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How long will `Iron Fist' Mosley last?

The British Grand Prix is on this weekend and Formula One is in a mess.

  • Choosing a car at dealership. Thoughtful grey hair man in formalwear leaning at the car and looking away

The British Grand Prix is on this weekend and Formula One is in a mess.

Not on the track, of course, where the competition continues to be wonderful between Ferrari, BMW-Sauber, McLaren-Mercedes and, to a lesser extent, Renault and Red Bull.

No, it’s behind the scenes and in the boardrooms where the situation is grim. The intrigue is muck-thick, the long knives are out for blood-letting and the future of F1 racing as we know it is at stake.

The FIA, which sanctions F1 racing, is run by the iron-fisted Max Mosley. Formula One, however, belongs to Bernie Ecclestone. Sometimes they get along; sometimes they don’t. And while both men have many friends and allies within this multibillion-dollar sport/industry, they also have just as many enemies.

Here is what has happened in the past year. You connect the dots but I’ve dropped hints.

The FIA (Mosley) fined the McLaren F1 team $100 million for having in its possession technical and other data belonging to Scuderia Ferrari. At that time, Mosley said some things about McLaren owner (and Ecclestone supporter) Ron Dennis that many people considered over-the-top nasty and unnecessary.

Several months ago, Mosley was videotaped having sex with prostitutes. There were calls for his resignation. Mosley ignored them and even went so far as to summon every member of the FIA to Paris for a meeting at which he demanded, and received, a vote of confidence.

As a result, Ecclestone mused (then denied musing; then mused some more) that F1 could become an entity separate and apart from the FIA. The FIA (Mosley) issued a statement saying any such talk was poppycock.

In recent weeks, the FIA (Mosley) announced that a new F1-feeder series called Formula 2 would come online in 2009 and Ecclestone told reporters he had warned Mosley that “certain people” were out to “get him” in the weeks leading up to the sex business.

So there is a dangerous game of power chess being played out here and where it will end is anybody’s guess. We should all keep our fingers crossed that things just don’t blow up in everybody’s face.

But what do I know? To find out how an expert in all things F1 feels about the situation, I sat down at the recent Grand Prix of Canada for a chat with Gerald Donaldson, a Canadian who’s writtten about a dozen books on F1 (biographies of Gilles Villeneuve and James Hunt, the history of the McLaren F1 team, etc.), contributes to TSN’s coverage of F1 races and used to report for the Toronto Star when Jacques Villeneuve was driving.

Here is a partial transcript:

Q: What is going to happen with Max Mosley?

A: What we have here is one individual against the world. He’s done a lot for the sport but I think there will come a time when he will be pressured out of his position.

Formula One is now too big for this kind of distraction. You’ve got all the manufacturers – Toyota, BMW, Mercedes – they all want him out. It’ll happen, but it might take a little time.

Q: Max is disgraced, Bernie is no spring chicken. Is there a succession plan in place?

A: There is no real plan. The reason for this is because Bernie has done such a fabulous job. He’s made a lot of people very rich and made the sport hugely popular around the world. So people sit back and say, “let him do it.”

Q: What would your hunch be? Sooner or later, a change has to take place.

A: At the moment, it’s an autocracy. I think over time the sport will become more democratic and the teams will play a bigger role. Remember, this started with Bernie taking a role as a representative of the teams, then he took it all for himself.

They’re already formulating a new Concorde agreement and the teams are becoming more involved. As a result, the rules will become a little more clear, the business a little more transparent and I think the manufacturers will eventually run this sport.

Q: Gasoline is sky high, the whole environmental thing has exploded. It takes tonnes of energy to put on a Grand Prix. Where is F1 going with this?

A: There are a number of initiatives to address the green issue. There are energy management systems in place, biofuel programs in place and you are going to see some great automotive breakthroughs come from F1 in the near future.

Q: You’ve been around this sport a long time (since 1978, when he wrote an article on Canadian F1 owner Walter Wolf for the old Quest magazine), who’s the most exciting driver you’ve ever seen?

A: Nigel Mansell. He wasn’t well-liked by the media because he was an abrasive character and he had a huge chip on his shoulder, but every time he got on the track, you knew something exciting was going to happen.

Gilles Villeneuve was hugely exciting to watch on one lap by himself but Mansell as a racer was in a class by himself – banging wheels, pushing people aside, whatever it took. Mansell was hugely aggressive and I think that’s what racers should be.

Q: Who was the best driver you’ve ever seen?

A: Ayrton Senna. Passion, dedication – he had all the arsenal a racer needs to the point that (it) was almost frightening. He was also the most magnetic personality of all the drivers.

There is no doubt that (Michael) Schumacher was magnificent – his records will never be broken – but he didn’t have the same level of opposition throughout his career as Senna had. Senna was always fighting with some great champion.

Q: Any news? Are you working on anything in particular at the moment?

A: My Gilles Villeneuve book is about to be the basis for a major motion picture. It’s been in gestation now for four years but it’s picking up momentum.

Bernie Ecclestone has endorsed it, Ferrari has endorsed it and very soon it will be full-speed ahead.

Motorsport writer Norris McDonald wraps up weekend racing on Mondays at Wheels.ca.

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