Matters of moment, November 1991

No beating about the Bush

The defeat of Jean-Marie Balestre by Max Mosley in the FISA presidential election will materially change the face of world motorsport. Mosley himself has pledged as much, and promises to modify the style in which it is governed.

He has begun with a flourish, giving 12 months’ notice of his intention to resign and to put himself up for re-election in a year’s time. He has thus made it clear that he intends to be judged on his merits and his achievements, which is a laudable aim.

At a time when the world outside the insular capsule of motorsport is going through its worst recession in decades, it is timely that the autocratic style of Balestre, for so long something of a cartoon figure on the Formula One stage, should now pass into history. Mosley has the character to stamp his own brand on the presidency.

Earlier this year The Spectator gave space to some twaddle by Frank Keating (who wrote such a moving obituary of Tom Pryce), under the heading ‘Business Is Business at Silverstone’. He referred to the British GP as ‘a futile activity’, complaining that ‘all Northampton would be clogged by cars and choked with fumes’, and adding that ‘The Silverstone throng could as well get its fix by piling on to a bridge over the M1 and watching the cars go by underneath’. Some bridge, some motorway!

The Spectator should be glad that motor racing has become a profitable business, composed not only of the multi-nationals but of many flourishing small businesses of the kind which Mrs Thatcher and now John Major are anxious to encourage.

Of course the one-time sport of motor racing has changed since the old days. The state of a competing car’s engine can be controlled electronically from the pits and it may not be long before you can experience what it is like to drive in any GP of your choice in a simulator, installed at some enterprising showground. The International Motorsports Hall of Fame and Museum at Alabama, USA, has a one that duplicates Richard Petty’s STP Pontiac.

Already Mosley has identified motorsport’s changing make-up, and the need to be aware of the potential threat to its existence from vocal environmentalists, and while that is a welcome sign of foresight, encouragement has also come from other, even more powerful presidents.

It was during the televised induction ceremony at the aforesaid Motorsports Hall of Fame that no less a personality than George Bush expressed his firm support for racing, when he made this speech: “Sports fans have flocked to speedways for years because they love the thrill of high-speed motorsports. But while racing never has lost its thrill, it has changed dramatically over the years. You can’t win races these days without pushing the limits of automotive high technology. If you don’t understand hi-tech diagnostic equipment or don’t have miniaturised radios to help drivers and crews communicate during a race — you’re not going to win. Today’s motorsports industry marries the colourful world of racing with the exciting world of computers and high technology.

“Drivers and crews still lie at the heart of motorsports. A race car cannot win if its parts don’t mesh perfectly, but it also cannot excel unless drivers and crews work together in pursuit of the common goal — victory. No one wins alone; you must combine dedication and teamwork.

“In July 1990, the motorsports world made history in Birmingham, Alabama, without the help of a pace car or a chequered flag. That night the industry inducted its first 20 racing legends into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. The first group included daring drivers and enterprising mechanics.

“Tonight you induct your next class, and it’s every bit as noteworthy as the first. You have decided to honour four Indy greats; Tony Bettenhausen, Ralph DePalma, Wilbur Shaw and Bill Vukovich, and Tim Flock, Ned Jarrett and Fred Lorenzen, who come from the stock car racing ranks. Phil Hill, Bruce McLaren and Carroll Shelby represent the international road racing world. These men and their families all deserve this great honour.”

After Nigel Mansell won the British GP he received telemessage congratulations from John Major, who more recently opened the new Lola factory in his Huntingdon constituency.

Such support in high places may be taken for granted today, but there could come a time when it is vital to survival. Now that Max Mosley prepares to introduce clarity of thought to the running of FISA, it is heartening to know that it has a president capable of envisaging potential threats, and the nous to do something about them before they gain too much momentum. — WB