Nick Gilmartin's Weblog

And he used to be such a nice, quiet boy

Max Mosley, a short biography

with one comment

Max Mosley, President of the FIA

Max Mosley, President of the FIA

The man at the centre of the current FIA-FOTA war is a pretty unique individual.  It only be a fool who underestimated Max Mosley.  This is the man who went from being a social pariah to being one of the most powerful men in motor sport.

So who is he and what is he capable of?

Max Rufus Mosley was born in the desperate days of 1940 while the Spitfires and Messerschmidts were dueling over the channel.

There is no getting away from the fact that he is the son of Sir Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists.  The family name was continues to cast a long shadow, as we shall see.  His early years were spent in the care of governesses as his mother and father were interned for much of the war.  His mother, Diana, hid a framed photo of Hitler under Max’s cot blanket when the police came to arrest her.

Sir Oswald and Lady Diana Mosley

Sir Oswald and Lady Diana Mosley

After the war the Mosley clan were none too welcome in England so they lived between Ireland and France.  Max went to boarding schools on the continent.  He was not a bad student, although along with his brothers Nick and Alex, he was a bit wild.

From his late teens Max was involved in his father’s right wing politics, serving as his aide de camp during the late fifties.  Mosley senior’s new party was the Union Movement with it’s sights set on communism and immigration.  The anti-Semitism was quietly dropped.  In 1956 as the USSR invaded Hungary, Max was seen spraying fascist lightening flash symbols on the walls of London.

Max was his father's right hand man in the late fifties

Max was his father's right hand man in the late fifties

Max attended Christchurch college in the late fifties and while he was there he had an experience that changed his direction in life.  A friend had given him two tickets to the British Grand Prix, so Max and his girlfriend decided to attend out of curiosity.  Three hours of unrestrained horsepower later Max was hooked, now this looked fun!

Along with  friends, driver Chris Lambert, and a young mechanic, Frank Williams, he formed London Racing Team for the Formula 2 category.  Their maiden season was the spring of 1968, and it quickly proved to be a year of living dangerously.  Jim Clark was killed in Germany during the Deutschland trophy before his very eyes.  Then the death of his racing partner Chris Lambert brought the dangers of racing dangerously close to Max.

March logo

1969 was a watershed year for Max.  Two nasty crashes convinced him he may be of more use out of the car than in it.  He gathered a few friends together and proposed a whole new team based around London Racing.  But this team would be bigger and better and aimed squarely at Formula 1.

The original line-up.  Max is third from the left

The original line-up. Max is third from the left

March engineering was formed by Max, Alan Rees, Graham Coaker, and Robin Heard (see what they did there?).  Each of the four men brought a range of skills to the team.  Max took care of the business side, Robin Heard designed the car,  Graham Coaker oversaw the factory and Alan Rees managed the race team.  Each of the four stumped up a financial contribution  and they set to work.  Originally their plan was to enter a single car but thanks to Max’s business acumen they were able to enter two of their own, and also to produce three other cars for customer teams, like Tyrell Racing.

But Formula 1 racing is hugely expensive business and even with the money coming in from sponsorship and client teams it was never enough.

The '71 season chassis cut-away

The '71 season chassis cut-away

It has to be noted that the factory output at this time was outstanding.  March was producing cars not only for themselves in F1, but also for other teams in F1, F2, F3 Formula Ford and the CanAm  series.

One of the criticisms of March in the early days was that it had more chiefs than Indians.  As the bills mounted ever higher Max demanded complete control of the company’s finances, and he got it.  His new financial restrictions did not go down well with factory manager Graham Coaker, who promptly quit.

By the end of the 1970 season March was massively in debt.  Max and Robin Heard took shameless advantage of Christmas cheer and rattled their tin endlessly.  They had some success, raising £20,000, most rumoured to come from Max’s half brother, Jonathan Guinness.

