JONATHAN McEVOY: Mosley formed inseparable double act with Ecclestone

JONATHAN McEVOY: Respected but feared, Max Mosley formed an inseparable double act with Bernie Ecclestone across 40 years that cajoled and bullied Formula One into a multi-billion pound business, from oil rags to riches

  • Formula One icon Max Mosley died on Sunday night following cancer battle
  • Mosley’s colourful story started as  son of Sir Oswald Mosley, the fascist leader 
  • He was a central figure in F1 circles and never found himself losing arguments 
  • Bernie Ecclestone described Mosley as ‘like a brother’ in a tribute on Monday 

We, a few British journalists, were invited to a farewell dinner with Max Mosley at Monza, his time as president of Formula One’s ruling body, the FIA, coming to an end. It fell to me to offer him his valedictory gift.

Mosley died on Sunday night, aged 81, after one of the most significant and controversial contributions to the sport’s history and this memory came to mind.

He laughed uproariously at the absurdity of it all, a testament to a humorous streak of his character. I handed to him a brown leather whip from Swaine Adeney Brigg, whipmakers to the Queen. It was inscribed: ‘MRM. From Fleet Street’s finest. 10.09.09.’

Max Mosley was feared as he helped play a key role in transforming the sport of Formula One

Mosley (right), who died at home on Sunday, developed a bond with Bernie Ecclestone (left)

Mosley had a limited racing career before taking his business off track but is seen here in 1968

 He was FIA president for 16 years as he bullied the sport into a multi-million dollar business

I said it was a token of our appreciation of the strangely good relations we shared with him, Max Rufus Mosley — the MRM reference — over many years of often combative involvement. I suggested it might be of practical use in his retirement.

The subtext was one of the seminal moments of his life — exposure in the News of the World in March 2008 for engaging in a sado-masochistic orgy that led him to fight for limits on stricter privacy laws in his dotage.

That cause coloured all the last years of his life. He died at home in Chelsea on Sunday still fighting his anti-press crusade.

This, however, was only a fraction of the full story. For he was born the son of Sir Oswald Mosley, the fascist leader, and of socialite Diana Mitford, the most beautiful of six sisters who adorned English society around the war years. 

Mosley (middle), talking to Lewis Hamilton (left) had a colourful life as an Oxford graduate

 Mosley, pictured here in 2012, was routinely seen as the son of fascist politician Oswald

His mother was described by Evelyn Waugh as possessing a beauty that rang through a room like a peal of bells. As was the case with Diana, he never forswore the objectionable right-wing politics of his contentious father. And like Oswald, Max Mosley was an intellectual giant but one brought low and assailed by overweening intellectual arrogance.

In Formula One circles, he was a central figure. Tall, taut, clever with words, he never lost an argument. He delivered his every line with precision and never ducked a fight. His whole demeanour was dressed up in punctilious politesse.

On Monday night, Bernie Ecclestone paid tribute to his old friend: ‘He was like a brother to me. It is like losing a family friend. He was one of the greatest people I ever knew. He should have been Prime Minister and I told Margaret Thatcher that.’

There would be plenty of people very happy it never came to pass.

The two men, Ecclestone and Mosley, who ran the March F1 team in the Seventies and were close friends of 1976 world champion James Hunt, transformed the nature of Formula One.

Ecclestone was the entrepreneur, Mosley the lawyerly voice of wisdom.

They were the inseparable double act across 40 years that cajoled and bullied their series into a multi-billion business, from oil rags to riches.

Engineering team principals Mosley (later FIA president), Alan Rees and Robin Herd with the Ford Cosworth V8 engine before the start of the 1971 Formula 1 Grand Prix season

Mosley successfully sued over this News of the World exclusive in 2008

‘He suffered for too long,’ said Ecclestone of Mosley’s illness.

Mosley was president of the FIA from 1993 to 2009, during which time he won a well-earned reputation for dictatorship, taking on manufacturers and vested interests, respected but feared.

A physics graduate at Oxford, he then trained as a barrister and raced in Formula Two.

He changed the safety of the sport after the deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger at Imola in 1994. Mosley decided to go to the funeral of Ratzenberger rather than that of Senna, believing his presence there would mean more. He also thought — and this is what he would wish to count more than anything as his legacy — he encouraged both racing and road safety, pushing ahead with the Euro NCAP programme that stipulated various life-saving devices in the cars we drive now.

Max Mosley, a complex man, arrived in motor racing to escape his family reputation.

He put his name up at one of his first races and someone said: ‘Max Mosley — he must be some relation of Alf Moseley, the coachbuilder.’ He said: ‘I thought to myself, ‘I’ve found a world where they don’t know about Oswald Mosley. Nobody gives a damn’.’ 

Ecclestone (centre) paid tribute to Mosley (left) on Monday following news of his death at 81

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