By Matt Bishop, England
F1 Racing Editor in Chief
One man was missing from the Indianapolis paddock on the weekend of the US Grand Prix, the only man who is intelligent enough, experienced enough and important enough to have found a way to avoid the disastrous outcome of that event. Matt Bishop finds it rather sad that this man wasn't there to begin with
It is usually the task of this column to combine two missions: (1) to provide an off-beat preview of the forthcoming Grand Prix and (2) to make a trenchant point or three about an issue of the day. This week, mission number-two is tear-jerkingly easy. By contrast, mission number-one is... mission impossible.
Why so? Because, hour by hour since the US Grand Prix weekend, the shape of the Indy-gate saga - and, more accurately, its pathetic fall-out - has changed, changed and changed again as this or that worm has turned.
Tear-jerkingly? Oh yes. Pathetic? Oh yes again; I used that word in its original sense (in other words, full of pathos). I find it all very sad.
And now, as Formula One hacks everywhere measure out a stiff tot of the hard stuff in order to lubricate their thinking - for explaining the situation is dreadfully complex - what are we to make of it all? Will 20 cars start the 2005 French Grand Prix? We all hope so - but, by the time this column is, say, six hours old, more worms will have done more turning, and everything will be different again.
Undoubtedly, Indy-gate was, ultimately, Michelin's fault. They brought unsuitable tyres to the Speedway, and their contracted teams could not race as a result. In a sense, it was that simple. But once that dreadfully grave mistake had been made, there was nothing anyone at Michelin could do to fix it.
Could anyone have fixed it? Possibly not. But possibly, just possibly, one man could have. That one man, a famously and formidably intelligent man, could perhaps have engaged his compellingly powerful intellect in such a way as to come up with a solution that would have allowed the show to go on. But Max Mosley did not do that.
Max was not at Indy, of course, and that cannot have helped. He says he does not need to be at every Grand Prix, and nine times out of ten he is right. But, every once in a while, a situation so vexatious arises, its nuances so convoluted, that his stewardship of the FIA's handling of the ensuing crisis suffers as a result of his control being so remote. The disaster that engulfed the 2005 United States Grand Prix was one such, in my opinion.
Elsewhere on Autosport-Atlas, and in every other F1 publication (both on- and off-line), and in newspapers everywhere, the rights and wrongs of Mosley's handling of the catastrophe have been picked over in fastidious detail. I do not have space to add to that media feast, substantively, here. But there is a phrase which keeps coming back to haunt me every time I read another FIA communication whose remit may possibly include the desire to deflect blame from the FIA president in an FIA presidential election year. That phrase is: the buck stops here.
In our case, the buck stops with Max. In a sense, it matters little whether he is at fault or not; what matters is that a terrible thing has happened, and he failed to prevent it happening. He was not the only one who failed to prevent it happening, but those others do not occupy the desk on which the buck stops. Yes, they made mistakes - bad ones. Yes, Michelin's Pierre Dupasquier was at first incompetent and then naive. Yes, Jean Todt was intransigent and perhaps even a tad ignoble. Yes, Paul Stoddart was his ludicrously pugnacious self. Yes, Colin Kolles showed all too clearly that he lacked communication skills. Yes, Flavio Briatore was hysterical. Yes, Bernie Ecclestone was as inscrutable as ever - a big problem when the last thing anyone needed from the sport's commercial rights holder was anything other than total transparency.
But none of these people, not even Ecclestone, is the president of the governing body of international motorsport. And although Bernie and Flavio and Colin and Paul and Jean and Pierre and co were charging around the Indy paddock like blue-arsed flies on Sunday morning, full of sound and fury yet signifying nothing, in a sense the fixing of the crisis was not within their gift. Nor, indeed, was it even within their gifts - which, since none of them is Max, do not necessarily include fierce intelligence and the ability to harness great clarity of thought under pressure, all of it honed further by an expensive education topped-off by a career at the Bar.
But Max was not charging around the Indy paddock like a blue-arsed fly on Sunday morning; he was not at Indy at all. He was at home, in Monaco, by his own admission looking forward to a long lunch and an afternoon with a good book.
He was, therefore, one assumes, preparing to spend the afternoon alone. And I find that rather sad, too.
For, although Max is a grand man, and a successful one by most measures, I often feel that he has squandered his gifts - sometimes I even fancy that perhaps he knows it, too.
But perhaps he had no choice. Perhaps the notoriety of his father - Sir Oswald, who led the British Union of Fascists in Britain in the 1930s, and was subsequently interned, along with his wife (and Max's mother) Diana, when World War II broke out in earnest in 1940 - would always be an obstacle too great for even one of Max's great talents to overcome. But, whatever the aetiology of Max's under-achievement, this man - whom Frank Williams once described as "the greatest prime minister the Conservative Party never had" - has under-achieved. And I find that rather sad, too.
Let us hope that by, say, the Sunday of the Hungarian Grand Prix, on July 31st, everything in the F1 garden will once again be rosy. (Okay, rosy-ish.) But, whether we are in the pink by then or not, please spare a thought for Max that day.
Why so? Because, on July 31st 1962, a young man in his early 20s was running around a London street - yes, doubtless like a blue-arsed fly - in his attempts to save his ageing father, who was still public enemy number-one (or thereabouts) in Britain, from a beating at the hands of angry demonstrators who felt very strongly that, just 17 years after Adolf Hitler had been defeated, they were not about to let a Nazi sympathiser speechify in their midst. And can you blame them?
And can you really blame Max, who sprang to his father's defence that summer day 43 years ago, and got involved in a punch-up, and was duly arrested? And, if we accept that upbringing is important - which we surely must, else we would not strive so hard to give our own children the best possible start in life - then can you blame Max, in fact, for perhaps not always, in adulthood, being able to channel his genius as constructively as he might have, had his mother and father not been imprisoned when he was an infant?
Indy-gate was not Max Mosley's fault. But he did not manage to fix it, either. Perhaps, somehow, he just could not bring himself to. I find that very, very sad.