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Vatanen on potential collision course with Ecclestone?
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Vatanen on potential collision course with Ecclestone?
Posted By: James Allen  |  05 Sep 2009   |  11:42 am GMT  |  53 comments

The battle to be elected FIA president is hotting up and former rally champion Ari Vatanen has seen his campaign gathering traction lately. But some of his answers indicate that, if elected, he could be on a collision course with Bernie Ecclestone and CVC, not least his views on the 100 year agreement between the FIA and FOM and on the circuits that Grands Prix visit.

Vatanen was in London yesterday to meet with some of the British media and I was invited along.

Vision, transparency...get it?

Vision, transparency...get it?


The meeting place was the London Eye and Vatanen conducted his press briefings in one of the pods, going round and round. It gave him the metaphor of far reaching vision, totally transparency which he is claiming his presidency would bring to the FIA.

Being in a pod had the effect of restricting each briefing to 30 minutes as that is how long the pod takes to rotate. The problem with that is that he tends to give very long answers so it’s hard to cover much ground.

But I did manage to get some interesting stuff out of him, as did some of the others.

Vatanen is confident that he can beat former Ferrari boss Jean Todt in the election on October 23rd. Although Todt’s team has published reams of votes of support from car clubs all over the world, Vatanen claims to have greater support on the mobility side (ie the non-racing side) and has recently gained some strong supporters in the Middle East and in Japan.

After a rather confusing start and a lot of time spent in the Formula 1 paddock, where he met with the F1 teams last Saturday, Vatanen has been making progress.

The most recent win was the decision of the King of Jordan and Prince Faisal to back him, which apparently could change the dynamic in the Middle East. Todt’s team seem quite calm at this stage and confident that their man will prevail.

Vatanen has spent 10 years as a member of the European parliament and done extensive work on mobility – getting people about. This is his primary focus, although the high profile bit of the job is Formula 1. This is also where the money comes from and I asked him whether he would want to review the 100 year deal agreed between the FIA and Ecclestone, whereby FOM gets the commercial rights to F1 for 100 years in exchange for $350 million, less than half what the rights recoup for FOM and its partner CVC in one year.

Vatanen said, “It speaks volumes. Let’s look at two figures; the $100 million fine (for McLaren in 2007) and then the global rights are $350 million. Both figures are totally disproportionate. It speaks about how the situation in the FIA is not normal at all. I don’t know if it could be done (to review the deal). Those figures are way out and they couldn’t happen in a normal structure, like we are proposing.”

Vatanen also spoke to colleagues about pushing to keep the Formula 1 races in the traditional venues, like the UK, France and Germany, which are struggling to pay the circuit fees, rather than go to new venues which can pay higher fees, but not fill the grandstands,
“I am in favour of course of some new races – the Singapore night race or anything like that – because we need to renew ourselves.

“But if we go to the places where the tribunes are empty and at the same time traditional fans of F1 don’t have a race, there’s something wrong.

“The fact that Silverstone may not have a race, Hockenheim may not have a race next year, France may not have a race…it means we are alienating the traditional customers and fans and it is not so easy to win them back,” said Vatanen.

This view will clash with Ecclestone and CVC who project 10% growth every year in circuit fees in their business plan.

Vatanen doens’t answer questions like a politician. He seems to launch into speaking and then reverse his way out of a point if he feels he might be saying something wrong. But there is no doubting his passion and his desire to reform an old institution to serve and mobilise a far wider community in the 21st century.

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53 Comments
  1. George says:

    I like Ari, but I cant help thinking that he’s out of his depth here. Todt has seemed the more solid politician so far, and that’s the main part of the job.

    It’s all very well him outlining his policies and aims, but if he cant convince the opposition to those aims (hi Bernie) then they’re worthless.

    1. K. YORK says:

      Ari has the longer term, broader, and more all-inclusive foresight included in his platform.

      While we are fairly focused in our observation of the FIA as “F1 only” (and admittedly it’s a large and significant chunk…), it is a whole lot more than that. Ari’s ability to bridge the gap between motorsport and real-world mobility/transport issues is at the heart of his appeal. I hope he wins.

  2. Patrickl says:

    The guy makes a whole lot of sense. Hope he can get past his poor start, but I doubt it. Todt has been around spreading the McLaren spygate money so he must have a lot of votes in the bag already.

