Interview

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Where next Mr President?

MLC interviews new FISA president Max Mosley

“I looked in my shaving minor this morning and thought, ‘Gosh, at long last I can do something about the way motorsport is run’.”

Five days after his election as President of the Federation Internationale du Sport Automobile, Max Mosley was slowly coming to terms with the awesome responsibilities of governing motor sports — from Formula One down to humble autocrosses, rallies and speed events in far-flung parts of the world.

Mosley inherits a lopsided World Rally Championship, a Sportscar World Championship on life support, and the delicate task of keeping the peace between European factions and the Americans on the issue of territorial limits.

It’s hard to think of anyone better suited to the task. At the age of 51 Mosley, a qualified barrister, has the reputation of being a patient negotiator, a man who persuades others to share his beliefs, and above all a man who recognises that the world has changed out of recognition since the 1970s, when his predecessor was elected.

No longer will world motor sports be governed by edict, by strong-arm tactics that alienate the major manufacturers and competitors. Dialogue, and considered judgements, will be the order of the day.

On his first working day back in London, Max Mosley gave Motor Sport the first interview as President of FISA. From now on he will divide his time between his family home in west London — he is married with two mature sons — his mews base in Knightsbridge, a paddock’s length from Harrods, and the FISA bureau in the Place de la Concorde in Paris.

Will Mosley become a familiar figure on the Formula One podium, regularly deluged with champagne? “No, absolutely not! I may go to Grands Prix occasionally as a spectator, but I promise you that I won’t go onto the podium afterwards. I shall go to one driver’s briefing, in Japan next weekend, to wish them luck . . . and to tell them that it’s the last one I’ll be going to!

“Formula One is the one area of the sport where there are very good checks and balances. It’s extremely ably run. It’s not pure luck that Formula One is where it is today, it is pure management skill, largely by Bernie Ecclestone supported by the teams, and of course under the auspices of the FISA. The whole of Formula One is regulated by the Concorde Agreement, which spells out in great detail how everything is to be done, and I am going to follow that to the letter.”

It was Mosley himself who drew up the Concorde Agreement, while working for FOCA, and it seems that Formula One will now “float off’ and be left to its own devices while FISA concerns itself with more pressing matters.

In the election run-up, some voiced the opinion that Mosley remains “Bernie’s Man” although he left the FOCA organisation in 1983, to become president of FISA’s manufacturers’ commission; others believed that Ecclestone was none too pleased at the candidature, enjoying the status quo with the noisome President Balestre who drew all the heat.

Mosley reacts warmly. “I am certainly not Bernie’s man, I am not anyone’s man. It has taken a lot of time, effort and hard work to get here, and if anyone thinks I’m Bernie’s stooge, or puppet, they should take a good look at my record.

“Look, Bernie is the vice-president of the FIA, charged with promoting the FIA’s championships, and I am the president of the FISA, so our jobs are a little different. It’s true that you now have two Englishmen in key positions, but before you had one Frenchman in two key positions. I can’t see that the new situation is worse.

“Bernie was quite happy with Balestre, and said so; they are good friends and get along fine, and I hope that he and I can do the same.”

The Sportscar World Championship is, says Mosley, “one of the most difficult and urgent problems facing FISA at the present time. The most fundamental problem is the lack of public interest, and I don’t pretend to know the answer to this. We have to look at our priorities, and number one is Le Mans.

“Of all the things that happen in the year Le Mans is one of the biggest and most important. We must make sure that we keep Le Mans in the championship, and that the ACO have all the cars they need. I won’t say that the world championship is secondary to that, but it may be that Le Mans will be the engine that will get the championship a better following.”

The survival and expansion of the Sportscar World Championship will be a priority in discussions in the next couple of months, starting with top-level meetings conducted by Mosley in Japan during his recent visit.

He will listen attentively to what the manufacturers have to say, and insists that “we’ll have only one chance to get it right. Whatever we do, it must be the correct decision because we can’t keep changing our minds. Above all, everyone wants stability and growth.”

On rallies, the manufacturers can expect a better hearing. “The fundamental decision is whether to restrict the number of rallies to a level which is feasible for a manufacturer to do, and insist that he does them all, or to have a greater number and restrict the number that a manufacturer is allowed to do.

“If you restrict the absolute number of world championship rallies held in a year, perhaps you should have certain events held every other year, or two years out of three, or one in three. It all depends.

“I feel that there should be a better balance of events around the world. You see, you have seven manufacturers championship events in Europe and three outside Europe. But there are 18 countries in Europe and 57 in the rest of the world, so is that entirely fair?

Fostering motorsports in Asia and the Far East, in Africa and in South America is something that Mosley intends to devote much time to, saying that FISA “has a clear duty” to see how best to help the poorer, most populated nations establish motor sports at ground level.

The environment is another priority, though here Mosley says that a strategic planning commission may be needed to look at environmental, political and financial pressures that lie ahead. “But not closer than two years ahead, because we must have proper, long-term plans such as any international company would have.”

Of the dispute with CART, the American single-seater organisation, over territorial rights, Mosley believes that the solution will be reached swiftly and quite easily. “CART racing is essentially oval racing, and Formula One is essentially road racing, so there is a clear distinction. If the CART organisation wants to expand internationally it should be on oval circuits, and there are a number of places in the world where very serious consideration is being given to building ovals.

“This is the obvious way it ought to go, and this is how we should discuss it with the Americans. I have met all the relevant people and they are all extremely rational, sensible people. I have no doubt that a sensible solution will be found.”

High Noon is not on the list of Mosley’s options. “Whatever FISA decides to do in the future, there must be no quick fixes, no shooting from the hip. Policies must be carefully considered, decisions must be right first time, because having done something it’s very difficult, and undesirable to undo it.” — MLC

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