Max Mosley: Strategic Thinker or Dictator?

June 25, 2009

A great deal of copy is being written about the nature of Max Mosley’s tenure as President of the FIA, much of it negative. I have had dealings with Mr Mosley regarding the second edition of our business oriented book on F1 – Performance at the Limit: Business Lessons from Formula 1 Motor Racing. He was always very supportive, co-operative and responded to our requests with alacrity – not something I could say of all the F1 people we approached.

He will probably be most positively remembered for the stance he took on safety following on from the tragic weekend at Imola in 1994 when both Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna lost their lives. This was followed by the Monaco Grand Prix when German driver Karl Wendlinger suffered a serious head injury during Thursday practice. The following day Mosley announced the formation of an Expert Advisory Group to review all aspects of safety and to have wide ranging powers to make changes as needed. He also announced that the Chair of the Committee would be Professor Sid Watkins, an eminent neurosurgeon who had been the on-track surgeon for F1 since 1978. Watkins himself only found out about his new post after the public announcement on the Friday afternoon, Mosley having decided that he had to act quickly and was confident that Watkins would agree to the role, which he did. This example demonstrates the underlying approach that has been both Mosley’s success and his downfall. He sees the big picture at times when others may not, he also is prepared to act decisively and unilaterally to address the longer term issues.

There has been much talk from the teams that Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS) has been a waste of time and (a great deal of) money, which is quite ironic given the focus on the need to cut costs. The blame for its unilateral introduction has been largely laid at Max Mosley’s door. But the concept behind KERS – the idea that F1 teams should be moving beyond the internal combustion engine and looking at ways of storing and transforming waste energy is absolutely right, similarly the notion of cost reduction and greater technical freedom – to let the outstanding engineers do what they do best, do more with less is also absolutely right. These are also not mutually exclusive strategies, F1 has to become more environmentally relevant and must also remove the huge expenditures that deliver nothing in terms of the spectacle and technological spin-offs. Mosley had both recognised these issues and formulated strategies to address them. The problem is that they are exactly that, his strategies with his solutions.  There is no question in my mind that Max Mosley is a great strategic thinker, but like many strategists in many organisations ultimately you have to make sure that those who will actually deliver the strategy buy into it too.

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