Max Mosley: are you an amateur or a professional in life?

These days, television programmes come round and round like race cars on a track. Gone are the days when, if you missed them, you missed them. And you can pause and rewind programmes too which means, if anyone says anything sensible, you can think about and transcribe what has been said.

This week, I have done this with an interesting interview with Max Mosley on Sky’s F1 channel.

You may not know Max Mosley but he has long interested me. I described my meeting his half brother Nicholas Mosley last year but have never met Max Mosley. Having said that, I feel I have known him since the mid 1970s – not least as the constructor of the car that Vittorio Brambilla crashed at the end of the Austrian Grand Prix which I attended in 1976 and described in my last post.

The son of Oswald Mosley and Diana Mitford, Max Mosley followed a degree in physics at Oxford by qualifying as a barrister. Hooked by the motor racing bug, he managed his own Formula One team before heading the sport’s controlling body, the FIA.

More recently, I have admired the way Mosley faced up to the gutter press over a sex ‘scandal’ which he claimed was no one else’s business (a position I fully support).


‘In 2008 Mosley won a court case against the News of the World newspaper which had alleged his involvement in a sex act involving some female prostitutes, on the grounds that it had breached his privacy…. In July 2011, The Daily Telegraph reported that Mosley was financially guaranteeing the court costs of claimants who may have been subjected to phone hacking by the News of the World.’

Later, he had the moral courage to speak out and openly about this experience in the Leveson Inquiry into the regulation of the press.

Good on him.

In the television interview I referred to, he made a point of what he called behaving like an amateur rather than a professional in certain of his experiences.

Let me set the scene.

In his capacity as head of the FIA, Mosley had to address a situation where Ayrton Senna had crashed his car into that of his rival Alain Prost at the 1990 Japanese Grand Prix to the extent that neither of them could continue the race and Senna would become World Champion.

What made the situation worse for Mosley was that, at a subsequent press conference, Ayrton Senna had admitted that he meant to cause the crash. It was a deliberate move.

Further, when he was asked to retract his admission, Senna refused to do so. He said he was telling the truth, he always told the truth and he would continue to tell the truth.

So, as Mosley has it, this is what he told Senna:

‘Look, Ayrton, there are two kind of people in sport. There are amateurs. And there are professionals. The amateur does something because he feels like it. The professional does something because it is in his interests as a sportsman. What you did was amateur. His eyes started to well up he said ‘You’re right’.’

Later in the interview, Mosley admitted that, in relation to another incident, he had accused  the boss of a Formula One team of ‘polluting the sport’ and made insulting personal comments about a respected former driver.

As he now admits:

‘You shouldn’t do that. That’s exactly what I mean by being amateur. It’s doing something because you feel like it rather than because it serves the purpose that you are pursuing. I should have been more dignified.’

Now I find this very interesting, not least because I discussed the balance between rational and emotional behaviour from a professional point of view in two previous posts:

In one, When, even if you are right, you are wrong I told how Sir Clive Woodward, England’s World Cup winning rugby coach, regretted venting his spleen at his bosses and where I too had burnt my own bridges with a former employer to no good effect.

In another, Branding: understanding the importance of trust, I demonstrated how brands need to be managed like human beings – on emotional as well as rational levels.

Both these posts touch on the point Mosley was making. But I do like the way he has defined some of these differences as amateur and professional behaviour where one’s emotional feelings outweigh one’s more rational, objective judgement.

And, I suppose, the world would be a nicer place if we all behaved more ‘professionally’ towards each other and cut out the more emotional – ‘amateur’ – behaviour which sometimes overrides our critical judgement.

It is possible to apply this thinking to many aspects of our day-to-day lives including, for example, the way some football supporters behave towards each other, or those who suffer from the red mist of road rage and for all of us, I suspect, when we telephone those dreaded call centres.

Call centres? Please don’t get me going on that one. I feel sorry for the people who work in call centres and I know they are trained to deal with angry customers but whenever I engage with O2 or Thames Water or some dreadful people called Utility Warehouse, as I have in the last few months, my blood begins to boil.

I have a fundamental objection to people who charge me money based on meter readings I can’t monitor, or don’t understand, and take – yes, I said take – my money from my bank through direct debit payments that are under their control not mine.

And what’s more… oh, I’m sorry, I must not be diverted by what I think of call centres and utility companies. I must stop all this.

Or I’ll come over all amateur again.

About Hugh Salmon

Business leader. Adman. Writer.
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