Max knew he had to scale down the operation and he made a deal to use Alfa Romeo engines, which proved uncompetitive, in spite of their pedigree.  He continued to sell cars to client teams as much as he could allow.  Sponsorship from Firestone Tyres drip fed money into the March machine.

But in spite of their best efforts March owed £71,000 by the end of 1971.  Alan Rees, the race team manager decided to quit.  Max and Robin had their backs to the wall.

March continued to produce cars for other teams in all formulae and slowly, surely managed to tread water.  It had some success of it’s own on the track, winning two races in 1971 and ’72 respectively.


One of the strange paradoxes that befell Max was losing money on a deal with Jochen Neerpasch to provide a chassis.  A year later Neerpasch moved from Ford racing to BMW and offered March a deal to provide engines for the 1972 season.  The March team rolled onto the grid with a new, teutonic growl.

Max managed other innovations.  With Robin he developed a six wheel race car called the 2-4-0.  It certainly looked the business but it never actually raced.  It did turn a lot of heads however and raised March’s profile somewhat.  A Scalextric slot car was later produced of the model.  I had one, along with a black Lotus.

By 1977 Max was running out of steam.  He had worked so hard to keep the team going and had to cope with constant financial uncertainty.  He decided it was time to get a day job instead.

FOCA logo

The Formula One Constructors Association had been founded in 1974 by Bernie Ecclestone, Teddy Mayer, Colin Chapman, Ken Tyrell and Frank Williams, Max’s old grease monkey.  Max himself was brought into the picture by Bernie because of his extensive legal training.

The FOCA was essentially a race teams union to counterbalance the Federation International du Sport Automobile.  The FISA were motor sports governing body, overseen by the FIA parent body, who represented everything on wheels.

Max’s appointment was just in time, as in 1980 the FISA-FOCA war was about to break out.  The war was basically over the FISA’s bias towards the grandee teams such as Ferrari, Alfa Romeo and Renault.  Arrayed against them were the ‘Garagistas’, Bernie and his mates.  These were the smaller teams, usually client teams with one car and comparatively shallow pockets.

Round 1 of this battle of wills took place at the Spanish Grand Prix in 1981.  Several drivers had been fined for non-attendance of FISA meetings, and their licences were threatened with revocation.  The drivers then refused to race.  It took the personal intervention of King Juan Carlos to knock a few heads together and to tell all parties to grow up.

A none FISA race was organised by the rebel teams in February 1981 in South Africa.  The race was technically a success but for one problem.  Practically nobody saw it.  The locals stayed away (apartheid meant a large black fan base would not materialize for another 25 years), and only a few local TV stations showed the race.

So that was 2 – 0 to FOCA.  It has to be said that some of the race teams were crafty bastards.  Take for example the water-cooled brakes fiasco.  Every car had to be weighed with it’s full tank of petrol and any other liquids it needed.  This included every thing from the drivers water bottle to the oil and brake fluid.

The water-cooled brakes were not water-cooled at all.  The cars sprayed the water out of the back in the first lap so they ran lighter.  They would then top up the water tanks on the final pit-stop.  Honestly, the nerve of some people.

The FISA never completely stamped it’s authority on the sport and FOCA seemed to run rings around them.  But the constant sniping was causing a lot of headlines and it was harming the reputation of the sport.  The FISA president, Jean-Baptiste Balestre, was universally loathed and Bernie Ecclestone never missed an opportunity to wind him up.

It fell to Max to draft the grand treaty of Formula 1.  It was called the Concorde agreement.  There has been many revisions of the Agreement over the years but it formed the first Constitution of Formula 1 racing.  It promised fairer distribution of sponsorship money, promotion, and TV rights.  The last of the three proved to be of interest to Bernie who later made it his own personal fiefdom from which he took over the F1 world.

Having sorted out the F1 world Max took a sabbatical and, just to get away from dirty tricks, corruption and bribery, took a job with the Conservative party.  (You may detect a hint of irony there)

Brighton Bomb

He joined the political arena at the height of Margaret Thatcher’s battle with the miners.  After the IRA attempted to blow up the Tory party in Brighton in 1984 Max may have decided Formula 1 was, in fact more fun.  And how many of Thatcher’s speeches can you listen to before going mad?

