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Max Mosley, one of the most influential personalities in motor racing of the last 50 years, died on Monday at the age of 81. He had been suffering from cancer. 

In a motor racing context Max will be best remembered for his time as President of the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile from 1993 to 2009 in succession to the controversial Jean-Marie Balestre. Together with Bernie Ecclestone, Max had masterminded the palace coup which overthrew the Frenchman’s regime and could be said to have converted the supremacy of British cars on the race tracks of the world into a dominant influence in the sport’s corridors of power.

The younger son of Sir Oswald Mosley Bt, the leader of the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s and later, after internment during World War Two, of the Union Movement, Max graduated from Christ Church College, Oxford in 1961 with a physics degree before qualifying as a barrister. This legal grounding, applied to a considerable intellect, was to stand him in very good stead in the years to come.

It was a casual visit to Silverstone while still at Oxford which sparked Max’s interest in motor racing to the extent that by 1966 he had acquired a U2 Mk 6 Clubmen’s Formula car with which he enjoyed considerable success the following year, winning some 12 races in 1967 in what was a very competitive category. Just for fun Max also entered the U2 in the London Trophy, an international Formula 2 race at Crystal Palace. He finished last in his heat, which was won by Bruce McLaren, and failed to qualify for the final. However, his appetite for racing at this level had been whetted and so for 1968 he took the plunge into a full season of Formula 2, then as now one step below Formula 1, setting up the London Racing Team to run a couple of Brabham BT23Cs for himself and the very talented young British driver Chris Lambert. Max’s first race was at Hockenheim on 7th April 1968, a date never to be forgotten in the annals of motor racing as the occasion of Jim Clark’s fatal crash. After qualifying 18th, Max finished 11th in the first leg and ninth in the second to be classified ninth on aggregate but this paled into insignificance against the loss of the great Scottish driver.

At Thruxton a week later Max achieved his best-ever placing in a F2 race by finishing fourth in his heat behind Henri Pescarolo, Jackie Oliver and Alan Rees but he suffered engine failure in the final. Probably his best race of the year was the Monza Lottery for which he qualified 22nd and last but there were many who failed to make the cut. In a race riddled with accidents, Max kept clear of trouble and finished a worthy eighth. A few weeks later, personal tragedy struck the team when Chris Lambert was killed in a wholly unnecessary accident precipitated by Clay Regazzoni at Zandvoort. Max did not race again until the end of October when he finished a distant 14th in both legs of the Rome Grand Prix at Vallelunga. This was almost the end of Max’s racing career although he did acquire a Lotus 59B for 1969. The car was delivered late and convinced Max that he should retire from driving when its suspension fell apart on him during practice for the Eifelrennen on the Nurburgring Nordschleife and he was fortunate to emerge unscathed from a high speed accident. Two weeks earlier he had run the car with ballast in the Formula 1 category of the Madrid Grand Prix at Jarama, a curious non-championship affair for a mixed bag of obsolete F1 and a few current Formula 5000 and F2 cars from which he retired after qualifying fourth. After the Nurburgring crash Max did not race again so it could be said that his last race was in Formula 1!

For the remainder of 1969 Max was one of the prime movers behind the establishment of March, the name derived from the names of its founders Mosley, Alan Rees, Graham Coaker and Robin Herd and not Much Advertised Racing Car Hoax as some suggested. That March was not a hoax was first shown when the prototype Formula 3 car, the 693, appeared at Cadwell Park’s international in the hands of Ronnie Peterson who finished third in the final behind Tim Schenken’s Brabham and Howden Ganley’s Chevron, two of the established manufacturers who March were aiming to surpass, and not just in Formula 3. 

