Balestre passes away aged 86

Former FIA president Jean Marie Balestre has passed away at the age of 86

Balestre passes away aged 86

He was best known for being the president of FISA from 1979 to 1991 and also of the FIA from 1986 to 1993.

Prior to that, however, he was a founding member of the French national motorsport association, the Federation Francaise du Sport Automobile (FFSA), becoming its president in 1973.

During that period he also established FISA, and became heavily involved in the organisation's battles with FOCA over the control and finances of Formula One in the early 1980s.

Eventually Balestre agreed to a compromise deal with FOCA chief Bernie Ecclestone and they duly signed the first Concorde Agreement.

Remaining in change of FISA, Balestre began a crusade to improve safety in the sport - campaigning hard for the ban of turbo engines in 1989.

But Balestre's actions led some within the sport to criticise him for abusing his power - especially following the Suzuka controversies of 1989 and 1990 between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost.

Senna in particular heavily criticised Balestre for what he felt was a campaign to favour Prost - and the Brazilian's comments in the winter of 1989 prompted Balestre to demand an apology if the then McLaren driver was to be issued with a superlicence for the 1990 season.

In 1991, after Balestre lost his role as president of FISA, Senna revealed that his collision with Prost at Suzuka in 1990 was the result of his anger at Balestre refusing to help change the side of pole position for that race.

Speaking in an emotional press conference at the 1991 Japanese Grand Prix, Senna said: "I tell you if pole had been on the good side last year, nothing would have happened because I would have got a better start. I would have been first into the first corner without any problem.

"But it was a result of a decision, a bad decision, influenced by Balestre. I know that. we know that from underneath. And we all know why, and the result was the first corner (accident). It was not my responsibility, I did contribute to it, yes, but it was not my responsibility."

Many fans will also remember Balestre for crossing the track shortly after the start of the 1989 British Grand Prix at Silverstone, when he was lucky not to be hit by the Osella of Nicola Larini.

Balestre eventually lost his presidency of the FISA in 1991 after losing the election to Mosley. Two years later, facing almost certain defeat to Mosley in the FIA role, he stood down from that role and proposed FISA be abolished completely. He carried on as president of the FFSA until 1996.

The current French motorsport federation president Nicolas Deschaux told TF1: "This is a tremendous loss for motorsport. He always knew how to carry the voice of the institutions he managed."

Former grand prix driver Jacques Laffite told L'Equipe: "We drivers loved him so much. He did a lot for us. We owe him enormously."

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Series Formula 1
Author Jonathan Noble
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