Lunch with Simon Taylor
The president of the FIA involves himself in all types of motorsport, and historic racing is not immune from his influence. He believes genuine racing cars are too precious to be raced...
Words: Simon Taylor. Photography: James Mitchell
FIA president Max Mosley works out of a small office in Monte Carlo, his balcony overlooking the blue Mediterranean. The phone rings incessantly: direct-line calls from F1 team bosses, road car manufacturers, politicians, circuit owners. Motor-racing magazines hide among the paperwork neatly stacked on his desk: he is still an enthusiast. A private jet stands by for his visits to the main FIA offices in Paris, Geneva and London.
Two minutes' walk down the street is Casino Square, looking very different from its role on Grand Prix weekend, thronged now with rich shoppers, black limos, glinting jewellery and the unmistakeable smell of new money. We lunch at the Café de Paris, sitting outside in the warm air. Max is abstemious: a tiny lobster mousse, green salad, still water, an espresso.
He is urbane, approachable and good-humoured, but his razor-sharp lawyer's brain is always just beneath the surface. After racing Brabham and Lotus in Formula Two in the 1960s, he set up March with Robin Herd: so he has been both F1 team owner and race car manufacturer. Today F1 may be the highest-profile part of his remit, but his work also covers road-car safety — he's the driving force behind the revolutionary NCAP ratings — and automotive ecology, and thus the motor car's very future. Via national clubs, the FIA sanctions motorsport at every level around the world. That includes historic racing, and Max has tackled the thorny problem of originality and fake cars head-on.
"The old Historic Vehicle Identity Form — the so-called 'FIA papers' — had come to be accepted as a formal statement of authenticity," he says. "It was absolutely not that. The inspectors did their best within their own abilities, but in some countries those abilities were limited. There was no uniform standard. I think we had seven Chevrons in different parts of the world all claiming the same chassis number, and there were lots of cases where two cars claimed the same identity. It was an unreliable system.
"We realised we needed two documents. One to establish that a car, whatever its provenance, is to the correct specification. The other to state if a car is genuine, with true continuous history, rather than a made-up assembly of parts, or merely a facsimile of the original. Once that's clear, it's up to the individual race organisers. They can run a race for real cars only, or for real cars and facsimiles together, or perhaps for facsimiles only." (Max prefers the term 'facsimile' to 'replica'.)
The first document, the Historic Technical Passport (HTP), will be an essential requirement. It will be granted to genuine cars and facsimiles alike, provided they are to the correct original specification.
The second is the Heritage Certificate (HC). This will focus on a specific car's true history, and will be much more rigorous; but it will be optional. It will also be expensive: the FIA will levy a fee of €1500 for each HC, over and above the inspector's fees. I suggest to Max that this will deter many people with genuine cars, so the HC may not become widespread enough to work.
"I understand that view. But there's a lot of cost in setting up a really credible, foolproof system and making it work. A lot of specialised research will be involved. And it's our view that possession of an FIA Heritage Certificate will add much more than its cost to the value of the car."
But Max's most controversial idea — from our lunch table I can hear shouts of indignation from historic racers everywhere — is that owners of genuine cars should be dissuaded from racing them at all.
"I believe cars that are real pieces of motorsport history should not be raced. They should be carefully preserved, and just demonstrated at public events. Real racing should be kept for facsimiles. You've got to take the long view. If all these cars are raced, how many of them will still be around in 100 or 200 years' time? We have a duty to preserve works of art for future generations."
Charismatic racing cars, whose brave owners recreate history for us by racing them, condemned to become mere museum pieces! A great painting, I remind Max, fulfils its creator's purpose just by hanging on a wall. A car gathering dust in a museum is dead. If its wheels don't turn and its exhaust doesn't ring out, it is a corpse.
"I don't buy that. It's only dead if it's a non-runner. If you can demonstrate it in public, it lives on. Wouldn't it be better if the chariots raced in Rome 2000 years ago had been preserved, so we could see the real thing today?
"Anyway, these cars are now so valuable that there comes a point when it's cheaper to have a facsimile made of your real car and race that, rather than try to maintain the real car for racing and risk damaging or destroying it."
So is Max saying that an MGB that raced at Le Mans in the 1960s — or even an MGB that has no racing history — should not be raced, in order to protect it for future generations?
"Not necessarily. The question is, does it matter if a car is scrapped? If it doesn't, fine. But if it would be a genuine loss to posterity, then in my personal view it should not be raced. I accept that we can't stop the owner of a unique car racing it to destruction — any more than we can stop the owner of a 250F Maserati fitting disc brakes. I just don't think we should encourage a situation that makes him want to do so."
What about concerns that today's historic racing is too dangerous?
"Well, if we were only talking about safety we'd have to ban historic racing. But if we did, people would take no notice — they'd go on racing without our sanction. There are limits to how much you can be a nanny. Historic racing is inherently dangerous, but most historic racers are middle-aged men who know what they're doing. It's not like the modern single-seater formulae where there are young people under extreme pressure to get results and prove themselves.
"As for originality, I think it's vandalism to put, say, a crankshaft made of sophisticated modern materials into a 250F to make it go faster than it did in Fangio's hands. It's like fitting that Roman chariot with a carbon-fibre floor. I'm outraged that tyres are now being used which look like the originals, but are of sticky rubber that gives far more grip. It's also dangerous, because it's putting forces through suspension parts that they were never designed to take.
"All this is only my personal opinion, and I realise it's a big debate. So we've set up a Working Group to discuss it all, with some really involved people, drivers and race organisers, people like Lord March, Nick Mason, Joaquin Folch, Simon Hadfield, Steve Earle from the USA. I've asked them to report back to the FIA World Council by late summer."
Max's dealings with F1 and road-car manufacturers show that if he believes a course is right, however unpopular, he will use his powers to see it through. He wants his new system of Passports and Certificates to weed out, once and for all, the lies and half-truths that surround the identity of a few notorious historic cars, and for that he deserves our applause. As for the rest, he will no doubt be guided by his Working Group. So their deliberations are of huge significance. They hold historic racing's future in their hands.