The summer break granted me some much overdue reading time. You’d think with all the long haul travel involved in a season of Formula 1 that I’d be much better read, but I find it incredibly hard to focus on a book in the air. That, and who can resist watching Laurence of Arabia for the 17th time?
I took three books away with me, all with a work-related tone. And I devoured each one.
I began with two works by dear friends and colleagues. “Where the Writer Meets the Road,” is everything you would expect from the incomparable Sam Posey. His turn of phrase is nigh on poetic and his words flow as readily from the page as they do from his tongue. A collection of articles, profiles and familiar broadcast introductions, this book is a “Best of Posey” of sorts and a fabulous read in easily digestible chunks.
Next up I finally got round to reading Steve Matchett’s “The Mechanic’s Tale.” I must admit no small amount of embarrassment that I had never turned its pages before, as I feel I must be one of the only fans of this sport never to do so. But in a way I’m glad I waited as long as I did. For knowing Steve as well as I now do, it felt more like a conversation. I could sit and listen to Steve regale stories for days, and I found The Mechanics Tale to be one of the easiest and most joyous books to read.
It’s a fascinating, engaging account of how a road car mechanic with a dream ended up winning the Formula 1 world championship, all told in Steve’s inimitable style with great heart and humour. It doesn’t bog down in detail, allowing the narrative of the seasons to prevail. I could almost imagine each chapter in conversation over a pint in The Chequers in Chipping Norton, or a Martini in a Steak House in Austin.
So having waltzed joyfully through two books in two days, I opened my third and final work and one which would take me the rest of the week to complete.
Max Mosley: The Autobiography – Formula One and Beyond is not your regular Formula 1 book. If you want a race by race history of Formula 1 as seen through the eyes of a racer, team owner and eventually FIA President, then this is not the book for you. Weighing in at 481 pages, only the first 93 go into great depth from a racing perspective.
But that’s not what excites about Mosley’s story. Mosley was born into politics and has lived a life ruled by politics. As a student of the subject, I wrote to him when I decided to write my University thesis on The Politics of Formula 1 back at the start of the 2000s. He replied to every letter and answered every question. It impressed me at the time and does so even more today when I think back on it. If only I’d had this book 15 years ago. It would have filled in an awful lot of gaps.
From page 94, this thrilling book becomes an in depth and utterly compelling political history of Formula 1 from the very inside of the FISA-FOCA war. It charts the methods and strategy employed by Mosley and Ecclestone in wrestling control of the sport away from FISA and Balestre, how Mosley positioned himself within the FIA to take control of the body and the sport, and how Ecclestone leveraged his own position to not only place himself at the commercial heart of the sport, but how he turned Formula 1 from a sideline and niche motorsport into the most popular racing championship and one of the richest and most watched sports in the world.
The strategies employed and explained are fascinating. His awareness of which battles to fight, who to trust, when to hold and when to strike are utterly Machieavellian.
There is a lot of honesty contained within the pages of Mosley’s book, too. I found particular interest in his fears that Bernie Ecclestone would engage in a “scorched earth” policy at the end of one of the periods of agreement, in order to lower the bargaining price of the sport. Mosley’s suggestion of such a tactic of course holds particular relevance today when one questions the reasoning for the occasional negative comment on the state of the sport by the man charged with its promotion. Again, it’s the political machinations that one finds so intriguing.
Over your years in the sport, you hear a lot of rumours. Some of which have found their way into the book and I couldn’t help but smile and on a few occasions laugh out loud that there was truth behind some of the more outrageous stories that had become F1 folklore.
Mosley goes to great lengths to convince he has a good relationship with Ron Dennis and Lewis Hamilton (a case of the lady protesting too much?), especially in light of the Spygate scandal of 2007. Mosley clearly still holds great resentment that Dennis and McLaren stood by their insistence of innocence, but in his retelling of the story does amusingly confirm that it was Ecclestone, and not him as is often rumoured, who had jokingly uttered the immortal line that Ron had been “fined $5 million for the offence and $95 million for being a c**t.”
I know that there was much that Mosley had written which was taken out by the lawyers. Which is a shame. And as an autobiography, Mosley himself is always going to come out on top. While he does admit culpability and fault in some cases, one will never receive a totally rounded reflection of his successes and tenure in office from a self-penned work. It can feel self congratulatory in places, and at times it is difficult to reconcile Mosley’s fight against the teams when in a position of authority when one remembers that a decade or so earlier he had been in the polar opposite position. The anti-establishment hero had become the very establishment he sought to remove, a fact which at times seems lost on him.
The final chapters are spent detailing The News of The World’s campaign against Mosley and his waging of war against the paper and, latterly, his influence in initiating one of the greatest changes to the power of the press ever witnessed in the United Kingdom. It proves once again what a brilliant legal and political mind exists within Mosley, and from the perspective of British legal and political history, again provides an important account of a time of real change.
It made me wonder if I had been fair with Mosley at the time of the allegations, and forced me to go back through what I had written back in 2008. I believe I was. But with the aid of hindsight, and knowing what we now do about the case, one cannot help but feel a few pangs of guilt that one’s compassion over the breach of the man’s inalienable right to privacy was perhaps not as great as it should have been.
In conclusion, then, did the book make me reassess Mosley’s Presidency? Yes it did. Did it make me reassess Mosley the man? Undeniably. But always with the awareness that Mosley is, by training, by experience and by reputation a charming, persuasive and astute politician. There are great gaping holes in the story, and elements to many of the political scandals which rocked the sport under his watch that I wish had been delved into far deeper. Perhaps one day all those pages the lawyers thought should remain unprinted will see the light of day. I certainly hope so.
If you want a racing history of Formula 1, this isn’t the book for you. But if you, like me, are fascinated and excited by the thrill of politics, law and finance as the backstory to the creation and development of a sport you adore, then this is essential, if heavy, reading.
It’s not a racing book. It’s a political history. And a damned fine one.
As with the beautiful works of my dear friends Sam and Steve, it comes with the highest recommendation.