  3. K. YORK says:

    James, as ever, thanks for an interesting post with relevant back story. Much appreciated!

  4. James says:

    The more I read about him, the more I think he’ll get the job. Todt would probably equate to Max Mosley 2.0, whereas Vatanen seem’s like a fresh start. In your encounters with him James, or indeed from what you have heard/read, do you see in chinks in his armour which may go against him getting the top job?

    1. Charlie B says:

      James just mentioned them.

      1. James says:

        I’m sure there are more…

  5. Amy says:

    I used to work in the European Parliament and was involved with some of the mobility work Ari Vatanenen was involved with. I personally think he is the best man for the job. I hope he gets the job.

  6. Dermot Keelan says:

    He certainly seems like the proverbial new broom..I wish him all the best. Todt will be tough to beat but I think a guy like Vatenen could really revolutionise F1…accountability and transparency are buzz words in these recession stricken days and a vote for Todt seems like a vote for the status quo, certainly not what the majority of F1′s stakeholders want.

  7. KNF says:

    “I am in favour of course of some new races – the Singapore night race or anything like that”

    He’s got my vote already, that is, if my vote actually counted for anything…

    While the traditional venues of Silverstone, Monza, Imola, Spa, etc. are important and provide good racing, what many traditionalist fans don’t realise is that there are petrolheads in other countries which are not in Europe too…

    The ability to go up Pikes Peak sideways is an added bonus…

  8. Jim says:

    Well, Murphy the Bear says Vatanen will win, so I’d say he has a 50/50 shot. ;-)

    Here’s hoping he’s right.

  9. Steven says:

    Ari wants to keep the GP at Silverstone? PLEASE GET ELECTED!!!!!!!!!!!!

  10. rpaco says:

    If Bernie got the rights for just $350M then how come he has loaded CVC with so much debt. Ari has a very good point, Bernie got a very special, deal which as made him and I suspect some others very rich off the back of the teams.

    The figures are totally disproportionate, if your local council did this you would expect to see someone in jail for it, or at very least fined, banned and humiliated.

    1. john g says:

      “If Bernie got the rights for just $350M then how come he has loaded CVC with so much debt.”

      because max mosely convinced the FIA that he would get the best deal for the rights, and sold them behind closed doors to bernie. he then asserted that the FIA would oversee any handover of these rights to ensure were not then sold to some faceless corporation unconnected with F1 looking to make some money.

      the amount that bernie got for these rights several years back is still killing cvc and F1.

      1. rpaco says:

        John g
        It was a money question, CVC now have $500m approx of debt. Bernie is still in control in spite of having a small minority shareholding. Nice going! The money has gone somewhere.

        As I said the FIA should be persecuted for the “selling under the counter” of the rights to their mate (Bernie) for next to nothing.

        That Bernie has managed to (horrible american travesty of a word) “Leverage” the debt into a massive profit for himself, is, I suppose both the FIA’s and the team’s fault for being so naive and letting him. At the time no one stopped him so we are left with high ticket prices as a result.

      2. Martin Collyer says:

        Rpaco: -

        $2.6 billion is often quoted (autosport.com, pitpass.com) as the debt that CVC took on.

        Yearly interest payments are thought to be about $250 million.

        I have also read (sorry but I can’t remember where this came from) that the sum Bernie paid for 100 years worth of commercial rights in F1 would have bought about 2 years worth of NASCAR commercial rights.

        Bargain or something else?

      3. rpaco says:

        Martin
        That will be my problem with remembering numbers!
        How do you borrow the money to buy a $350m rights package and end up owing $2.6Bn

        Debt loading is what happens a lot to companies which are then sold on, making enormous profits for the original owners. But Bernie did not want to sell CVC, he is a small minority shareholder in it, yet controls the F1 side of the company. But then again remember the rights are not held by CVC but by a number of Bernies other companies which are part owned by CVC, Bernie and his ex wife.

        Bernie is no fool and the situation of massive debt must exist to help him in some way. Who owns all the debt? (any of Bernie’s other companies own any?)

        Its a subject worthy of a book in it’s own right.

