Confession time

I know that it may seem strange that I went to the FIA General Assembly and wrote only a few lines. In my defence I can say that those were THE important lines, as I was able to break the news to the world that Jean Todt had been elected. This was achieved by using good old-fashioned cunning.

I wore a suit.

This meant that I was able to mingle with the FIA delegates without getting thrown out by the muscle-headed security people, as were many of my press colleagues. I might even have sneaked into the room where the event was taking place if I had really wanted to – which I didn’t. Anyway, by standing around at the exit of the meeting room and playing with an iPhone I looked like a lot of those taking part and so I was able to get the result seconds after it was known and by the time the word reached the room in which the media were imprisoned I had already put a story on the Web… I have to confess that I wrote the three lines in advance and only had to fill in two numbers as I have been convinced for some time that Jean Todt was going to win by a landslide. Why? Because his campaign was much more convincing than that of Ari Vatanen, who seemed to spend his time slagging off the FIA, the system, Max Mosley and Jean Todt. You do not win elections with negativity. You win elections with convincing ideas and careful politicking.

I talked to various FIA folk that I know and to Vatanen, who seemed rather shell-shocked by it all. I was going to go to Jean Todt’s press conference, but in the end I did not want to be trampled by TV crews and beaten around the head with cameras and, in any case, I had to get away rather quickly as the voting and counting process took so long that I ran out of time. This was because some votes are split between two or more clubs and they have to agree with one another in order for the vote to be valid so there were sealed votes within sealed votes.

By a quirk of scheduling I found myself in something of a quandary because while the FIA election is obviously important; just down the road at the Mairie de Paris, there was a conference about British secret agents in France during World War II, to which I was invited. Now you can say that a professional F1 journalist would stay at the FIA and do the job there, but I would counter that by saying that as a professional researcher and book writer (which I also am) talking to old secret agents and making contacts in that world is hard, not least because the number of survivors dwindles each year. In case you are struggling to find the connection between motor racing and secret agents, I should perhaps add (shamelessly) that I wrote a book in 2007 called “The Grand Prix Saboteurs” and, although I am totally biased, I do believe that any racing fan would love the true story of how three Grand Prix winners worked for the secret Special Operations Executive sabotage networks in France. If you don’t know about it, you can click here to find out. (By the way, a Great Christmas present for the racing fan who has everything!)

The opportunity to meet people who were actually involved with “my saboteurs”, or family members of those involved, was simply too much to ignore and I certainly did not regret my decision. I met all manner of fascinating people, the most striking of which was Bob Maloubier, an amazingly sprightly 86, who has a quite extraordinary story. Not only was he a British agent with SOE, but later became a member of the British Special Boat Service (which is basically the SAS with flippers) before establishing a French equivalent and then going on to a life as, among other things, a forester, the head of the Presidential Guard in Gabon and an oil man with Shell and then Elf. He first told me of an adventure he had with Robert Benoist (one of the Grand Prix Saboteurs) which I had not heard before. We went on to discuss all manner of things. When he mentioned being a diver and having worked for Elf, I said: “Then you must know Francois Guiter!”

Of course he did. Indeed Malboubier was recently a guest of Guiter at the historic Grand Prix meeting in Angouleme.

Guiter is a legend in Formula 1 circles who almost single-handedly created modern French motor racing as the marketing manager of Elf from 1967 onwards, funding Matra, Renault and Tyrrell and paying for the Volant Elf scheme which provided France with a string of top line racing drivers in the 1970s and 1980s. Probably the most discreet individual in F1 history, Guiter was also a diver with a shadowy organisation called the 11eme Choc and went on to become a wellknown underwater film maker producing more than 20 films, notably with Jacques Cousteau. This morning when looking for a picture of Guiter I found a shot of him and Maloubier together in Angouleme (Francois is on the right), which I have borrowed from a terrific French website about historic racing called

Guiter & Maloubier

Maloubier, incidentally, was also the man responsible for the Blancpain 50 Fathoms diver’s watch, which I am told is a much sought-after item by the watch collectors of the world. He is also the owner of the prototype which they say is worth more money than the average Ferrari. Bob was also the recipient of a British Military Cross, a Distinguished Service Order and France’s Croix de Guerre.

There was a certain symmetry to discussions about Guiter because earlier at the FIA General Assembly I talked with Nicolas Deschaux, the head of the French Federation about the piteous state of French motorsport as there is now no Grand Prix, and Pau has been cancelled. We agreed that what France needs now is another Guiter…

So, I am sorry there were only three lines about the FIA election but sometimes there are things that are as important, or more important than motor racing. I am sure that I will have many opportunities to talk to Jean Todt and his people in the years ahead…

20 thoughts on “Confession time

  1. I got (and read, of course) your “Grand Prix Saboteurs”, and second your invitation for other F1 fans to buy it. An engrossing read about an aspect of WWII that gets little coverage, mostly because so many of those involved got caught in the end, and as you say, those left are falling to the inevitable ravages of time.

