Frenchman Jean-Marie Balestre, considered one of motorsport's leading pioneers, died two weeks before turning 87. He served at the head of the International Federation of Automobile Sports (FISA) for 23 years between 1978 and 1991.
Jean-Marie Balestre, who presided over world motorsport during Formula One's golden period of the 1970s and 1980s, has died, just two weeks before his 87th birthday.
"It's a huge loss for motorsport and he'll be remembered notably for his actions in favour of driver safety," said French motorsport federation (FFSA) president Nicolas Deschaux.
For 23 years, from 1978-1991, Balestre was a powerful and controversial head of the International Federation of Automobile Sports (FISA) and its successor, the International Automobile Federation (FIA) until he was ousted by Max Mosley.
"He was a great president in periods of grave crisis for motorsport," added Deschaux, in reference to a hugely expensive sport which endured serious problems in the 1973 oil crisis.
Deschaux added that his compatriot also played a vital role in finding alternative avenues of sponsorship when tobacco advertising came under fire.
For many drivers, Balestre was nicknamed Mr Security for his work in improving safety on the track and earned praise from the era's greats of the sport.
Nelson Piquet, Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost all backed his work.
Amongst his improvements was the introduction of crash test requirements for cars as well as the use of naturally aspirated engines.
"I would say thank-you from the bottom of my heart for what you have done for motorsport," said former world champion Prost whose thrilling duels with Ayrton Senna were once a highlight of the championship.
But Senna was never such a fan of Balestre as Prost.
The Brazilian driver was involved in a long-running feud with Balestre in 1989 after he became convinced the Frenchman was trying to manipulate the title race in favour of Prost.
Balestre was always a colourful character.
During World War II, he was said to have worked as an undercover agent for the French Resistance.
Later Friday, FIA president Max Mosley paid his tribute to Balestre.
"It's with immense sadness that we have learnt of the death of Jean-Marie Balestre," he said.
"His contribution to motorsport in France and in the world was unique."
Date created : 2008-03-28