    2. Thomas says:

      There’s a lot to this story. Max Mosley also got a $300 million “private present” from Bernie Ecclestone a little bit after the commercial rights sale.
      There was some EU guy investigating this case, but somehow or another he was replaced with someone a bit more pro-Mosley. There might have been some money involved, but I don’t really remember that part.
      This is what is killing F1, yes. The circuits pays somewhere between $15mill and $25mill for the race, and al paddoc club money goes to Bernie as well.

      1. Martin Collyer says:

        Rpaco, “…Bernie did not want to sell CVC, he is a small minority shareholder in it…”

        Do you mean “.. did not want to sell TO CVC…”

        Have you seen post 24, my understanding of how the commercial rights have been traded in the last ten years or so. Can you enlarge on this?

        I think that CVC has a majority shareholding (70-ish percent) in whatever holding company controls the commecial rights, Bernie holds about 9%, Lehman Brothers also has a stake.

        Bernie was appointed CEO of the holding company, or perhaps the company that runs the commercial rights on a daily basis, by CVC and they, CVC that is, could presumably replace him if they wished. This was rumoured during the ‘Hitler’ row a couple of months ago.

        So how does a $350 million purchase end up generating a $2.6 billion loan? The genius of Bernie?

        James, can you help or clarify any of this?

        Agree that this justifies a book but who understands Bernie’s businesses well enough to write it? James????????

      2. On the Bubble says:

        A certain Christain Sylt, I believe

  11. " for sure " says:

    I wish anyone who needs help with mobility all the assistance they can get, but please, what has it to do with F1? Is it not about time that this was recognised and the influences which effect F1 are relevant to it and not a side issue?

  12. onyx says:

    My favourite rally driver of all time-just check him out on You Tube!I hope he makes it but doubt it-nice guys dont get on in F1.
    Have seen some comments from Bernie regarding ticket prices!He’s blaming the teams for spending too much forcing him to charge the circuits more to give the teams more!Is he serious-he’s definetly lost the plot and if Todt gets in, heaven help us all!!

  13. Frederik says:

    I really hope Ari will become the next FIA president. I look at him as the Obama that F1 needs. Over the last decades F1 has lost contact with the real world and i believe Ari might change that, he’s a man from the more down to earth rally world. Todt on the otherhand would do everything he can to maintain the F1 aristocracy as we know it.
    So i think it will be an easy victory for Todt because the people who will vote for it belong to this aristocracy and they’ll do everything to protect theis position and the benefits that comealong with it.
    I’m from belgium and went to spa last weekend. It’s just crazy when you think of the fact that people pay on average 200€ for an entry ticket (60000 spectators => 12000000€) and yet reports state that the event made a loss of around 4000000€. Where the hell did that money go to? It’s ot like you get a great sho track side. The only track side event was the so called F1 village, for people who haven’ been to a grandprix, this is just a bunch of ‘official merchandise’ stores where you can pay a lot of money for some ridiculous clothes.
    I love F1, but F1 should learn to respect their spectators. I hope Ari will think about that because i’m sure that Todt won’t.

    1. Matthew says:

      I couldn’t agree more. I also went to Spa, driving all the way from Scotland. Whilst it was a great weekend it became very clear that F1 needs to consider investing its money differently. The off track entertainment was very poor at Spa and highlights the need for F1 to do more for the fans who pay a lot of money to come and watch.

      Silverstone deserves more kudos than it receives as it is clear that they are trying to provide the fans with more entertainment (e-zones, concerts, Silverstone TV,Silverstone Radio) however this is being done in the face of the teams who are reducing the stands and interactive features they bring to the tracks year on year.

      It is time for a change.

    2. " for sure " says:

      I last went to the Belgium Grand Prix about twenty years ago. There was no’off track entertainment’, the tickets cost about a tenner and we all had a great time, not subsidising BCE’s enoumous wealth and paying CVC’s debts!

  14. George O'Donnell says:

    Thanks for this interesting article James. I really like this guy, and I don’t understand why he isn’t the favourite for President. He can see the current failings of F1 and some of the madness that is going on, and is prepared to admit the failings and want to do something about them. I haven’t heard Todt really say anything radical and I don’t understand why he has a lot of support. Vatanen is the fan’s favourite.

  15. Carl M says:

    we need jean todt. mr don’t mess me about.

  16. Uppili says:

    James,

    It does have a feel in all your posts regarding the upcoming FIA election that you are either Pro Todt or Anti Vatanen.

