PARIS Frenchman Jean-Marie Balestre, once the most powerful figure in the world of motorsport as president of the International Automobile Federation (FIA), has died at the age of 86.
"It is with immense sadness we have learned of the passing of Jean-Marie," FIA president Max Mosley said in a note of condolence on Friday.
"His contribution to motorsport in France and indeed throughout the world has been unique."
The L'Equipe Web site (www.lequipe.com) said Balestre, who would have been 87 on April 9, died on Thursday.
Mosley replaced the sometimes controversial Balestre as FIA president in 1993 after ousting the Frenchman as head of FISA, then the sporting division of the governing body, two years earlier.
The late Brazilian triple world champion Ayrton Senna famously fell foul of Balestre when he accused him of manipulating the 1989 championship in favour of fellow Frenchman Alain Prost.
Senna's obscenity-laden tirade came after he was disqualified from the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix, after having won the race, and was also fined $100,000 and given a six-month suspended ban for dangerous driving.
Balestre, a former motoring journalist, threatened not to renew Senna's super-licence and the Brazilian was only included in the official 1990 drivers' list after he withdrew his allegation.
The FIA head was then given special security when he travelled to Brazil for the 1990 Grand Prix in Sao Paulo.
Balestre was also a key figure in Formula One's so-called "FISA-FOCA War", a fight that ended in 1982 with an agreement allowing Bernie Ecclestone and the team bosses to take control of the commercial side of the sport.
"He really loved us, the drivers," former racer Jacques Laffite told L'Equipe. "He did a huge amount for us, we owe him a huge debt."
(Writing by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Tony Jimenez)