Max returned to the F1 arena as  head of the FISA Manufacturing Commission.  At this time he also founded Simtek research with former March employee Nick Wirth.

Roland Ratzenberger in the ill-fated Simtek 941

Roland Ratzenberger in the ill-fated Simtek 941

In a wonderfully Papen-esque speech he suggested that Jean Baptiste Balestre deal with Ecclestone by making him a member of the establishment.  (In light of recent comments by Ecclestone it is hard not to find this amusing).   Max and Bernie set about manoeuvring Balestre out of power.  They ran Max as a FIA Presidential candidate, stating Balestre was biased towards fellow countryman and driver Alain Prost during his war with Aryton Senna.  In fairness, he probably was.

Max Mosley promptly won the Presidency of the Federation International Automobile and served his first term from 1993-1997.

His first ordeal was coping with the aftermath of the black weekend of 1994 when Aryton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger died in separate accidents, and Rubens Barrachello was seriously injured.  Ratzenburger was driving a Simtek car when he died and, in a show of solidarity, Max attended his funeral while absolutely everybody else attended Aryton’s.

The Head and Neck Support System

The Head and Neck Support System

He decided to make safety an absolute priority, and formed the Advisory Expert Group, led by the legendary Professor Sid Watkins.  Their main achievement was the HANS (Head and Neck Support System), which entered service in later years.  Track safety was enormously improved and medical facilities became the best in the world.  You have Max to thank for a lot of that.

Of course he did his deals too.  He signed over TV rights for Formula 1 to Bernie Eccleston for 15 years, angering the teams who felt he had no right.  In the end he gave them a larger percentage of the revenue and their bleating stopped.  He had his problems preventing the banning of tobacco advertising, who provided a vast amount of sponsorship for F1.  Over time F1 moved away from tobacco advertising and used sponsors such as software and internet blue-chip companies.  This made sense, since F1 was now enormously technical and required ever-more expensive computer hard and software.  Now they had all this at a subsidy.

His popularity hit an all-time low when, in 2005 the US Grand Prix was run by only six cars.  It wasn’t really his fault.  The Mitchelin-shod cars had to be withdrawn after  the tyres exploded on Ralf Schumacher’s Toyota.  He was unable to continue and an emergency meeting was called.  Should the race continue?  Much wrangling took place and a lot of referring back to the rule book and sponsorship contracts.  Many ideas were banded around but no deal could be reached in the short time scale.  Consequently the 14 Michelin teams withdrew from the race, much to the anger of the American fans who had travelled long distances to watch the race.

Max faced a huge public backlash

Max faced a huge public backlash

The repercussions were ongoing for a long time and much of the blame was lain at Max’s door.  But what else could he do?  Perhaps he remembered the black weekend of 1994 when he lost Ratzenberger.  He would not, in good conscience, risk the lives of drivers on dubious tyres and he paid a heavy price for his stand.  But ultimately I think he was right to do so.

He started his forth term as FIA President in 2005.

In 2007 he became embroiled in a new row as Ferrari technical plans were found on the computer of a McLaren technical employee.  Through the subsequent season he went hard after Ron Dennis and his McLaren team, even as their new driver, Lewis Hamilton, made his debut.  In the end McLaren paid a $100 million fine, and disqualifying them from the constructors championship.

Later it was revealed that Renault also possessed Ferrari’s plans, but they were not punished.  This led to an outcry of inconsistency.  Former World Champion Sir Jackie Stewart was the most vocal and became involved in a public war of words with Max.

The following year Max Mosley was caught out by the tabloid press, in spectacular fashion.  This essay is not an attempt to analyse or justify his sexual piccadiloes, so I will state the known facts.

