This week the warring factions in F1 made peace and agreed to race together in the same category next season. The FIA and FOTA are no longer at war and everybody involved with the sport is thoroughly relieved that the conflict is over. But one of the casualties has been Max Mosley, who will not stand for re-election when his term as President of the governing body expires in October. Has this saga been his finest hour, saving the sport from itself? Or has it been his demise, forced out of office by ”loony” teams?
Many would argue that Mosley excelled himself in the recent war. He adopted the initial stance of what FOTA saw as a ridiculously low budget cap, and some nonsense about two sets of rules that even sympathisers thought a bit mad. But that, in traditional Max and Bernie fashion, it wasn’t going to be a problem – they would just gradually reduce their demands until the teams acquiesced. Mosley was absolutely determined to cut costs, though; the Honda withdrawal and the slow death of the car industry were ringing alarm bells at the FIA. That was the number one priority.
And some argue that that is exactly what has happened. Max has managed to get the teams to agree to cutting costs significantly – something they weren’t always prepared to do – and to commit to the sport. He has got new teams – independents – into the sport to provide some balance were the manufacturers suddenly to withdraw. He also managed to elicit an unconditional recognition of the authority of the FIA by FOTA – something that at Silverstone, with the heady smell of revolution in the air, seemed light years away.
On the personal front, it seems Mosley is hankering to go, with the emphasis on him making the decision. After Spankgate, he rebuilt his professional reputation with a series of successful lawsuits against the News of the World. The tragic death of his son a few months back has hastened his ideas of retirement. And unless you believe the teams when they say he is a power-hungry dictator (and it is quite understandable that they might – anyone who controls the rules of a game in which your company has invested billions is likely to be the target of anger) the conclusion is that he really does not want to stay in this job. It is quite believable that he only said he might stay a week or so ago because the FIA was under concerted attack.
Moreover, after all the conflict and should he still want to, he could still legally stand for re-election in October (though not without a bit of a kerfuffle, probably). Even if he doesn’t, his old mate Bernie still pulls some very important strings. All these reasons make the last few weeks a victory for Mosley, not a defeat.
But yet most newspapers are making out that Mosley’s effective resignation was the only thing that was important in this week’s deal. On the teams’ side, the most important issue at stake was that of governance, and Mosley represented everything crazy and haphazard in the world of recent F1 governance. They had lurched from diffusers to logistically impossible budget caps in a matter of weeks; and as the war developed, more was made of the money supposedly owed to the teams by Bernie from withheld revenue over the years. Something had to change in this Bastille day atmosphere and Mosley was going to be it.
Belatedly the teams came to acknowledge budget caps were important, but asked for a gradual process – what is now being called a glide path. They got that this week, as well as a promise of better governance with an F1 commission for rules. The upshot has been concrete for the teams – they have got what they wanted, and talk of cost cuts is still horrendously vague. The teams are claiming the victory as theirs; a victory for democracy.
In conclusion, the question comes down to whether you believe a) that Mosley and Ecclestone were prepared to give the teams better governance or whether it was forced from them and b) Max Mosley wanted to leave F1 or not. If he honestly did, he has worked his last great miracle – saved the sport from the idiocy of sky-high spending in a new economic world, with the only cost his own job. If he didn’t want to leave, it was his defeat; but it was still better in the long term interest of the sport that he go.
The man made some dodgy decisions, not least in the last few months, and his confrontational style was a bit outdated. But the self-interest of elements of the other side in this war must not be discounted. Ferrari and McLaren want to win, as Mosley himself said, ‘literally at any cost’. Nobody seemed to realise that the original debate was about the teams’ ability to spend what they liked, which was neither fair nor tenable. Mosley has done blindingly well to get the teams to this point in the debate, where they are making the running in terms of cost cutting proposals.
As he said on Wednesday, with a calculated reminder that he has only been doing his job, there’s no guarantee that anyone will like his successor any more than they did him.