As the sun rose and shone, at last, on the traditional Friday rest day at the Monaco Grand Prix, the lurid shadow cast by the Max Mosley sex scandal continued to eclipse even the best efforts of the drivers on the famous old track.
It barely mattered that 23-year-old British tyro Lewis Hamilton had performed brilliantly to set the fastest time for McLaren-Mercedes in Thursday’s opening practice sessions — or that there were the usual collection of accidents and incidents on the unforgiving barrier-lined streets.
In the paddock, the majority of Formula One’s once-beautiful, now-fearful, people were reluctant to talk freely about the complexities of the Mosley affair. But two prominent figures did speak out.
The first was the former long-serving Formula One driver, Austrian Gerhard Berger, who is now team chief of the Toro Rosso team.
Once a racer with a racy image, an adventurer who enjoyed a few colourful headlines himself, Berger leapt to 68-year-old Briton Mosley’s defence at a news conference.
Mosley had made a brief and tight-lipped appearance in the Monte Carlo paddock on Thursday — his first since the News of the World revelations about his part in an alleged Nazi-style sex orgy with five London prostitutes.
He was treated with a rare degree of stigma as some of his former associates appeared to go to some means to avoid being seen, or photographed, with him.
The Monegasque royal family has already made clear that it will not be associating with Mosley during this 66th running of the classic event this weekend.
Yet as the general, if silent, consensus appeared to be that he should stand down as president of the sport’s ruling body, the International Motoring Federation (FIA), Mosley has continued to stand firm on his intention to stay in office until next year.
Monaco race organisers have said the FIA will be represented at all official functions this weekend by its deputy president, Italian Marco Piccinini. Mosley faces a vote of confidence in his presidency following the furore over his behaviour and his refusal to resign at an extraordinary meeting of the FIA general assembly in Paris on June 3
Berger became one of the few prominent figures to speak out on the issue when he said: ”I never commented [before] because I think it’s an entirely private thing, I think there is nothing to comment on.
”It’s something that has happened with grown-up people, nothing which is against the law. I have to say I’m very surprised how many angels there are around here, especially in Formula One. Suddenly, everyone seems to be very clean and very nice …
”To connect this to the job, as FIA president, I don’t think is right. I’ve been in Formula One a long time now, I’ve seen many things. I’ve been racing in the Max Mosley era, and in the position that I’m in now. I think there are very few people — maybe nobody — who have had such an impact on safety for motorsport as Max.
”I think it’s not fair to see it through the glasses as some people have tried to see it at the moment. I think it should be totally decided by the automobile clubs and by himself, how the future of the FIA goes. It should not be run by newspapers; or us.
Berger’s comments came as Mosley’s old friend, Bernie Ecclestone, the F1 commercial rights holder, hit back at Mosley’s strategy in defending himself by attacking Ecclestone in the run-up to the FIA general meeting that is overshadowing the Monaco weekend.
Ecclestone said he is angry at a letter sent by Mosley to FIA clubs, and said he has finally retracted all support for his beleaguered compatriot.
”Everybody’s wrong except him,” Ecclestone said.
”Everybody was involved in the orgy except him. He is just lashing out at anything he can. If he wants me to be the enemy, he should be very careful, because if he makes me an enemy I could make sure that he never whips anybody again.”
”Normally Max is more together instead of making silly, outrageous mistakes.”
Ecclestone put his signature to a formal letter of reply to the clubs, vigorously denying that he wants to take over all the FIA’s F1 powers, as Mosley had insinuated.
He said his letter was sent to correct the ”misunderstandings and inaccurate conclusions” that Mosley invited the club presidents to come to. He made this clear, he said.
The letter went on to explain: ”We support and concur with the requirement of the European Commission that regulatory functions relating to international motor sport be separate from the associated commercial interests and that the FIA’s role in Formula One should be that of the sporting regulator, uninvolved in its commercial exploitation.”
As Hamilton and his main rival, defending drivers’ world champion and current series leader Finn Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari, tried to put their feet up and rest in readiness for Saturday’s qualifying and Sunday’s race, the furore swirling around the sport continued. — AFP