    But its still interesting to read all your posts on the topic because we get some interesting information that we do not get elsewhere.

    1. James Allen says:

      Why look for bias all the time? I take things and people as I find them. I don’t mind who wins the FIA election; both men have their strengths and weaknesses.

  17. rpaco says:

    For the future, the sustainable racing car. Something Ari should be considering.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/8236764.stm Peanuts -mmm Jimmy Carter–

  18. Rudy Pyatt says:

    A 100 year $350 million deal — truly absurd numbers when you consider that McLaren alone was probably spending at least that much per year when the deal was announced.

    It’s freed Bernie from any obligation to the FIA, and, therefore, its member clubs. He takes F1 where, when and how he pleases, charging whatever rate$ he sees fit. No one seems to have the authority – or inclination – within the FIA to stop this, or even object to it. And that’s really the underlying tension here. The FIA’s overall credibility and effectiveness, even outside of motorsport, are surely undermined by such a one-sided agreement.

    Whether he wins or not, Vatanen has focused on a vital issue.

    1. Richard Mee says:

      Very good point re: credibility. I agree with you entirely.

      Personally i’d just like to see a common sense governance who doesn’t seem to make it up as he goes along based on mood, money and who’s upset him in the playground recently.

  19. Paul Leeson says:

    An interesting article, and the venue seems like an inspired choice, if Ari really is gaining ground in the middle east it might be a significant shift, it depends on how popular (or otherwise) the Renault crashing Ben Sulayem is, it appears that one week he was a steward, and the next in a position of some power, and sadly reeks of the “old guard”.

    If I had a vote Ari would be the recipient of it, I wish him every success, should he win we may really begine to see F1 getting back to being more of a sport and slightly less of a business, the two mutually neccessary, I feel Ari Vatanen could make them mutually beneficial.

  20. rpaco says:

    So two comments deleted on subjects mentioned directly in your piece, you must be pro Bernie anti Ari.

    I was wondering if Bernie or one of his minions read this blog, because he has taken pre-emptive action in suggesting that ticket prices may fall if F1 costs are reduced, although obviously that is almost entirely in Bernie’s hands and not the teams who reduce costs.

    Ari must be the new man as “James” says above, Todt would be Max II (the thunderdome)

    1. George says:

      There are two of your comments above rp, if they’re the ones you’re referring to. I think JA values your opinion more than deleting posts to suit his agenda (if he has one).

      People are throwing around Max Mosley’s name like a swear word around here. I think much of his leadership style was admirable, as Bernie said he gets things done. If Todt could continue that style but with less of his own ego into the equation then I think he could be a good president.

      1. rpaco says:

        Sorry but they had both disappeared from the thread when I looked.

  21. Ashley Edwards says:

    Whoever will get rid off the Valencia Street Circuit will get my vote. Have a race at the old hockenheimring that was a brilliant race.

  22. john g says:

    therein lies the problem james, and the reason that vatinen will probably not get the nod. He see’s F1 as a passion and a sport rather than a business, which is what bernie has made it – there is no turning back. whilst all true fans would love to see F1 at traditional and proper tracks rather than tilke domes in countries with no passion for F1, these circuits aren’t able to afford
    bernie’s and cvc’s increasing fees, and cvc need to service the debts that bernie put upon them. it’s all well and good saying what ari is saying, but what is done is done, and how does he suggest cvc get their money?

    bernie still controls F1 – he won’t want the tansparency that ari has promised. he has made an art of convoluting the control of the entire sport. unless max and bernie both go, and everone *really* have had enough of max (and therefore max 2.0, todt), then it’s no more than a nice dream for ari and fans of F1.

  23. Martin Collyer says:

    Ari is the man for this job, but how do you unwind the $350M deal that Max did with his pal Bernie long time way back, ten years ago was it?

    Don’t forget that the Commercial Rights went from Bernie to EMTV, who went bust, to Kirch Media, who went bust, to a consortium of banks, one of them is Lehman Bros, who went bust but apparently still owns a percentage of the commercial rights, to CVC who borrowed $2.6 billion to buy their share.

    Try unwinding/renegotiating that little lot.

    The effects of the Max/Bernie consortium will live on until someone finds a way to start anew, 2012 perhaps when the latest Concorde Agreement expires.

    Who will lead it?

