Yesterday we got two pieces of ‘news’ which took no-one by surprise; Toro Rosso has dropped Sebastien Bourdais and Jean Todt is officially running to replace Max Mosley as FIA president.
Speculation about Bourdais’s position has been rife since last season and has mounted throughout this year. He’s a difficult one to pin down as to why it went wrong. On the one hand he had an excellent pedigree with a strong run to become F3000 champion, but he had great difficulty getting an F1 team to take him. He went over to America and dominated ChampCar, winning four consecutive titles, but he was beating drivers like Robert Doornbos and Justin Wilson. He was considered untouchable over there and yet his feeling that F1 was unfinished business remained until he got the Toro Rosso gig, which has lasted for a season and a half.
I imagine that, like Cristiano da Matta, another ChampCar champion who retreated from Toyota with his tail between his legs, he will end up back in the States.
All I really know about Bourdais’ situation is that the engineers felt that he was often behind the car, as if things were happening too quickly for him. F1 cars are faster and more nimble than ChampCars, but drivers have made the adjustment before. ChampCars are perhaps more about mechanical grip, whereas F1 cars are about aerodynamics first and mechanical grip second. In any case, he got the nod over Takuma Sato for this season after the team had tested Taku and he had gone quite well. A few races into the season, he was regularly being outpaced by his rookie team mate Sebastien Buemi, complaining about a lack of testing of the new car.
The team wanted to drop Bourdais, but felt that there was no point replacing him with a rookie. They have since had a rethink and are drafting in 19 year old Jaime Alguersuari, the youngest ever F1 driver.
The decision is timed to give Alguersuari the best chance of making an impression as in Hungary the car will get the Toro Rosso version of the update kit which gave Red Bull some 7/10ths of a second when it was introduced onto their car at Silverstone. Toro Rosso have been propping up the grid lately.
Bourdais has threatened legal action since the announcement, claiming that the team has breached the terms of the contract.
“I believe that nothing in my attitude, on or off the track, can justify this decision. It is an obvious violation of Scuderia Toro Rosso’s obligations in regards to the contract in place,” said a ‘shocked’ Bourdais.
Meanwhile Max Mosley’s letter to FIA member club presidents on Wednesday, endorsing Jean Todt as the man to carry on his work of the last 16 years was followed by Todt throwing his hat into the ring.
“It is my intention to continue and expand the outstanding work of President Mosley, who for 16 years has worked tirelessly to strengthen the FIA‘s major motor sport championships and to position the FIA as the voice of the motoring public, actively promoting safe, clean and affordable mobility for all, ” said 63 year old Todt.
One of the keys to winning this election is to have the right running mates and he has already named some figures to serve with him on the motor sport and mobility sides and the whole thing looks thoroughly well thought out. One of them is Nick Craw, the American who has worked very closely with Mosley on the Formula 1 side in recent times. He would head the FIA Senate, which is the body that has been entrusted with dealing with F1 in future, so Craw would become the ‘go-to guy’ in F1 terms. The FIA is a large organisation with many different activities and, although all the money comes from the sport, Todt would not by any means focus his attention on F1. There is also rallying, world touring cars, Formula 2, karting and then the mobility side which is everyday motoring.
With Todt you can be sure that he would only be doing this if he felt he had a strong chance of winning. He has been involved in FIA politics now for several months as a trustee of the FIA foundation and as a member of the board which hands out the $100m fine McLaren paid the FIA in 2007 to motor sport programmes in developing countries.
The F1 teams have no say in who the next FIA president is, but most would be disappointed if it were Todt, given his history in the sport. Like Ron Dennis, he was considered a divisive figure, despite the respect held for his enormous success at restructuring Ferrari.
The question is, would Todt take the same confrontational approach as Mosley? His scope for ‘dictating’ to the teams, their greatest fear, would be limited. With the Concorde Agreement soon to be in place, the mechanism for changing the rules is back to the old system, whereby it has to pass through the F1 commission, which is made up of teams, promoters, manufacturers, tyre makers and FIA representatives. It has not been used for the last few years as there was no Concorde Agreement in place, hence all the trouble over budget caps.
Although it might appear that a Todt presidency would be good news for Ferrari, I believe that the reverse is the case, as there seems to have been a major falling out between Todt and Ferrari and FOTA boss Luca di Montezemolo. In any case, Todt would want to be seen not to favour his old team.
Todt and Ari Vatanen are the only declared candidates, thus far.