The rather tedious, two-plane journey to Graz for this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix was made tolerable by reading Max Mosley’s autobiography, which is published on Thursday.
Why is it, by the way, that one of the more immutable of sod’s laws is that if you have a connecting flight the first plane will land late? Anyway, back to Max. You may have read the by Carole Cadwalladr in Sunday’s Observer, in which he referred to his colourful sex life. It’s OK to talk about S&M these days. The much-criticised sport of Formula One can be more embarrassing, which is probably why racing references were tucked away at the bottom of the piece.
Mosley is 75 now and a little deaf but when I had lunch with him in Chelsea earlier this year, to discuss his book, I was impressed with the clarity of thought he once brought to F1. Only 10 years ago, when he was in charge of the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone was still in his pomp, the sport had real leadership – even if you did not always agree with the direction it took – which is what it desperately needs today.
One of the more compelling chapters in Mosley’s tome concerns the death of Ayrton Senna at Imola in 1994. Imola has been a talking point in recent days because of speculation that the race might return to the schedule for 2017. The race beside Italy’s Apennine mountains was one of my favourites – and I wasn’t alone. The journey to the medieval walled town, with its cobbled streets, was one of the most keenly anticipated and once there the setting took one’s breath away, while the hospitality threatened to do the same thing with one’s liver.
The place had a racing tradition before it joined the GP circus; Jim Clark won there in 1963 and Niki Lauda triumphed in 1979. In 1980, two years after Ronnie Peterson had been killed at Monza, Imola staged the Italian Grand Prix. When Monza returned, racing continued at Imola and it became the San Marino Grand Prix. Now there is speculation that Imola could once again replace Monza, in 2017.
Sadly, these days, memories of the San Marino Grand Prix are dominated by thoughts of the crash in which Senna was killed 21 years ago, the day after another fatality.
In his book, Mosley says: “On 1 May 1994 Ayrton Senna was killed . The previous day, during qualifying, Roland Ratzenberger, an Austrian driver in his debut season, . There were three other life-threatening incidents during the same weekend.
“The first involved Rubens Barrichello, the next a mechanic in the pit lane and finally a member of the public in the start-line grandstand. There had not been a fatality at a grand prix since Riccardo Paletti was killed in Montreal in 1982, so the shock was immense. The crisis provided an opportunity to do something that needed doing.”
Complacency in was replaced by panic. A number of safety measures were quickly put in place for the remainder of the season. However, it was Mosley, taking the longer view, who was responsible for setting up a group of experts to look at all aspects of safety in motor sport, “systematically and scientifically rather than in the ad hoc way it had been dealt with in the past”. That provided the basis of what we have today and there has not been a fatality on the track since.
Mosley appointed the fondly remembered Professor Sid Watkins to take charge of his revolution. He said: “Apart form being our top medical officer and a world-class neurosurgeon, he was brilliantly clever and able to apply a scientific approach to non-medical problems.
“He also understood about keeping things simple. Once, sitting in an airport lounge, he told me about a revolutionary technique he had invented for getting a blood supply from one part of the brain to another. ‘That’s really clever,’ I said. ‘Oh no,’ he replied, ‘just O-level carpentry!’”
It’s not only Mosley we miss in F1 – but also Watkins, who died in 2012. He is remembered as much for his profound common sense as much as his medical expertise. He had so many friends in Formula One.