Obituary - Jean Marie Balestre
April 9th 1921 – March 27th 2008
Jean Marie Balestre who has died at the age of
86 was arguably one of the most well-known and controversial
characters in motor racing.
At one point he was the most powerful man in
motor sport - holding the post of President of the Federation
International de l’Automobile (FIA) for 13 years between 1986 and
1993 when he was succeeded by another controversial character, Max
A man whose contentious past was to haunt him
throughout his life, Balestre had a reputation for being
cantankerous and obstinate yet was widely recognised as a most
passionate advocate of his sport who was particularly vocal in his
belief that racing should be made safer for both drivers and
It is widely accepted that during World War Two,
Jean-Marie Balestre spent time as a member of the French SS – an
organisation which later imprisoned him – yet he took every
opportunity to challenge these accusations, fighting & winning
all the law suits which he filed against his accusers, claiming
that he was in fact working for the Resistance and anybody who
could vouch for him had long since died.
Whatever the truth, the controversy never truly
died out, a fact reinforced by his being ‘Sieg Heiled’ at the 1989
Brazilian Grand Prix by irate fans of the late Ayrton Senna who
believed that Balestre had manipulated the outcome of the fractious
Formula 1 season that year between Senna & Balestre’s
countryman Alain Prost – a claim that Senna initially did nothing
to disclaim but latterly withdrew.
Prior to his rise to the top job at the FIA,
Balestre had started out in journalism – founding the magazine
L’Auto Journal in 1950 before amassing a print empire which was to
stretch as far as Le Figaro in 1975.
However, being involved in motor sport and
furthering its success was the Frenchman’s ultimate desire and he
was one of the founding members of France’s own motor sports
association, the Federation Francaise du Sport Automobile (FFSA) in
1952, being elected President in 1973.
In 1978 Balestre reached the FIA, becoming the
president of the International Sporting Commission whereupon he set
up FISA, the Federation International de Sport Automobile, the
organisation which was to become one side in the infamous FISA-FOCA
wars between the administration & the Formula One Constructors
for control of the sporting rights and finances of the premier tier
of motor racing.
Between 1980 and 1982 the two sides were
involved in a fierce battle for the rights to the crown, ultimately
resulting in the signing of the Concorde Agreement which still
binds the teams and the governing body to this day.
Balestre continued in his role as head of FISA
until 1991 when, following increasing discontent with his perceived
high-handed and authoritarian style of management, Max Mosely stood
against him and wrested control away from the 67 year old
Stunned by what he saw as a personal attack on
his authority, he was to suffer a mortal blow in 1993 when Moseley
assumed the Presidency of a re-structured FIA following the
dissolution of FISA.
Tellingly, the Frenchman had decided not to
oppose Moseley and even had a hand in supporting the abolishment of
FISA – the organisation in which he had played such a crucial
Following his stand down from the highest rank
of officialdom, Balestre continued to serve on many committees
within the FIA but was increasingly a rare sight at major motor
sport events in his trademark blue blazer and he finally stepped
down from the sport when his tenure as president of the FFSA ended
David Wakefield - First Take Media