Interview with FIA President Max Mosley 21 Oct 2007
Never before has the FIA had such a hands-on involvement in an ongoing championship as this season. The future will tell if it has been to the benefit of the sport. But FIA President Max Mosley is adamant that only transparency can keep Formula One racing free of the kind of maelstrom of events that has plagued so many popular sporting disciplines in the past decade...
Q: Your friend Bernie Ecclestone would like to see Lewis Hamilton as the new world champion. Is this also your opinion?
Max Mosley: Bernies stance is very British and therefore comprehensible. In my position I cannot afford such a preference and therefore stay neutral.
Q: Does that mean you dont care?
MM: Now I shall react in very British fashion: I hope that the best man in this decisive race will win.
Q: Why are you not in Brazil?
MM: If I am at a Grand Prix I usually watch the race on TV so it does not make a big difference for me if I am there or not.
Q: Whats your bet?
MM: Difficult to say. The advantage is on Hamiltons side, but I would be reluctant to bet any of my own money on one of the three contenders.
Q: The FIA has sent a special observer to Brazil to guarantee that McLaren treats both drivers equally. Was that a real necessity or is it that you dont trust Ron Dennis?
MM: We complied with the request of the Spanish FIA representative. Fact is that we have the right to prompt such an action at any time and Ron has no problem with that. In principal I have no suspicion that Ron would entice somebody in the team to play foul and if the Spanish FIA representative asked me to bring that matter under official supervision then there is no need to become too emotional about it but rather see it as a form of precautionary transparency.
Q: What do you think about Lewis Hamilton?
MM: Lewis is a very interesting man. Although only 22 years-old he has already made Formula One history. Even when taking into account that he drives one of the best cars his performance has to be measured by that of Fernando Alonso and then it becomes very clear that we are dealing here with an extremely stunning potential.
Q: Has he the potential to become a superstar like Michael Schumacher?
MM: We will know this in two or three years.
MM: Sometimes a driver is on a run of luck, sometimes he faces the opposite. We have seen this with Michael who at times was unbeatable but who also was facing big problems at others.
Q: How important is Lewis for the UK and Formula One?
MM: He is important for the UK. But that is nothing unusual. Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher also did a lot to raise the profile of Formula One in their home countries. The British reaction towards Lewis Hamilton is somewhat of a blueprint for all countries with successful Formula One drivers. And his is a brilliant plot: he came out of nowhere and has proven that he is the right stuff. Dreams are made of this!
Q: How do you see the 2007 season? There was a lot of irritation and inconsistency on and off the track.
MM: It was a good season because of the hard-fought competition - and that is important for Formula One. The controversy between Ferrari and McLaren meant a lot of work for all involved.
Q: And trouble?
MM: The suspicions against McLaren left a stale aftertaste but in the end I am convinced that the whole affair did not harm Formula One. It just sharpened its image.
Q: Was the time and effort really necessary?
MM: Yes. First and foremost we as the FIA have made it very clear that we want to keep the sport fair and transparent.
Q: But has the whole affair not damaged McLaren and Ferrari and thus indirectly Formula One? There were a lot of voices claiming that it was unnecessary to hang out the dirty laundry
MM: Contrary to those critics I want transparency and clarification of facts. The whole matter did damage both teams but some years down the line it will be forgotten.
Q: Why was it that only Pedro de la Rosa and Fernando Alonso were called and not Lewis Hamilton? Was he deliberately spared?
MM: He was present in Paris but we were basically interested in those 300 emails and intense sms contacts between McLarens Mike Coughlan and Ferraris Nigel Stepney - and in the communication between Alonso and de la Rosa. McLaren had brought Lewis to Paris but as his name was not in the files he didnt have to answer any questions. We thanked him for his presence - and he was free to go.
Q: Why was McLaren only stripped of the constructors points and not those of their drivers. If something isnt right with the cars then the results of the drivers who drove those cars cannot be right either. Ferraris Luca di Montezemolo said that if Alonso or Hamilton becomes champion today they should thank Ferraris engineers
MM: This is Lucas view. McLaren would definitely not agree
Q: And you?
MM: When McLaren was stripped of their constructors points it would have had a certain logic to also slash the drivers championship points. But the majority of the World Council was of different opinion.
MM: It was a decision of logic versus emotion. Logic would have demanded to slash all points, but emotion was not willing to wreck such an incredible championship with an armchair judgment. If McLaren had objected to the verdict it could have happened. But they didnt. Though, I would have excluded McLaren from the championship before. There is a legal rule of thumb in the UK: emotional judgments produce weak findings. Theres no doubt that I have sympathy for Hamilton and Alonso, but that fundamental decision rendered by the World Council could haunt us one day.
Q: In light of your opinion, and indirectly that of di Montezemolo, then the title of one of the McLaren drivers is of little value
MM: There is a question mark behind the title win of a McLaren driver. On the other hand one must acknowledge that both drivers did a fantastic job.
Q: This $100 million fine is an awful of a lot of money. On what comprehensible basis is this fine based?
MM: Had we to deal with one of the smaller teams, the fine would have been lower. And although this fine is severe for McLaren, the amount is less than the difference between the huge McLaren budget and the annual budget of Renault or Williams. Those 100 million dollars are no catastrophe for McLaren - and less would have missed the point. And as McLaren did not appeal it indicates that it is not endangering the team.
