Bill Oursler looks at the FIA beyond The Mosley Affair
Whether or not FIA president Max Mosley’s escapades are viewed as a
private matter, or a public scandal, the real issue is what happens when, and
if, he is forced from office. Clearly under the tandem team of Mosley and
Bernie Ecclestone, Formula One has become the more than billion dollar
giant that drives the world of international motorsport. Just as clearly, unless
the FIA can find a replacement whose personality is strong enough to
balance the competing interests of those involved in F-1, not only could the
effect on the open wheel universe be disastrous, but, the fallout could extend
across the board to the rest of the industry as well, this including the sports
Regardless of what happens, the “second class citizenship” status that the
prototype and GT community have found themselves in for more than 30
years now, probably won’t change, at least in the short term. The reason for
this is simple: money. The manufacturer investment in F-1 is based not only
selling product, but enhancing one’s image in order to gain acceptance for
one’s products and thereby increase sales. It is a fine distinction to be sure.
However, it is important.
Japanese and European car makers alike value their overall image even more
than they do the immediate sales figures for any particular model. That isn’t
to say that they ignore those figures, because quite obviously they don’t.
Their bottom line is crucially important. Yet, image is the basis for the future.
Mercedes, for example may have quality control issues in the short term, but
the company’s long term heritage as an elite automotive manufacturer tends
to attract buyers regardless. The BMWs, Renaults, Hondas, Toyotas and
alike all hold similar views.
What Mosley has done is to tarnish the image of F-1 was the world’s premier
racing series, its position as an earthbound NASA pushing the technological
boundaries to, and sometimes beyond their limits. This is why Mosley most
likely will be forced to resign: the manufacturers, the guys who sign the
checks believe his continued presence will diminish their investment in
Formula One as a tool to improving their position within the marketplace.
So, given all that, why can’t sportscar racing improve its lot in life? The
answer is that it can, but only if those in charge are able to take the long,
rather than the short view. In the first several decades following the revival of
motorsport after the Second World War, the infrastructure was such that
drivers could not only, but financially needed to embrace the open and closed
wheel disciplines. Today that luxury has disappeared, and while few, if any,
would argue that those racing in the sports car arena are as good as, if not
better than their F-1 counterparts, the fact is that they are far less known.
It is within that relative obscurity sports car racing has lived, playing a an
almost mandated subordinate role to Formula One whose fortunes Mosley
and, obviously Ecclestone have focused on, while virtually ignoring the needs
of those dedicated to vehicles wearing enclosed bodywork. Indeed,
conspiracy theorists have suggested that Mosley and Ecclestone engineered
the early 1990’s demise of the World Sports Car championship in order to
eliminate it as a potential distraction in promoting F-1 as the premier level of
That sports car racing has survived, and prospered, if to a lesser amount than
it might have if the FIA had given it a more than passing glance, is a tribute to
the fact that it has a loyal following which is not going away anytime soon. If
Mosley does step down, as most believe he will be forced to do, will the
fortunes of sports car racing necessarily improve?
One man rumored to be in line for Mosley’s position is Jean Todt. While the
Frenchman is best known as the man who guided Ferrari’s fortunes in F-1
during the Michael Schmacher era, before he went to Italy, he was head of
Peugeot’s racing efforts, which included two straight victories at Le Mans in
1992 and 1993. Would Todt, as FIA president be more balanced is his
approach to the future of the sports car side of the house as opposed to F-1?
Perhaps. But, then there is the larger question of whether or not he could get
the job in the first place. There are other qualified candidates. However, while
they all could presumably fill the office, there remains the matter of their
strength as the potential leader of an organization filled with complexities and
sometimes competing agendas. If not Todt then who? And, even if were to
replace Mosley, would he be strong enough to carry on in a successful
manner as the effective head of what is now a huge business more than it is a
governing body for motorsport?
It would be nice if the profile of international sports car racing could be
returned to its former glory. Yet, it would be even worse if whomever takes of
the FIA is unable to control its children. Such a failure would lead to anarchy,
and no one makes money in those circumstances, even if the person running
things likes sports cars as well as he does Formula One.
Bill Oursler April 2008