FOCA’s Former Legal Adviser Looks At Formula One
By any standards, Max Mosley is an interesting man. His father was Sir Oswald Mosley and his mother was one of the famous Mitford sisters. He had, therefore an unusual background, and a cosmopolitan one, since his parents went to live in France in 1950, when Max was aged 10.
Going up to Oxford, he read physics and was unusual in that he made a mark in the Oxford Union, being elected secretary and narrowly missing out on the Presidency, his background telling against him. It was unusual in that science undergraduates are notorious for being incapable of joined-up speaking and Max was, indeed, the first one in years to make his mark on the Union — he later earned the soubriquet “silver tongued”. He is a rarely articulate and intelligent man.
Coming down from Oxford he studied general law and, matching science and law, became a barrister specialising in Patent Law. A trip to the British Grand Prix in 1961 hooked him on motor racing and when he was able to, he entered the sport with a Clubmans car, an elderly Matlock. He was moderately successful in Clubrnans racing, picking up some wins and places and in 1968 he embarked on an ambitious programme of F2 with a Brabham, switching to a Lotus 59 the following year.
To put it kindly, he was out of his depth at this level and an accident at the Nurburgring in 1969 providing enough food for thought to lead to his retirement. With others, he formed March Engineering and though his financial involvement with the company ended in 1977 and he remained a director until a few weeks ago, his is the “M” in March which is an acronym derived from Mosley, Alan Rees, (Graham) Croaker and (Robin) Herd. Only the “H” remains from the originating partnership.
While with March he emerged as a spokesman for the constructors and, together with Bernie Ecclestone, who came on the F1 scene a little later, helped to package F1 into the international spectacle it is today. As FOCA’s legal adviser he was at the centre of the FISA/FOCA “war” of the late Seventies and early Eighties but finally withdrew at the end of 1983. Today he is involved in some small business ventures, looking for the right opportunity in which to extend himself. He remains an adviser to FOCA on an ad hoc basis.
We went to see Max because he is one of the architects of the contemporary F1 scene, a man who still keeps his finger on the pulse of the sport. Having been so central to its growth why, we wondered, did he leave.
“If I didn’t move on, I’d still be doing it when I got to be an old age pensioner. I think motor racing’s a young man’s business and it would have been a bit undignified to have carried on and on. There comes a point when you go to any Grand Prix and you hear the same people having the same arguments about the same questions, most of them trivial like motor homes in the wrong place, the number of passes, things of that kind, and after a certain number of years one thinks one’s heard it often enough.
“The funny thing is when I go back to a Grand Prix now, I go once or twice a year, I feel I’ve been in a time warp, absolutely nothing’s changed. Don’t get me wrong, I love going back and seeing all my old friends, all the old faces, but there’s other things to do.”
How did the Ecclestone Mosley partnership come about and eventually become so influential?
“Very early on, even before March had finished building its first car, the F1 establishment took me along to one of their negotiations with the organisers because I was a lawyer and they thought that might be useful and I was shattered, I could not believe that a major international sport could be conducted like that. Everybody went, because nobody trusted anybody else, and the level of negotiation was not impressive.
“Then in 1971 there was a constructors’ meeting and a new face appeared. It was Bernie Ecclestone who had just brought Brabham and I realised in the first few minutes that here was someone of outstanding ability and it rapidly got to the stage where he and I used to go and represent the others.”
There were many stories of Max and Bernie doing a “Mutt and Jeff” routine with organisers. Bernie making impossible demands and storming out of meetings and Max arriving “late” and sorting everything out, settling for more modest increases, but increases none the less. Max laughed and did not deny it.
“We had endless things of that kind and there are endless funny stories. Bernie’s often said it’s a pity we didn’t write everything down because it would have made a wonderful book. Basically the success of FOCA is Bernie’s ability to negotiate a better deal than most people can. I was able to help in a modest way.”
