Jean-Marie Balestre, 1921-2008

I was saddened this evening to learn of the death of Jean-Marie Balestre.

Balestre was the president of the Commision Sportive Internationale from 1978, and formed the Federation Internationale du Sport Automobile (FISA), the fore-runner of today’s FIA.

He became president of the FIA in 1986 (despite having a coronary artery by-pass graft that same year) and remained in the role until 1993 until he was defeated by Max Mosley.

He was born in 1921 near Marseille, France. He was 18 when World War Two broke out and his actions during the war have been a matter of dispute – some claimed he fought for the French Resistance, others that he fought for pro-Nazi French forces.

After the war he went into motoring journalism and in 1952 he was involved in founding the Federation Francaise du Sport Automobile (French motor sport organisation). In 1968 he became their secretary-general, and five years later he became president, a role he remained in until 1996.

In October of 1978 he stood for president of the CSI and won election after the incumbent, Pierre Ugueux, stood down. Balestre began a 15-year period as one of the most powerful figures in Formula 1.

The years that followed brought sweeping changes to the sport and a series of political struggles. Not least of which in the early 1980s, when Balestre and the principal manufacturer teams (Ferrari, Renault, Alfa Romeo and others) were pitted against Bernie Ecclestone’s constructors’ association, which largely represented the British teams.

Later he was the target of Ayrton Senna’s anger, after the Brazilian became convinced Balestre had intervened to help his countryman Alain Prost beat Senna to the 1989 world championship.

Balestre’s successor Mosley said: “All those involved in our sport will miss him greatly and will join with me in extending our sincere condolences to his family and friends at this very difficult time.”

Read more about Balestre on GrandPrix.com and Autosport.

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