When Max Mosley first discovered motor racing, he was relieved. “I found a world where the name Mosley meant nothing,” he says in Michael Shevloff’s fascinating documentary, Mosley: It’s Complicated. Free of the shackles of his family’s contentious past (his parents were married on Joseph Goebbels’ estate with Hitler as a guest of honour and his father, Oswald, was leader of the British Union of Fascists), Max could carve out a legacy of his own.
Completed before his death in May 2021, Shevloff’s entertaining and revealing film explores the nature of Mosley’s legacy - taking us through his life chapter by chapter. We see how Mosley became a racing driver and established his own successful Formula One team. We discover how he and Bernie Ecclestone (who also appears in the film) wrestled control of F1 from its governing body and turned it into the most lucrative sport in the world.
F1 is also, of course, one of the most dangerous sports in the world. Shevloff reminds us of its many tragedies - including the deaths of Jim Clark, Roger Williamson and Ayrton Senna. As president of the FIA, Mosley spearheaded improvements in car safety on and off the track, saving an inestimable number of lives around the world.
Road safety was Mosley's lifelong passion and, after watching Mosley: It’s Complicated, you feel that this is the legacy he himself would choose.
While Mosley is largely in charge of the film’s narrative (and he certainly is a charming storyteller), this is not a toothless “authorised” documentary. We also hear some less than flattering stories. “Max, he has an excellent engine,” comments former Ferrari team principal, Marco Piccinini, with a wry smile. “His brain - it has the most powerful acceleration, but some problem with the brakes.”
Meanwhile, Mosley: It’s Complicated is unafraid to tackle the scandals that dogged much of Mosley’s life and threatened to overshadow his achievements. One of the most damaging chapters came after a hidden camera at a BDSM party exposed his sex life in the British tabloids.
In the wake of the revelations, many colleagues and friends turned against Mosley and pressured him to resign as president of the FIA. Among them was Bernie Ecclestone. He expresses his regret about this in the documentary: “Of all the things I’ve done in my life, it’s the one thing that I’m ashamed of”.
Many people would have shied away from the spotlight after such an experience. Not Mosely. We hear how he sued the News of the World and became a driving force in the Leveson phone-hacking inquiry. To the end of his life, Mosley pushed for greater data protection laws.
Hugh Grant, a fellow activist for UK press regulation, describes Mosley as being “brilliant at thinking tactically outside the box and fearless, completely fearless, ready to take on the biggest monsters”. Grant adds that he is “very glad that he is my friend and not my enemy”.
Beneath the charm, beneath the charisma was a fighter - someone not to be crossed. However, despite the scandals and controversies, the fights and the feuds (he doesn’t hold back when asked about Ron Dennis, the former chairman and founder of McLaren Group), Mosley’s aspirations were often noble. He championed the underdog and used his influence (and invested his time and money) to make roads safer for us all.
"Plenty has been discussed in the press about Max's personal life over the last decade, but I sincerely hope that he'll be remembered for his incredible career in motorsport and also his pioneering work on improving car safety standards,” Shevloff says.
“For decades, Max worked tirelessly to improve car safety, not just on the racing track, but for commercial vehicles across the globe. There are tens of thousands of people alive today who would not be with us had it not been for Max Mosley. He was an extraordinary man."
Mosley: It’s Complicated will be in UK Cinemas from 9th July and will be on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Download from 19th July.