Unfortunately Max could not recall any of the wonderful stories. While FOCA has brought F1 to the peak where it is at present, the grass roots enthusiast often feels that he is being neglected. The British Grand Prix has become less of an extension of the racing season, more of an addition to the social diary after Henley, Wimbledon and Ascot.
“If F1 had remained like it was at the end of the ’60s, the damage to the sport would have been greater because at least now there is a showcase. You’ve got to have your Wimbledons in order for the local tennis clubs to survive.
“Look at sports which don’t have that, like motorcycle racing. A top-line motorcycle race, generally speaking, is more spectacular and entertaining than F1 but nobody knows about it, you don’t see it on television very much, mainly because it hasn’t its ‘FOCA’. That’s why bike racing has never got a good image and it’s how F1 would be now without the packaging.
“Yes, provided you called it ‘Formula One’. The vast majority of the public do not know what F1 is and it’s only a very small number of enthusiasts who could define it with any degree of precision. A minority of people know that its 1 1/2-litre turbocharged, probably very few people know it’s no longer three litres. Very few people could tell you what the minimum weight is, which is a critical parameter, or the maximum height of the wing, which is another critical parameter.
“The Bike GP at Silverstone is a big event but you get an enthusiasts crowd, not an international audience. There’s something missing and every time one sees it on television one thinks why isn’t this more successful?”
That’s all very well, but what about the ordinary enthusiast. Every motor sport magazine receives letters of complaint, after every British GP, from fans who feel themselves edged out. They can’t see the cars, speak to the drivers or obtain autographs.
“That’s absolutely right but if one is to be completely honest, one has to say that the British GP is not for the enthusiast, its for the vast majority of the public who are not really interested in motor racing. The. events for the enthusiast are the local races, clubbies at Castle Cornbe or Brands Hatch and the smaller international events, but the GP is motor racing’s showcase for the general public — via television and in person.
“The enthusiast must realise that the money generated provides facilities which otherwise wouldn’t be there. There wouldn’t be so many club races if there wasn’t a Grand Prix for it pays for the facilities at Brands Hatch and Silverstone which he can enjoy the rest of the year. While the facilities are not brilliant at a GP, because of the size of the crowd, at smaller meetings they are wonderful compared with 10 or 15 years ago.
“If F1 depended on the enthusiast, it would have to stop because the enthusiasts cannot pay for it. F1 is paid for by the general public all over the world because, in the end, the sponsors sponsor racing because the general public buys their products. You don’t have to be a mathematical genius to work out that racing is not paid for by the spectators.
“II costs about £300.000 per car per race so even at £30 a head, you’d need 10,000 enthusiasts per car to pay for it to go around, regardless of the organisers’ expenses. If you wanted a 15 car grid, you’d need 150,000 enthusiasts. When an enthusiast goes to the GP he must become a member of the general public and go as that and not an enthusiast. When he wants to be an enthusiast, he goes to a club meeting. It won’t please people but it’s true.”
Still, going to the Grand Prix and buying a grandstand seat is an expensive outing Including everything, you don’t get much change out of a hundred pounds.
“The public are actually very important, their presence provides the atmosphere. In a sense, they’re paying to be “extras”. In a properly organised GP, the spectators are charged exactly the right amount so that the seats are all full. If you’ve empty seats you should drop your prices, if you’ve sold them all six months in advance, you should raise the price because you’re throwing away money. Its a market economy and that particular product is not for the enthusiast any more than a Boeing 747 is for a flying enthusiast.”
The trouble is that while F1 has attracted money, the rule applies that expenditure increases in relationship to the available sponsorship. When March started in 1970 to be competitive in F1 cost about four times an F2 budget, now to be at the front in F1 costs about 20 times an F3000 budget. A single F1 car in a single race costs more to run than a season in F3000 and this makes it that much harder for teams to break in.