Max Mosley took part in a sado-masochistic  orgy involving prostitutes organised by a local madam.  Well that is one way of putting it.  The News of the World phrased it more like:

“FIA chief in sick Nazi orgy with prostitutes!!!”

“Exlcusive:  Mosley hooker tells all:  My Nazi orgy with F1 Boss!”

.. and so on in their typical understated fashion.

Mosley scandal

Well clearly this put Max in a rather crushingly embarrassing position, though you can largely say he brought it on himself.  Of course being the son of Oswald Mosley did not help one iota, and did not endear him to the many Jewish sponsors in Formula 1, who had, thus far, sportingly tolerated his family history.

But how much of this is in the public’s interest to know?  Well he is not an elected politician answerable to the government.  No sexual intercourse was reported, to my knowledge.  He is however the President of the FIA that has a very loose code of conduct.  (Hardly surprising, it is based in France).

In spite of his ‘conduct unbecoming..’ (which is only a guideline at the end of the day), he won a vote of confidence at an extraordinary general meeting.

Max took his case to the European court of human rights where it is, at time of writing, pending a hearing.

So Max survived with his job intact, even if his dignity was somewhat ruffled.

In the autumn of 2009 the Recession hit Britain squarely between the eyes and knocked it firmly on it’s ass.  Job cuts in car plants in Cowley and Swindon were soon announced.  The luxury tier of Motor sports stood to lose a lot of sponsor money.  The Royal Bank of Scotland withdrew sponsorship for Williams (commencing 2010).  The storm drew nearer as Subaru announced it would be withdrawing from the World Rally Championship.  Bernie and Max drew their team heads together to discuss how they could avoid the same fate.  Various ideas were floated but the FOTA failed to reach any agreement.  The FOTA (Formula One Teams Association) is the successor to the FOCA.

Honda withdraws

Then the bombshell they dreaded was dropped.  Honda was withdrawing from Formula 1 citing financial constraints.  Speculation threatened of a flood of other withdrawals.   Something must be done.

After consultation with the FIA board, Bernie and FOTA Max passed a resolution capping the F1 teams annual budget at £40 Million.  For the teams at the back of the grid it was the godsend they had always dreamed for.  For the teams at the front of the grid it was a threat to their domination of the sport.  Their argument wasn’t that it was unfair as such, it just wasn’t unfair in their favour.  Until mid June this year Max was personally locked in a war with Luca de Montezemolo, the head of Ferrari.


So the budget war looks set to roll on probably past the end of the 2009 season.  The issues at stake are not just the budget caps but a series of new rules the please very few people.  Max did announce he was stepping down as President if FOTA agreed to a new contract to race the 2010 season.  They duly agreed then reneged on the deal.  Max swiftly retracted his offer to step down as President.

And so, on it rolls.  I have no doubt that Max will continue to fight to the bitter end.

So what is Max Mosley like as a person?

Well he seems a bit aloof and authoritarian at first glance.  He was brought up among high society and spent most of his adult life among captains of industry.  But at the same time he has maintained a long standing friendship with Bernie Ecclestone and Sid Watkins.  Ecclestone in particular is known to be a prickly character, full of his own ego.  But he and Max saw a kindred spirit in each other, even if their politics are different.  While Max raised funds for the Tories, Bernie gave monetary gifts to the Labour government.

He married Jean Taylor in 1960 and they had two boys.  Tragically Alexander Mosley died of heroin overdose in May 2009.  Max was said to be devastated but put on a brave public face.  He knew Alex to be a long time Heroin user, who fought bravely against his addiction.  But tragically his war was lost at 39 years old.

The late Alex Mosley

The late Alex Mosley

So Max’s war court case against the British media continues, as does the battle over the budget caps.  But let us not assume for a second that Max is not equal to the challenge


Written by Nick Gilmartin

July 7, 2009 at 11:23 am

One Response

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Very interesting bio I had never come to realize. Wow!

    Keith D.

    October 10, 2012 at 4:50 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: