The name “Max Mosley” is synonymous with Formula One: both its glamour and its seedy underbelly. The 81-year-old Briton died on May 23, 2021 after battling cancer, and his legacy is quite the complex one to reckon with. But reckon with it we shall, because Mosley and his impact on the sport of racing—while complex—truly cannot be overstated.
And if you weren’t aware of how this story begins, then it’ll perfectly introduce the kind of chaos we’re talking about. Max Rufus Mosley was born to Sir Oswald Mosley on April 13, 1940. Sir Oswald Mosley was a politician who founded the British Union of Fascists. In other words, Sir Oswald was a bit of a Nazi sympathizer. And while some folks have stated that it would be unfair to cast Max Mosley by the same die, he was involved in his father’s post-war political party, the Union Movement, which was a far-right party that leaned hard into nationalism—just without as many of the overtly fascist undertones.
As was likely expected, Mosley ended up pursuing law after initially studying physics, ultimately deciding that there would be more money in being a lawyer. And what better way to bolster that career than by becoming a racing driver on the side? His wife received tickets to a race at Silverstone while Mosley was in college, and it turned out to be quite the boon for Mosley, who went on to compete on a national level in the United Kingdom.
But the danger of the era put Mosley off of competing, leaving him to note that “it was evident that I wasn’t going to be World Champion.” At least, not as a competitor. Instead, Mosley was one of several founders of March Engineering, with Mosley focusing on the commercial side. The manufacturer rapidly expanded from Formula 3 up to Formula One competition before developing cars for racing series around the world.
Because of the development of March, Mosley was asked to represent March at the Grand Prix Constructors’ Association (GPCA), which negotiated joint deals on behalf of its member teams—basically, it was a kind of teams’ union that aimed to negotiate things like safety, prize money, sponsorships, and more. With most owners focusing on their own teams, Mosley became an asset due to his law background and his push to develop the sport of Formula One. In 1974, Mosley was one of the founding members of the Formula One Constructors’ Association, which represented the commercial interests of F1 teams on an international stage and is credited with really expanding F1's growing reach. After retiring from March in ‘77, Mosley became FOCA’s legal advisor.
As a result, he ended up representing the British FOCA side of the FISA-FOCA war, which essentially pitted UK-based independent teams against more continental teams that also owned road car brands. And it was up to Mosley to help draw up the Concorde Agreement to settle the tensions, as FOCA had pushed FISA’s hand by running an event without its help. The Concorde Agreement is still in play today, though it gets updated every few years to reflect the evolving nature of the sport.
Mosley took a break from motorsport to pursue a more conventional career in the UK’s Conservative Party, but by 1986, Mosley had returned to F1 as FISA president and then in 1993, when he took on FIA presidency to represent the interests of motorsport worldwide. He was one of the few members of the sport’s upper echelons that attended Roland Ratzenberger’s funeral because, as he put it, everyone went to Senna’s. I thought it was important that somebody went to his.”
Mosley set up the Advisory Expert Group chaired by Professor Sid Watkins, which was designed to improve the safety of motorsport. It was during this period, too, that Mosley awarded Bernie Ecclestone with F1's TV rights in an effort to further expand the series’ appeal.
That being said, by his third term in FIA office, Mosley wasn’t exactly well-liked. He shouldered the blame for the disastrous 2005 United States Grand Prix that hosted only six competitors; the Michelin-tired competitors withdrew over concerns of danger since teams weren’t allowed to change tires at the time. Unfortunately, that resulted in an absolute mess of a race that tarnished Mosley’s reputation to the point where he considered resigning. But he was back for a fourth term that was characterized by his push to get F1 teams developing road car technology as well as accusations of cheating and the stealing of intellectual property.
And then 2008 happened. At the start of the year, the News of the World released video footage of Mosley participating in sex acts with five women, who were alleged to be donning Nazi-like apparel. Mosley took the paper to court, along with countless other papers that parroted the accusations; it was found that there was no genuine basis to the claims of Nazism, but that reputation was a difficult one for Mosley to shake.
Things just seemed to compound after that. Former World Champion Jackie Stewart openly criticized Mosley’s tight relationship with Bernie Ecclestone, and countless other people were calling for him to step down. His introduced rule set for the 2010 season was massively unpopular with teams. Luca di Montezemelo called him a dictator. Mosley intended to run for another term, but he was asked to step down by both the FIA and an association the F1 teams had formed. On July 15, 2010, Max Mosley stepped down from FIA presidency. Jean Todt took his place.
Mosley has undoubtedly left a long legacy in the sport of Formula One, some of it better than others. Because of him, we’ve seen improvements in safety, sponsorships, and the sheer organizational qualities of the sport. We’ve also seen scandal, disaster, and an increasing politicization of racing. He wasn’t a perfect man, and I wouldn’t even go as far as to call him a good man. But Max Mosley is responsible for changing F1 as we know it today.