At one time a 10 bhp difference between two Cosworths was a lot, now we are talking in hundreds of horsepower between those at the front and those at the rear of the grid. Can we get some sort of financial sense into F1 because sponsors will eventually grow tired of putting in millions to see a car run at the rear of the field and not generate a commercial return via television coverage?
“You’d have to change the rules. The only thing you could do bad to a DFV was to run it too fast, you could turn up the rev-limiter but then the power dropped off so there was nothing to be gained by abusing a DFV. A turbo engine will give more power when you turn the boost up and limiting that by limiting the fuel tank is nonsense because it only limits the average power available in a race and not an engine’s peak power. Even it you had a turbo equivalent of the DFV the rich team would still obtain more power in practice by turning up the boost.
“The basic catastrophe of the turbo is that the power is related to the boost, and the reliability is related to the power, and therefore if you can spend more, you have more.
“I think we must have some sort of limit on engine power, perhaps through an air restrictor, which would reduce the cost without reducing the spectacle and so allow more people to stay in if we lose some of the small teams and finish up with only 15 or 16 cars on the grids, this would damage the package.
“I wouldn’t like to sit in the grandstand at Stowe now with the cars coming down the Hangar Straight with over 1,000 bhp and almost getting the corner flat. There’s no doubt about it, its getting dangerous. It’s always been dangerous to the drivers but it’s getting dangerous for the public.
“If we’re going to be realistic about it, it doesn’t matter very much from the point of motor racing as a whole if a driver gets hurt. It matters personally, but its not a threat to motor racing. But if you put a car, or a wheel, into a crowd it is a threat. You’d find the sport banned in several countries and it’s another argument for reducing the power. I think we will have some agreement on this, using a restrictor or pop-off valve sometime in the next twelve months, It needs to happen fairly quickly. Then the F1 scene might stay sane for awhile”
There was a time if you wanted to go F1 you bought yourself a DFV and you knew Cosworth would be in racing the following year because racing engines are Cosworth’s business. Motor racing is not the main business of BMW, Honda or Renault. If BMW or Renault suddenly decided not to provide engines teams would be in serious trouble. If one imagined some sort of catastrophe where F1 could not continue in its present state could the World Championship survive run to, say, F3000 rules?
“F1 is just a circus with certain drivers, certain teams and certain cars. If you changed the rules tomorrow and kept the same drivers and teams, most people wouldn’t notice that the cars were slower. You need a lot of experience to judge speed. When I watch skiing I can’t tell who is really quick and I watch that a lot and know most of the competitors.”
Max presents a fairly optimistic view of the future of F1 even though some of his comments about the role of enthusiasts at Grands Prix are going to Infuriate many. FOCA has been successful in packaging the sport to a wider audience, no question, but FOCA revolves around Bernie Ecclestone and one wonders what would happen if, tomorrow. he fell under a bus or decided he was no longer interested.
“The consequences to F1 would be very serious. A great deal of the delicate balance between the sporting authorities and the commercial side depends on him. He’s really the person who keeps all these races on the road, sometimes in very difficult circumstances. He comes as close to being indispensable as it’s possible for anyone in a big organisation to be
“Bernie regularly makes the difference between a race happening and not happening. It’s difficult to see if he were not doing it, who would. There is no obvious successor.”
If Max is right about that, it’s a sobering thought. FOCA has not always been popular, there have been mistakes made particularly in organising some races (remember the heavy-handed tactics at Hockenheim in 1979 when FOCA took over the running of the German GP?) and there was that period of open warfare between Ecclestone and Balestre.
The enthusiast has been edged out of the F1 paddock and no longer has the chance as once he did to see the cars and drivers close up. Often, if he’s not the guest of some sponsor who has booked grandstands in advance, he doesn’t even get the best viewing facilities at a circuit. On the other hand, he does get full grids and also the chance to watch all the races on television, sometimes entire races broadcast live. There’s a trade involved and no doubt readers will have strong opinions about it. — M.L.