Over the last few months Max Mosley, president of the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), the regulatory body that controls Formula One and most other international motor sport championships, has made the headlines around the world, not for anything he has done in his official capacity, but for his behavior behind closed private doors. When the story broke in a British Sunday newspaper about his activities with five prostitutes in a sado-masochism orgy lasting five hours, it was felt that this had to be the end of the line for the president, but that was to underrate him. A lawyer by training, although he has spent his life in the motor racing world, Mosley dug in and came out fighting.
The Formula One community was restive about the situation. Some supported him, saying that what a person does in private is his or her business, but others were highly critical of his conduct. They pointed to politicians, businessman and many others who had been caught in far less compromising positions and had been forced to fall on their own sword. Not Mosley. Even before the trial in London in early July, he had called an Extraordinary General Meeting of the FIA to vote on whether he should go or stay. It says much for the power of this man that he was given the benefit of the doubt and the majority voted in his favor to stay.
Given this fresh start, Mosley is now a man on a mission. Over the last few years he has proven to be a controversial president. His most talked-about act was to impose an engine "freeze" a couple of years ago in Formula One, which meant that the 2.4-liter, naturally aspirated V8s the teams were compelled to run could not be further developed. This caused considerable anxiety in the motor sport world for a number of reasons. Firstly, Formula One likes to think itself as being at the cutting edge of technology, so how does a 10-year engine freeze work? It has implications for the key suppliers like Mahle. While they are into mass production with their pistons, when they supply Scuderia Ferrari with pistons for its Formula One cars, they are bespoke items that undergo continuous development. Before the freeze, a piston that started the season was quite different to that by season's end. Under the freeze regulations, though, this element was terminated forcing many specialist companies to leave the series.
Mosley, though, is not a fool and his antenna is highly tuned. While the engine freeze was said to be for 10 years, it was always rumored that this was a ploy to wrong-foot the engine manufacturers. If he had said that it would be a three-year freeze, for example, he knew very well that behind the scenes every one of them would be working on development for when the freeze finished. Only last month, Renault F1 announced that is was letting half its engine department go, so for Mosley the message about cutting costs has been received by the teams.
Another of his great concerns is that motor sport could be under threat as never before. In the early 1970s, when involved in a Formula One team himself, he had seen the effect of the second Arab-Israeli war and the fuel shortages that that had caused in Europe to the extent that petrol rationing was on the verge of being introduced. It also meant that motor racing was banned for a short while in some countries whilst even in the U.S. some races were shortened.
The current threat to motor sport is that in these sensitive times of no waste, sustainability, green issues, carbon footprints, and so on, the sport is open to criticism and that in a worst-case scenario it might find itself banned in some countries altogether.
So Mosley is now changing tact. The engine freeze might thaw, he has recently said, and the regulations amended to reflect what is happening in the automotive world at large. This includes introducing technologies such as energy recovery and heat recovery systems and turbocharging that are being intensively researched by all the automakers. He is also considering whether to introduce a regulation that the engine manufacturers can only use materials that can be included in production cars.
Another strand to his thinking is fuel efficiency. "It's not which fuel to use, it is how you get more work from a given amount of fuel, no matter what it is," he says. "If you arrange Formula One so that the person who gets most work out of a liter of fuel is the one who wins the race, then you're going to get a significant increase in the amount of work you get from a liter of fuel each year—and that will make a huge contribution to the world environmentally." He expands on this point explaining that the engine of the future might be a downsized turbocharged unit, analogous to the types of engines that will increasingly find use, he believes, in on-road automobiles in the next five to 10 years.
Mosley is a man on a mission to ensure that motorsport, with Formula One leading the way, must react to this situation and become a viable research and development partner for the automotive industry. If he is able to set his vision in motion before he steps down from the presidency in October next year, then maybe the sex orgy will become but a footnote in the story of a man who stopped motor sport from becoming extinct.