Books

The fast, furious life of Max Mosley

4 July 2015

9:00 AM

4 July 2015

9:00 AM

Max Mosley’s autobiography has been much anticipated: by the motor racing world, by the writers and readers of tabloid newspapers, by social historians, and by lawyers, whom one imagines perusing it with nods, frowns and the occasional wince.

Mosley is a barrister of Gray’s Inn, and it was as a lawyer that, with his friend Bernie Ecclestone, he came to dominate motor racing. Their association began in 1964, when Mosley was a pupil in Lord Hailsham’s chambers and Ecclestone was the country’s top used-car dealer, said to be able to value an entire showroom at a glance.

Ten years later, when they had both made the transition from driving to manufacturing — Mosley with March, Ecclestone with Brabham — they founded the Formula One Constructors’ Association, which, with Ecclestone as its CEO and Mosley as its lawyer, went on to outmanoeuvre the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA, equivalent to Fifa) for the television rights to the sport.

Mosley and Ecclestone made a double-act worthy of Ealing Studios — the raffish toff and the crafty geezer. Dynamic and charismatic individually, together they were unstoppable. Formula One and Beyond fulfills its promise to tell ‘the inside story of Formula One and its evolution since the 1960s’, but one doubts if it tells the full story of the Mosley-Ecclestone partnership. Still, there are some fun memories.


Among foreigners, for instance, they used cockney rhyming slang. At a meeting with Jean-Marie Balestre, Mosley’s predecessor as president of the FIA, at which Balestre was armed with a list of FIA dissidents, Bernie said, ‘You do the Cain and Abel, and I’ll hoist it.’ So Max upended the table and Bernie swiped the list, while Balestre wailed, ‘Ma liste, ma liste, merde! Où est ma liste?’

Mosley first went motor racing during the Oxford Easter vacation of 1960, at Silverstone, watching Stirling Moss and Graham Hill, and as a young man he raced in Formula Two at Goodwood, where he decided to devote his life to the sport after he overheard one of the other drivers say, ‘Max Mosley, he must be a relation of… Alf Moseley, the coach-builder from Leicester.’

He is of course the younger son of Oswald and Diana (née Mitford), and the Mosleys are not from Leicester but Manchester, most of which they used to own. Ferdinand Mount has described them, historically speaking, as ‘plutocrats of the most unmitigated ghastliness’.

In 1940, soon after Max was born, Winston Churchill, who was a family friend, locked up the Mosleys for being friends with Hitler — or ‘TPOF’, as Diana and her sister Unity called him, standing for ‘The Poor Old Führer’. ‘The imprisonment of my parents without charge or trial,’ he writes, ‘certainly had an influence on my thinking.’

When he was 13 his parents moved to a house outside Paris, the amusingly named Temple de la Gloire, where ‘the Dook’ (as they called the Duke of Windsor, for his transatlantic accent) used to visit, and discuss with Oswald ‘how things would have been had they been respectively king and prime minister’.

In his youth, Mosley recalls, he ‘agreed with my father’s ideas’, and was arrested at one of his rallies in the East End. ‘If this appears contradictory,’ he explains somewhat huffily, ‘it might perhaps seem less so to anyone who reads his books.’ When he stood for the Oxford Union presidency, ‘it seemed the name had become a problem’, and there were ‘tiresomely hostile articles in some of the undergraduate press’. In the 1980s, encouraged by Harold Macmillan, he was briefly involved in Tory politics, and in the 1990s he joined the Labour party, but resigned over the invasion of Iraq.

His most significant political engagement has been in motoring. Appalled by the mortality rate among racing drivers, he introduced many safety features, and through the EU did the same for road cars, pioneering crash tests and seat belts, and saving thousands of lives.

Mosley is a combative character, and his book recounts many battles, most of which he seems to have won. He ends with several chapters about his triumphant campaign against the News of the World, which in 2008 filmed him in an S&M orgy. He points out that was no one’s business but his own, and remains indignant at the idea that there was anything Nazi about it. The only reason German was spoken was that one of ‘the ladies liked to be given orders in a language she didn’t understand’. As always, he gives as good as he gets, attacking not only the Murdochs but also Paul Dacre (‘a disgusting and contemptible fellow’), and even George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, who as a columnist for the NoW was ‘living at least partly off the proceeds of immorality’.

Available from the Spectator Bookshop, £20 Tel: 08430 600033

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