There is a disturbing parallel between the behaviour of Hillary Clinton and Max Mosley.
Both have been driven by extraordinary, some would say deluded, belief in their own destinies into a tenacious promotion of self-interest at the expense of the organisations which have made them what they are.
Arguably the strategy has paid off better for Max than Hillary. She is now unlikely to attain supreme power, though she may have scuppered the Democratic Party’s chances of securing the presidency in the process.
Max has played his cards more astutely. Having successfully calculated the odds against him, he has brassed out the hullabaloo over his sex scandal and been able to thrust two fingers at his many critics. A confidence vote of 103 to 55, with paltry abstentions, at the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile is all the mandate he needs to retain supreme power in the global motor sports realm until October 2009.
If there’s a problem with his continued tenure, it’s now someone else’s and he is gambling they won’t take the initiative, because they can’t.
Moaning and groaning
On the face of it, that seems a strange conclusion to draw. After all, this is a still unfolding story with the potential for disaster much worse than the sleazy episode at its core. The sleaze has merely served to shed an unflattering light on the organisation behind F1 that, for all the stellar fame surrounding it and billions of pounds lavished upon it, is bloated, archaic, managerially incompetent and ethically dubious. If you’re a sponsor of F1, or a constructor, those associations ought to be a wee bit troubling for your own brand image.
But the fact is, moaning about it is not nearly enough. Mercedes Benz, BMW, Toyota and Honda (for example) have been quite vocal in their criticisms. Others, like Vodafone, have been active behind the scenes. Powerful individuals, such as ex-Formula 1 champions Sir Jackie Stewart and Jody Scheckter, FI commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone, Crown Prince Sheik Salma Al Khalifa of Bahrain and Prince Albert of Monaco (where Mosley lives), have in their various ways made it clear that Mosley should do the decent thing by F1 and fall on his sword.
To no avail. None of these people, or organisations – unlike certain caravan associations – has a vote at the archaically-constituted FIA which is formally responsible for Mosley’s fate as global head of motor sport.
To be fair, some of the motoring organisations which do actually get to vote have made their opposition pretty uncompromising. ADAC, the German motoring federation, has gone as far as suspending all international co-operation with the FIA until Mosley steps down. And the American Automobile Association has also threatened disaffection.
Yet, despite wielding significant influence (the AAA, for example, has about 50 million members), they have relatively little formal power at the FIA where the voting constitution closely resembles the shambles at the UN – without the check of a security council. Once elected, or re-elected, the president enjoys pretty unimpeachable powers, selects his own cabinet and even, it seems, his own successor (Jean Todt, head of the Ferrari F1 team still being Mosley’s favoured candidate).
With that kind of patronage, and an overwhelming vote of confidence behind him, Mosley has good reason to suppose he has won. Indeed, one chief executive of a global F1 team sponsor reluctantly agrees. He privately despairs of anything being done “unless we act as a group.”
At first sight, it is difficult to see what, if anything, he could have in mind here. The only effective action would be some kind of boycott, and that might put both sponsors and constructors under pressure from their shareholders.
So a royal flush for Max? Not necessarily. It is noticeable that in defence of his actions, Mosley has been less concerned with the suggestion that he might be branded a sexual pervert than that he might be branded a Nazi sexual pervert. On the face of it, the video evidence for a death-camp scenario looks pretty overwhelming: prostitutes posing as camp inmates in striped prison uniforms, a dominatrix wearing Nazi-style paraphernalia, Mosley issuing orders in German, Nazi salutes… Nevertheless, he continues to maintain he has been set up by the News of the World, which he is suing.
Perhaps he has little choice. This is no dunderheaded young prince clowning about at a fancy-dress party, but a seasoned, sophisticated operator of 67 who knew exactly what he was doing. And who just happens to be the elder son of Britain’s most notorious and unrepentant Hitler fans, British Union of Fascists founder Sir Oswald Mosley and his wife, Lady Diana.
The issue here is not so much whether Mosley is truly a Nazi sympathiser but whether Formula One can afford to be complacent about having someone so politically incorrect as its prime representative.
Racism is an issue for F1, as the recent taunts aimed at Lewis Hamilton at a pre-season test demonstrated. Toyota, which has not so far seen much for the $500m it has invested in F1, was pretty quick to tie the two things together: it said it did not approve of behaviour damaging to F1’s image, “in particular any behaviour which could be understood to be racist or anti-Semitic.”
Here is the FIA’s Achilles heel, and one Jewish and Muslim lobby groups would do well to puncture. By applying unrelenting ‘guilt by association’ pressure on the biggest brands associated with F1, they will finally get them to act. That’s the kind of CSR pressure even shareholders will appreciate.
What actually happens next is anyone’s guess, but this much is certain: the longer Mosley stays, the more destabilising it will be for F1 and all who work for and with it. Germany seems likely to withdraw from the Grand Prix circuit, other countries may follow. Fund-raising will be an increasing problem.
More speculatively, constructors such as BMW and Mercedes Benz may decide this is the perfect opportunity to create a rival, differently constituted, motor sport breakaway. True, they’ve plotted a similar sort of thing before without success. But this time, who knows?
That could be the final irony of the Max Mosley affair. By hanging on, he may prove an unwitting catalyst of positive change. The very least you can say of his performance so far is that he has shone light into some murky recesses of F1 rarely glimpsed by the public – and for very good reason.