Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Max Mosley Affair

I've refrained from writing about this over the last few days as the story has developed. Since the News of the World published a front page 'scoop' last weekend which reported that the FIA President Max Mosley had been caught on camera, participating in sado-masochistic sexual activities which, it was alleged, involved 'Nazi role-playing', it has been clear that more remained to come out in the wash.

The developing story has been covered comprehensively by other websites and so a blow-by-blow account of each statement and counter-statement is hardly needed here. Publicly, Mosley came out fighting on Tuesday with a defiant statement in which he announced his intention to continue in his role as FIA President and take legal action against the newspaper. Attempting to read between the lines of Mosley's carefully crafted statement, it seemed clear that whilst he would not dispute that the figure in the video-tape was indeed him, he would dispute that there was a 'Nazi' element to the activities. He also seemed to suggest that he would be pursuing an additional line of attack - that of a breach of his privacy. However, it is likely that the paper would mount a defence against such an accusation on the basis that the information contained in the story is 'in the public interest' (there is some interesting commentary on the legal detail in a thread on - comment 20).

I have attempted to imagine, on several occasions, the reaction of Max's long time colleague and friend Bernie Ecclestone upon being informed of this story - my morbid curiosity does make me wish that we had that moment on video tape. Ecclestone's public line seems to have been very much that what a man does in his private life is his own business. Whilst much has been of Bernie's advice to not attend the Bahrain Grand Prix this weekend, his concern seemed to be more that it would take the attention away from the business on the track and focus it on something which, he said, 'honestly and truly, is nobody else’s business anyway'. It seems to me that Bernie's support, for the moment at least, remains largely intact. Of course, what has been said behind closed doors we may only guess.

The first real blow to Mosley's fightback came as The Times revealed that the Crown Prince of Bahrain had written to the FIA President, stating that it would be 'inappropriate' for him to attend the Grand Prix.

Most particularly, the reaction of the major corporations with a stake in the Formula One brand, especially the car manufacturers directly involved in the sport, had yet to be heard. I imagine that public comment from them has waited on the inevitable and necessary board meetings and, perhaps, on the response to any informal representations that may have been made to the FIA over the past few days. Finally, this morning, four of the major car manufacturers involved in Formula 1 have broken their silence and, for Max Mosley at least, the news is not good.

First of all BMW and Mercedes issued a joint statement in which they condemned Mosley's behaviour as 'disgraceful' and 'strongly distanced' themselves from it. Ominously, they also stated that the 'consequences...extend far beyond the motor sport industry' and that they awaited a response from the 'relevant FIA bodies'. It was suspected that the German marques would feel particular discomfort with the nature of the allegations against Mosley.

Before lunchtime today both Toyota and Honda have also released statements of their own on the matter. In Japanese business culture, much is made of the need for integrity in their leaders. Toyota's statement in particular seemed to suggest that, even without the alleged Nazi overtones, they were dismayed by what had happened, stating that they do not approve of 'any behaviour which could be seen to damage F1's image' before making particular reference to 'any behaviour which could be understood to be racist or anti-Semitic'.

As is always the case, I am certain that there is much more to this story than a) meets the eye and b) we will ever know. Perhaps it is a coincidence that it is the News International stable that pursued and broke this story. Much has been made in other quarters of the fact that the corporation also happens to own the Sunday Times, which the FIA are apparently pursuing a libel case against, following comments made by Martin Brundle in a column last year. However, it is also likely that we will never know the motivations and machinations that set this chain of events in order. Perhaps Max Mosley himself will never know.

Many people have been quick to pass their judgement on Mosley's time in office in the past few days. It would be fair to say that he has not been the most overwhelmingly popular FIA President. Balanced commentary on his achievements and failures is hard to come by as he has been, over time, a figure that has divided opinion sharply, and these events will only serve to increase that division. I don't think that it is yet the time or the place to offer an 'obituary' on Mosley's reign, as he remains, for the time being in office. Whilst I have strongly disagreed with the positions he has taken on a number of issues, I have also long believed that Mosley had the sport's best interests at heart - that he is a racer, even if his vision for the sport has sometimes been, in my view, misguided. Beyond all of these shenanigans, we must also ask ourselves the question - who will replace him? The repercussions of the last few days and the days to come will have far-reaching effects on the structure and future direction of the sport we love and whilst many will be glad to see the back of Mosley it is impossible to know whether we will be jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.

I'm not going to comment here on the rights and wrongs of Mosley's actions (or, for that matter, of those of the News of the World) or on the 'morality' or 'immorality' of them. That's firstly because I am convinced that we don't have all the facts at our disposal, secondly because consideration of these issues would require far more complex philosophical, psychological, ethical and sociological argumentation than I've space for, and thirdly because what I'm more interested in right now is the hard reality of the situation. The realpolitik of it all has, I think, become abundantly clear this morning with the statements that have been released by the manufacturers.

The truth of the matter seems to be - as Clive Allen of F1 Insight points out on (comment 30) - that the only realistic way for Mosley to leave office is for him to resign. However, he may soon find his position untenable. Regardless of whether we believe that Mosley is 'right' or 'wrong' to engage in the alleged acts, whether we believe the full extent of the News of the World allegations or not, whether we believe that they were justified and acting in the public interest to 'invade his privacy' or not, and whatever the ins and outs of the legal proceedings to come may be, these things tend to develop a critical mass that sees them move beyond any one individual's control.

The manufacturer's statements have seen this story finally become headline news on BBC News 24 and its prominence in broadsheets other than The Times is growing. My feeling is that it has moved past the point of no return for Mosley and that it is only a matter of time until he has no alternative but to stand down. The FIA President is holed below the waterline and whether he chooses to scuttle the ship now and throw himself overboard or to man the pumps and try to remain afloat for as long as possible, there are no lifeboats on the horizon as far as I can see and he will, ultimately, sink beneath the weight of all this.

If that is the case, like him or loathe him, it will be a sorry and undignified end to a career that has made an indelible imprint on the face of modern Formula 1.


Anonymous said...

I think you are wrong in your estimate of Max's concern for F1, George. I saw no evidence of a genuine love for the sport in his flagrantly biased handling of both the McLaren and Renault WMSC hearings last year. This latest upset will show just how much he cares for the sport he has ruled for so long - the longer he stays, the more F1 will be dragged through the mud.

Talk F1 said...

I can see where you are coming from Clive! And I can see how my comment is bound to antagonise a lot of people who don't like Mosley. I'm not saying that I care him for him or his vision for the sport. I think that his handling of the WMSC hearings last year for example was, as you say, flagrantly biased. I'm deeply unhappy with the current engine regulations and, as you know, the current qualifying format. I think he has been seriously misguided, if not plain wrong on many issues - the blind alley of customer cars and the subsequent u-turn on them, for example - and I've been deeply disturbed by a number of his public comments - his rather unsavoury criticisms of Sir Jackie Stewart instantly spring to mind. Hopefully you'll understand that I'm not trying to act as a Mosley apologist, rather to provide a balanced commentary. I'm sure, in his own mind, he believes he is doing the right thing - even when it is obvious to the rest of us that he is not. I'm hoping that he realises what the right thing to do is now - and sooner rather than later.

My only concern is, as I said in my post - who is the next president going to be? These are uncertain times.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I have no doubt the FIA will find someone completely unsuitable for the job. The one bright spot on the horizon is that Max-like excesses might be limited for his successor by the example of what befell him. For a time, at least.

Good grief, the FIA might actually begin to listen to the opinions of others!

Talk F1 said...

Well, we must live in hope...