Q: Critics argue that the whole affair was a private vendetta between you and Ron Dennis. How is your relationship with him?
MM: Civilized. We phone once in a while. Personally I have no problems with Ron but otherwise there are differing positions. Just to give an example: Ron would like to finish every race with a one-two victory whereas it is my take that every entrant should have equal opportunities. So those two opinions dont jar. But what goes for Ron also goes for Jean Todt, Frank Williams or Flavio Briatore.
Q: For Luca di Montezemolo as well?
MM: With di Montezemolo it is different. He is chairman of Fiat and President of Italian business lobby Confindustria. My relationship with him is very personal.
Q: So you are intellectually, socially and personally closer to him than to Ron Dennis?
MM: That is probably correct as I know Luca longer and therefore better than Ron. Indeed Ive known Ron since 1970, but I became really acquainted with him at the end of the eighties, whereas I have known Luca very well since the beginning of the seventies.
Q: But do you commiserate with Ron? 2007 was an extremely tough year for him.
MM: Personally I pity his situation, on the other hand McLaren is his team, ergo his responsibility. I dont know if in the reverse case he would feel sorry for me. But with jobs like ours you have to learn to live with problems.
Q: What should he have done to avoid penalty? Where did Mr Dennis make a mistake?
MM: If he would have admitted at the first World Council hearing that his team made mistakes, everything would have been much easier for him. But we had to press the facts out of his drivers, find evidence in the police files and invest immense time to bring the truth forward.
Q: Did Mr Dennis deliberately conceal something or was it a personal problem that caused his problems?
MM: I have no idea. At the first hearing he reassured us that he had investigated everything and everybody in his team and that only one person had knowledge of the Ferrari papers. But then it became evident that a prominent member of his team - one of his drivers - was in on this. This did not build faith in Ron Dennis.
Q: Is Ferrari more important for Formula One than other teams?
MM: Yes, firstly, because it holds a historically important position, as the team has been involved in Formula One since 1950. The second point has something to do with existential orientation: imagine that there were only one British team and all other teams were Italian, that the commercial rights holder was Italian, as was the FIA President, the race director and his assistant and the sports commissioner. Wouldnt it be understandable that this team would be very careful? I therefore use my neutrality with a huge amount of responsibility and stay in close contact with Ferrari to assure them that no British mafia or cartel tries to take advantage of them. But should we find it necessary to impose our technical or sporting regulations, than Ferrari is treated like any other team. Should we find irregularities on a Ferrari - like the moveable floor after the Australian Grand Prix - it is removed and banned.
Q: Has the so called spy scandal harmed Ferrari?
MM: It does not read well for the team management that someone was able to secretly possess a 780-page document with the complete intellectual assets of the team and hand it over to the chief designer of a competitor. I am sure Ferrari has learnt from it.
Q: Many believe the penalty was too severe because it could not be proved that McLaren implemented Ferrari technology on their 2007 car. There is the legal principle of giving the defendant the benefit of the doubt
MM: We could not prove that on this years McLaren there was any part derived from Ferrari know-how. At the time of the handover the 2007 McLaren was completed. What was important for McLaren was to learn about the weight distribution of the Ferrari, the aerodynamics and the race strategy. At heart we are more worried about the 08 McLaren as it was designed when McLarens chief designer Mike Coughlan received the confidential Ferrari dossier. We are speaking here of the period between the end of April until the beginning of June of this year. In addition to the papers there was a daily flow of information.
Q: What does that mean?
MM: We are now facing the situation of going through the 08 McLaren with a fine-tooth comb. And we are not speaking about a single component but of the incorporation of intellectual property and ideas in order to solve technical problems. If you look at ten technically possible solutions and somebody can precisely point out the malfunctioning ones because he has already tried them, you have a big advantage. Fact is that we are stuck in a very complex situation that requires intense communication with McLaren.
Q: So the case is not closed yet?
MM: For 2007 yes. Not for 2008 where the outcome is wide open and very difficult. We want to play fair with McLaren but want to give the other teams and the public the guarantee that the new McLaren is not built upon Ferrari information.
Q: When will this process be finished?
MM: We hope we can close the case at the World Council Meeting in Paris on December 7th.
Q: What happens if incriminating material is discovered on the 2008 McLaren?
MM: Then the World Council has to decide how to proceed.
Q: What could be a scenario?
MM: It is idle to speculate, as we dont know yet if there is a case. As penalty I could imagine sending McLaren into the 08 season with a minus of championship points as is used in soccer - or exclude the team for the whole season.
Q: How can Formula One teams in the future avoid such conflicts?
MM: Ferrari should have been more cautious. And McLaren should have informed Ferrari the moment they received the dossier that they have a spy in the team. This should have happened at the latest at the Australian Grand Prix where Ferrari spy Stepney informed McLaren about the non-compliant floor of the Ferrari F2007. My recommendation for all teams: immediate information and transparency.
Q: Didnt Ron react that way when Fernando Alonso allegedly tried to blackmail him with new details of the spy-gate at the Hungarian Grand Prix
MM: To this day I wonder what happened between Ron and Fernando in Hungary. Fernando doesnt speak about it so I only know Rons version. It would have been better had Fernando informed us about his information much earlier.
Q: How do you rate Alonsos part in all that?
MM: As long as we dont have his version it is difficult to judge. We have to wait. I could imagine he will move to another team and probably then he will tell us a fascinating story.