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BW Businessworld

Lead Review: In The Fast Lane

With so much to say about his fascinating career that took him from reading physics at Oxford to setting up a law practice, which he left to become a race driver and then a team owner, stopping briefly to attempt joining UK politics, to finally becoming FIA president, Mosley is left with little room in this almost 500-page book to say much about his personal life.

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By Mohit Charnalia

It’s mid-summer in 2005. A surreal Formula One race is in progress at the Indianapolis circuit in the US. As the 20 cars finish their formation lap, fans are dismayed to see 14 of the competing cars peel off, exit the track and return to their pits, leaving only six cars at the start of the race. The problem was caused by Michelin supplying tyres that were declared unsafe. Incidentally, of the six cars that raced that day, all on Bridgestone tyres, one was being driven by India’s Narain Karthikeyan. Many blamed the failure to resolve the dispute at Indianapolis to previous disagreements between the teams and the FIA (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile, the governing body for world motor sport) due to the tough stance taken by the man heading the body, Max Mosley.

In his autobiography, Formula One and Beyond: The Autobiography, Max Mosley, the former president of the FIA, writes about the ups and downs of motor racing from the late 1960s, including how Bernie Ecclestone and he got together in the 1980s to dramatically change Formula One. One of the most visible changes was how commercial engagements were negotiated. From individual teams doing their own deals, Ecclestone brought all teams together and negotiated with sponsors as a single entity following the signing of the Concorde Agreement, which, with modifications, still governs Formula One today. When Ecclestone began, race promoters didn’t want to telecast the races fearing that no one would buy tickets for an event that was free on television. By 2013 (the latest year for which figures are available), Formula One broadcasting rights alone were worth $650 million.

Motorsport fans will love the intimate view of the sport only an insider like Mosley can provide, be it how safety issues took centre stage , particularly after Brazilian Ayrton Senna’s death at the San Marino Grand Prix, or how the iconic Concorde Agreement came about, or the events that led to that rather deserted racetrack in Indianapolis. Outside of Formula One, he describes his spat with the News of the World and how it probably hastened the end of Rupert Murdoch’s leading British tabloid.

For the non-fan, the detail can be overwhelming initially because the names of drivers and race tracks, references to racing events and incidents and acronyms specific to the sport may not be familiar. However, once you get past that, the book is an informative read about the events and people behind the tectonic changes in Formula One over half a century.

With so much to say about his fascinating career that took him from reading physics at Oxford to setting up a law practice, which he left to become a race driver and then a team owner, stopping briefly to attempt joining UK politics, to finally becoming FIA president, Mosley is left with little room in this almost 500-page book to say much about his personal life.

On the whole, this book is written for the Formula One fan, who will enjoy the trackside view of the tremendous evolution the sport has seen.

The non-fan may, like a first-year engineering student left alone to fiddle with a Ferrari engine, find the detail daunting but will appreciate the importance to motorsports of the events that Mosley navigates his readers through.

Above all, Mosley’s life illustrates some key traits common to change leaders. He pursued his goal of improving racetrack safety by bringing together diverse stakeholders, constantly communicating the need for change and showing the courage to stand up for his beliefs despite public criticism when he almost stopped the Indianapolis race due to safety concerns.

Charnalia is co-founder and CEO of Mandibridge

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 14-12-2015)


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