    I also think you did the right thing going to the conference… the only thing you would have got at the FIA one would have been some meaningless sound bites about how happy everyone (except Ari) was that the result is in, is convincing, and how we should now all go forward in cooperation for a brighter future under the new president.

  2. More importantly, when is the next book coming out Joe?

    I think that while many fans wanted Ari, myself included, we all knew that Todt would win. Therefore it doesn’t really need more coverage – and besides, this website is a great way to gain insights that other, more mainstream websites simply don’t have the capacity to produce!

  3. Agree, 3 lines was all it needed, and the conference about British Secret Agents sounds much more interesting (but then I am a bit of a history buff, as well as a motorsport fan).

    Also read and enjoyed The Grand Prix Saboteurs. Out of interest, though, a few years previously I read a novel called ‘Early One Morning’ – about the same story, but making the claim that Williams survived (which, sadly, appears from your book to be impossible). Did the author get the story from you? Or did he stumble on it some other way?

    1. I do not where he got it from. I wrote the first modern stories about it back in the late 1980s in Classic & Sports Car and Autocar, I think, so I guess he might have got the idea from that. He may have found it elsewhere. I don’t know.

  4. 1 for Grand Prix Sabateurs. An excellent and entertaining book.

    Coincidentally, I had just read a novel based upon the same story. I forget the name of the author — I had picked up the book in Sainsburys of all places, in the bargain bin, based purely on having a Bugatti Type 35 on the cover. Joe’s less fanciful (and true account) was in fact more absorbing, and more incredible.

  5. I know you and Mike Doodson are buddys, sounds like the kind of stuff he used to do, hideing in the bushes and so on, good on you!!! I’m into your website 1st thing every morning 5 am, it goes well with the coffee!

  6. Joe,

    Have you noticed how many former (current?) special services types end up working in the oil industry? It was something of a gentle joke that when one would meet someone who described their role as a consultant in the oil industry that the correct response would be “oh, what branch are you in?”

  7. Fascianating stuff Joe, the other stuff we can get anywhere else but no one else is playing a modern day secret agent to get us the scoops! Great stuff! Off to get my copy of GP sabateours…

  8. Monsieur Guiter was probably the nicest man I’ve ever met in F1.(Do I hear cries of well, that wasn’t very difficult..) He wasn’t just ELF’s man in the Paddock he was welcome anywhere and everywhere. Gallic charm combined with a great deal of knowledge. As for mutual friend Doodson, it is time he owned up to how I’ve rescued him from the arms of the Spanish police at Jarama where he rather foolishly tried to put a JPS sticker on one of those funny, black hats the local fuzz were wearing.
    Andrew Frankl

  9. That was slick that you scooped the announcement of Todt for FIA president. I can not say I am thrilled about it. I do agree with you that the competiton spent too much effort trash-talking instead of promoting what he could do to build and direct an improved governing body.

    Off topic, I am seeking some advice. Now that the Canadian Grand Prix is back, I desparately wish to attend it. What is the best way to procure tickets and any recommendations as to 2 or 3 of the preferred seating areas? My goal is to get seats the first day tickets go on sale.


  10. Chip,

    I’m not an expert on the Canadian GP, but I have attended in person three times. If you’re looking for an executive hospitality area, those are pretty well defined. But if you are looking for a grandstand seat the two areas I quite enjoyed are at the cluster at the end of the start finish line and at the hairpin.

    My preference is Area 21 for the hairpin, but I’ve heard 15 and 24 are good as well. At the first turn sequence 12 is prime but 11 on the end closest to the pits can be good as well. I’ve never sat in them but I’m told to avoid 21a, 31, 33, and 41a.

  11. It’s been a long time I wanted to read “The Grand Prix Saboteurs”, now you finished to convice me, if necessary.
    I remembered having seen the picture on “Mémoire des stands”, now we know the story behind it, thanks!

  12. “I wrote a book in 2007 called “The Grand Prix Saboteurs” and, although I am totally biased, I do believe that any racing fan would love the true story of how three Grand Prix winners worked for the secret Special Operations Executive sabotage networks in France. If you don’t know about it, you can click here to find out. (By the way, a Great Christmas present for the racing fan who has everything!)”

    Chris, if you’re reading this, I have it already. Terrific read. I was especially interested in the way it rounded out the story of the White Rabbit, whose book I read at an impressionable age…

    btw Joe, what’s a forester ?

  13. Joe,
    The FIA elections were covered by everybody everywhere. You’ve taken the only right decision, done the best thing and above all, thank you for sharing it with us. Guiter was really remarkable, even in some odd decisions like keeping the old fashioned Elf motorhome while every team went for the fashionable and (then) impressive converted buses. Why? Guiter wanted Elf (his) guests to feel cosy in a home-like environment rather than impressed by the size of a luxurious office on the wheels.

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