The first Formula 1 race of the 1970 season, the South African Grand Prix on 7th March, had five March 701s on the grid. Jackie Stewart in Ken Tyrrell’s independent car and Chris Amon in the works 701 set equal fastest qualifying times to share the front row with Jack Brabham’s new BT33 who went on to win the race after Jackie had led the early laps before tyre problems intervened and he was forced to drop back to finish third. Almost unbelievably, a March 701 won each of the next three Formula 1 races with Jackie taking the Brands Hatch Race of Champions, Chris Amon the BRDC Daily Express International Trophy and Jackie winning again in the Spanish Grand Prix. While the 701 was something of an all-purpose design by Robin Herd to establish March as a manufacturer across several racing categories, his 1971 creation looked radically different. It worked well and the 711 enabled Ronnie Peterson to finish as runner up in the Drivers’ World Championship in his first full season of F1 racing.

As the front man for the March team, Max soon crossed paths with Bernie Ecclestone who acquired the Brabham team from Ron Tauranac in 1971. And so began the ‘Bernie and Max’ show in Formula 1; while the other constructors within FOCA, the Formula One Constructors’ and Entrants’ Association, concentrated on running their teams and beating their rivals on the track, Bernie and Max took care of the bigger picture not only as regards financial matters but also safety. While FOCA flourished, the fortunes of March fluctuated through the 1970s in Formula 1 although in the lower categories the works and customer cars were notably successful as is evident from the many Marches to be seen in historic racing these days. In 1977 Max and Robin were content to sell the company’s F1 assets to ATS. Robin retained his shareholding in the company, which continued as a commercial racing car manufacturer, but Max sold his. However, he remained very much involved with FOCA and the many machinations which ensued as FOCA’s role in Formula 1 continued to strengthen. In 2015 Max published his autobiography which gives an illuminating account of the events of those years, how they shaped Formula 1 as it is today, and how Max rose to become President of, first, the Manufacturers’ Commission of the Federation Internationale du Sport Automobile (FISA) then of FISA and ultimately of the FIA itself in 1993.

During his four terms in office Max had a number of serious crises with which to contend, starting with the tragic deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna at Imola in 1994 followed almost immediately by the very serious but fortunately not fatal accident to Karl Wendlinger at Monaco. Max led the way in tackling the challenge of making motor racing safer by introducing the Advisory Expert Group led by Professor Sid Watkins, reducing engine capacity and power, encouraging the development of the HANS device, requiring improvements in circuit safety and much more. He devoted considerable time to arguing the case for Formula 1’s need to be seen to be cutting its costs and conserving its consumption of natural resources. He was not afraid to court controversy but was always able to clearly articulate and explain the reasoning behind his actions and decisions. In 2008 he presided over the decision of the FIA World Motor Sports Council to impose a fine of $100million on the McLaren team for unlawfully using Ferrari’s intellectual property while the Renault team went unpunished for appearing to use some of McLaren’s IP. 

Away from the race track, one of the achievements of which Max was most proud was the promotion of ENCAP, the European New Car Assessment Programme. He was the recipient of many honours and awards for his work in relation to road safety including becoming a Chevalier of France’s Legion d’honour, a Commander of Monaco’s Order of St Charles and being awarded the Castrol Gold Medal by the Institute of the Motor Industry in 2000.

In 2008, still with 18 months of his fourth term to run, Max was the subject of a story in the now defunct News of the World which had somehow been alerted to his involvement in group sex acts. The World Council subsequently passed a vote of confidence in Max which enabled him to see out his term but his position and authority had been weakened. He successfully sued the newspaper and spent much of his time and personal fortune campaigning for greater privacy for private individuals at the hands of exploitative media, and underwriting the legal costs of victims.

In 1960 Max married his wife Jean. They had two sons, Alexander and Patrick but tragically Alexander died in 2009. In 1995 Max was elected as an Honorary Member of the BRDC. To Jean and Patrick Mosley and to their wider family and friends, the Club offers its most sincere condolences at the loss of a remarkable man whose contribution to the worlds of motoring, motor racing and the United Kingdom’s privacy laws should never be forgotten.

The Club regrets to report on the death of Neville Hay, who was elected as a BRDC Member in 1993
The Club regrets to report on the death of Alan Minshaw, who was elected as a BRDC Member in 1984
The Club regrets to report on the death of Ray Thackwell who was elected as a BRDC Member in 1957
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