The Evening Standard

The first thing you notice as Max Mosley opens the front door of his London mews house is a huge sombrero balanced on the banisters, suggesting a man who has just come back from exotic lands.

But then as he leads you up the stairs you realise this Englishman is so often abroad his returns are a voyage of discovery of his own home.

So as Mosley opens the door to his sitting room you almost expect cobwebs to fly off, and when the photographer suggests shots of Mosley with a cup of coffee he goes into a kitchen which might have been just installed, not a crumb or a cup to be seen.

“I am sorry there are no coffee cups. The kitchen is not used. My wife lives elsewhere,” says Mosley.

In many ways this physical detachment reflects the life-long Mosley struggle: can the son of the war-time British fascist leader ever be detached from his father’s name ?

“Again and again” Mosley tells me, “you have this feeling, it an awful thing to say you are being discriminated against.

“You see it is little bit like 50 years ago for the black man, he does not get something he should have done. But he does not know for sure whether it is because he is black, it is possible.

“There is always this feeling that it is actually that, but you have to be careful not to get paranoid about it.

“You see nowadays it is not acceptable to discriminate against anybody because of their religion, their race, their ethnicity, because they are handicapped in some way, but it is perfectly permissible to discriminate because of what their father did.”

Then, looking across over the gardens the house backs up to, he says quietly, “I just accept that.”

The acceptance has been eased by motorsport, as F1 is “a separate world, nothing to do with my father. You are judged on your merits.”

It also makes him more comfortable to live in France, “They had the real thing. They had the Wehrmacht And so they have got to understand these things have to be put behind, otherwise the country will be divided for ever. Whereas in England it is more theoretical, people can afford the luxury.”

And this is what Mosley says made the News of the World characterise his infamous sex sessions as having a Nazi element.

“It was a gift to them. It was, probably, not family viewing but there wasn’t any Nazism there. It was just nonsense.”

Mosley’s sense of detachment goes beyond his roots and appears to filter down to the way he sees his role as President of the FIA, from which he is stepping down next month after 16 years.

So much so that, for him, watching the showpiece event of the sport, Formula One, is a “waste of time.”

We met just 48 hours before the Singapore Grand Prix, the site last year of Crashgate, seen by some as the worst case of cheating in sporting history, yet Mosley had no plans to be there.

He goes to only three races a year, and Singapore would be too far. “No purpose, it would just be a jolly.”

For Mosley the fact that the head of the sport does not go to Formula One races is no contradiction.

“One must not confuse F1 with motorsport. We have 30,000 competition licence holders, there are only 20 Formula One drivers, 20 cars. Formula One is a tiny part of the world of motorsport.”

So, not surprisingly, his greatest regret about leaving will not be the sagas of Spygate which in 2007 saw Mclaren fined £50million, or Crashgate, but “not having a Michael Schumacher in China or in India”.

“If we had organised karting for young people talent would have emerged. Lewis Hamilton started that way, Ayrton Senna was karting at six. Motorsport is a middle class sport, not one for impoverished third world countries, but there is a growing middle class in China or India and we could have done more.”

And as far as F1 is concerned he thinks the sport has arranged the best relationship with Bernie Ecclestone, the rights holder.

“Bernie is the business, we are the sport. Formula one is like a restaurant. It may have been very run down.

“We got this very good chef in, it is now making money and doing very well. The restaurant belongs to us. Bernie said no, I am the big chef I can go down the road and open a restaurant in another place. All the custom would come to me.”

This understanding of the restaurant owner/master-chef relationship has ensured the pair have stuck together in the face of numerous situations that have tested their partnership, which goes back nearly 30 years, to the limit.

But Bernie can also be his own man, as Moseley discovered in Paris last week when the World Motor Sports council met to consider Crashgate and Ecclestone voted against a life ban on Renault principal Flavio Briatore.

“The council did not vote unanimously,” says Mosley. “All 26 members were not there, the figure was 20, and there were proxies. A substantial majority were in favour of punishing Briatore but Bernie was in a minority.”

But this is clearly one of those many Bernie things Mosley is more than ready to forgive and forget.

While many see Ecclestone’s praise for Hitler as outrageous, Mosley only sees a politically naive person.

And he insists that the accepted version of the infamous £1m – which was subsequently returned – Ecclestone used to buy new Labour influence, and allegedly an exemption for F1 from the ban on tobacco advertising, is wrong.

“That was deeply unfair to Bernie and Blair. David Ward – he was John Smith’s right hand man, he now heads our Brussels office – said quite early on, before the election in 1997, we ought to get Bernie to give some money to Labour, it will give us access, for other things that mattered.

“We had a huge agenda: road safety, environment. David and I went to see Blair for the first time in 1995, his house in Islington, he made the coffee. All we talked about was road safety.

“Then we had that famous meeting on 16 October 1997, it was Blair and a couple of people on the Downing Street sofa. That million did not buy Bernie influence.

“He did it because we said this will help us enormously in all sorts of ways, nothing to do with tobacco.”

As the sport has been gripped by Crashgate, what has given Mosley most satisfaction is how the affair has played out.

Team bosses had known about the cheating for almost a year while Mosley, having been told by Piquet senior himself, has known since February.

The hard evidence came when, at Mosley’s request, Piquet jnr gave a sworn statement, which lead to investigators grilling the Renault team one by one at the Belgian Grand Prix.

Mosley could not have been more pleased by the result, “It took them completely by surprise.

“When we sent Renault the dossier of evidence they made no attempt to cover up. They immediately instituted an internal investigation headed by a top lawyer. What they did was impeccable.”

Had Renault attempted a cover up they would have been expelled, as Mosley utters the words he runs his finger across his throat.

The words and the gesture are directed at Mclaren, which two years ago were at the centre of the Spygate affair.

Mosley saw this “as not a sporting infringement. It was a commercial infringement.”

He cannot forgive the attempted cover up or that Mclaren, “came to the World Council and told blatant lies.”

The barrister in Mosley is confident that a civil court will not allow Briatore to challenge the life-time ban, nor will Renault leave Formula One.

He accepts that his proposals for budget caps, which nearly ripped F1 apart, was defeated, “Too many teams opposed it. In the end we are a democracy,” but argues the same results are being obtained.

“What has happened is teams are going to get to the level of early 90s by the end of 2011, the same sort of issue as the cost cuts.”

Mosley is confident that Jean Todt, his chosen man, will succeed him and dismisses as “intellectually challenged” any who accuse him of unfairly favouring the Frenchman – particularly pundits who are former drivers.

“This assumption that if you win a world championship your views are worth listening to is not true. They have driven very fast, they don’t understand the complexity of the sport.”

When I press him for names he says, ” I do not wish to name names. Every time I say Jackie Stewart I get into trouble.”

So does Mosley still consider him a half-wit? “I would rather not say, it upsets him when I say that,” and with that Mosley bursts into laughter.

He is a man who, for all the troubles of the sport, appears very much at peace with himself.


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