isn’t much pressure for Americans to race anywhere else in the world. Americans are still a rarity in Grand Prix racing. Then there’s CART. Two or three top teams want to race outside America, for commercial reasons or prestige, but the bulk of the teams don’t really want to race outside of America. It doesn’t mean much to them or their sponsors to go off and race in Australia, or Japan.

MLC: Assuming that Le Mans is returned to the World Championship, and that the manufacturers have to prepare special cars, is there any reason why there should not be 24 hour championship races in other countries — say Daytona, or Japan?

MM: Le Mans is a special case. It has been put to the vote and no-one really wants another. I don’t think there is an overwhelming case for having more than one. In Japan there was one promoter, with a very old-fashioned circuit, who wanted to run a 24 hour race but that was for political reasons and the manufacturers didn’t want it. The 24 hour race is an inconvenience, but the benefits of Le Mans are such that people are prepared to put up with the inconvenience. I don’t think they want more than one, though.

MLC: Let’s turn to touring cars. The German Championship is very strong, the Australians prefer touring cars almost to anything else and everyone seems to want a common set of rules. Do you think it possible that a European, or even a World Championship, could be drafted?

MM: Very much so. Again, all the manufacturers want a touring car formula. They are very concerned at the tendency to devise a different touring formula in each country. The difficulty comes when you try to draft regulations! There are three conflicting philosophies which I’d like to explain:

There’s a group that believes you should stick with the old Group A, more or less with Group A modifications. The philosophy is that whoever makes the best road cars will win all the races, and it’s quite right that they should. The counterargument is that there is no variety, and it might make for boring racing.

Then there is the second philosophy that says that road cars are different by their very nature. Even quite small suspension differences can give a substantial advantage on the track. So let’s handicap the cars and balance them up after each race or two. That’s the German method and it’s very successful; it does make for varied, close and exciting racing. The disadvantage is that the manufacturers come in with a lot of enthusiasm and make special evolutions which are very exciting, but they come to realise that the advantage of having an evolution lasts only a short while. Then it will be handicapped and put back into the ruck, so having engineering excellence becomes pointless. In the long term it’s unhealthy because it tends to discourage development. However, the experience of NASCAR racing, which has been extremely successful over a number of years, might lead you not to agree with that. There is the third opinion that in order to overcome the inherent differences between the various categories of road car, the freedom to modify should be extended. Obviously the greater freedom to modify, the greater the opportunity for a manufacturer with a less good car to come up to the level of a better car. The extreme case of that is the silhouette formula, which we proposed and the manufacturers rejected. Now, the difficulty about this is that each of these opinions has a powerful group of supporters, both among the manufacturers themselves and amongst the national sporting authorities. If FISA is going to come up with a formula that is recognised internationally then somehow these differences have to be reconciled, and I must say that so far I have been unable, on behalf of the manufacturers, to come up with a consensus and make recommendations to the FISA. In turn, FISA itself has been having discussions with all the ASNs but they, like the manufacturers, hold several different philosophies.

Out of all this something will emerge, but it’s not going to be easy. I sit here and produce very strong arguments for each of those three philosophies. But it isn’t my job to lay down the law. It is my job to see if I can find a consensus among manufacturers and present it to the FISA, and to see that as far as possible it prevails. The difficulty, at the moment, is that the manufacturers are in disarray.

I’ll give you an example of how difficult it is to frame regulations for touring cars. You’ll ask, at an early stage, if it’s allowed to reinforce the body shell. Yes. Can you reinforce it with materials other than steel? Yes. Then all of a sudden you have a car with a carbon fibre body with one thousandth of an inch of steel on it!

Then you see, the manufacturers want stability. They hate rule changes for all the trouble and expense it brings them. But you want an equality of racing, and the only way you can achieve this is to tune the regulations all the time . . . . and then they’re not stable. You can have stability or equivalency, but not both. If you do away with equivalencies you allow a good deal of freedom, and you come back to silhouette.

MLC: Can you see a way out of this impasse?

MM: There are one or two ideas under discussion now but it’s premature to talk about them. I suppose that at some stage the FISA will have to offer a consensus formula and play a slightly dictatorial role. I suspect that this will happen before the end of this year, but let me stress that it’s not up to me; the World Council will decide.

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