Jean-Marie Balestre was president of FISA from 1979 to 1991 and of the FIA from 1986 to 1993.
During World War II, Balestre is said to have worked as an undercover agent for the French Resistance, although the details of his activities during World War II are, in fact, unknown. After the war he established a successful French automobile magazine called Auto journal. He was a founding member of the Federation Francaise du Sport Automobile, a French national motorsport organization, in 1950, and in 1961 became the first president of the International Karting Commission of the FIA. He was elected president of the FFSA in 1973 and president of the FIA's International Sporting Commission in 1978. He was instrumental in trasforming the Intenational Sporting Commission into the Federation Internationale de Sport Automobile (FISA) in 1979.
Jean-Marie was heavily involved in what is colloquially called the FISA-FOCA war, a political battle over finances and control of the Formula One World Championships between 1980 and 1982. Balestre and his opponent, Bernie Ecclestone, settled the dispute after Enzo Ferrari brokered a compromise. Balestre signed the first Concorde Agreement, under which FOCA was granted the commercial rights to Formula One while the FIA retained control of all sporting and technical regulations.
Balestre is credited with establishing specific crash test requirements for Formula One cars, significantly improving the safety of the sport. He was also a key proponent of the switch to naturally aspirated engines in 1989, also arguing that such a move was essential for safety reasons.
Balestre was elected as president of the FIA, while remaining president of FISA, in 1986. He was replaced as president of FISA in 1991, when he lost the election to Max Mosley. In 1993 the merger of FISA and the FIA saw Max Mosley assume the role of president of the remaining body which retained the FIA name. Balestre maintained the presidency of the FFSA until the end of 1996.