    FOTA, if it still exists? Their position gets weakened every time a manufacturer drops out for reasons of ‘our company’s strategic realignment’ (according to BMW) or some other equally vague reason.

    Renault and Toyota are continually under pressure to deny that they will quit F1, even before the Singapore ’08 accusations were revved up.

    Perhaps Manor, Campos and USF1 can bring authority to FOTA that cannot be undermined by a manufacturer’s main board and ‘our company’s strategic realignment’.

    Here’s hoping, good luck Ari.

  24. Harveyeight says:

    It is interesting that Ari V has, apparently, focused on the middle/far east for his electioneering. That has been, for whatever reason, the basis of Mosley’s power over recent years. Great for, er, hedging bets?

    Todt is seen by many to be Mosley’s Mini Me and that probably doesn’t help the chap. There can be few who expected Mosley to stand down from the presidency this year (or believe he will just relinquish all power in the FIA) so he is seen as, quite accurately, suffering a defeat at the hands of FOTA.

    Todt same old, same old, Vatanen whole new world of opportunities.

    At the moment we have the latest in a series of scandals in F1 that newspaper editors must bless. These all took place under Mosley’s control and the buck must stop with him. If Todt is seen as just more of the same, voters might just wonder if they’ve had enough scandals for a while. Perhaps Ari might handle them better.

    It is interesting too that Ari should mention the waste of resources. At a time of falling revenue from F1, and that is the FIA’s major source of income, a platform of strong financial management must be an asset.

    The FIA is a one-sport act at the moment. If it is not F1 then no one is interested. Even the new open wheel formulae seem to be created merely to assist the change to single car F1. Ari, one would hope, would put a little time into WRC and maybe WTCC and WSC as well. They are mere shadows of what they used to be. Would it not be a good idea to build them up and then milk them?

    I’m not sure of why he is threatening Bernie’s CVC/FOM/some other initials. Is this a good tactic? I’m, sure that there are EU regulations, and Ari should know about them, which prohibit just about everything so I would assume that Eccs does not feel safe. I would have thought that Eccs would be one to get on your side. It would be easy enough. All you’d have to do is hold one of his medals in front of him. But then Bernie gives the impression of being on Ari’s side 100%. And the same for Todt’s side as well.

    I’ve got to say, though, for all the clever little Ari pod-type tricks, I reckon Todt must have it in the bag. Mountain goats would fall off this playing field as the voting system favours the anointed one. It is a massive obstacle to overcome and I don’t think Ari has enough political pull.

    1. rpaco says:

      There are ways around EU regulations, don’t forget the EU is one of the most corrupt organisations in Europe, it’s account’s have not been signed off for many years. (It will costing us/you £285 from every UK family next year)

      If necessary Bernie can easily move the CVC headquarters and those of many other of his companies from Jersey to Panama or some other financially favourable country.
      Meanwhile he enjoys any extra controversy, as it is all free advertising.

    2. Rudy Pyatt says:

      Good call on the F1 = FIA issue. Thinking of it, F1 has always dominated the FIA sporting agenda. Why, for instance, has there never been another open-wheel World Championship, as in, F2 and F3? The FIM certainly had no trouble doing this, with world championships running from 50cc up to 500cc. Even now it’s able to accommodate both MotoGP and WSBK.

      If he doesn’t win, I hope Ari can make enough noise in the FIA Senate to keep ‘em honest.

  25. rpaco says:

    Does anyone know what the voting procedure is?
    Who votes? When and how?

    1. James Allen says:

      Rpaco, I’ll do a post on that shortly. By the way what were you saying about comments which had gone missing?

  26. Rudy Pyatt says:

    Further to above: James, can you shed any light on that history? Why didn’t the FIA ever adopt the FIM model? More to the point, why don’t they try it now? I know they’ve made F2 a spec series, but surely they can add to the calendar enough to make a WC?

    I’ve said it before: Make the typical race weekend F3/F2/GP2/F1, even if you have the lower classes run some races at tracks F1 doesn’t visit (Brands Hatch, Portimao … Laguna Seca? Please?) on other weekends. USAC and NASCAR do this all the time.

    1. James Allen says:

      That’s a long complicated story, for another post sometime, Rudy

  27. Silverstoned says:

    “conducted his press briefings in one of the pods, going round and round. It gave him the metaphor of far reaching vision”

    eye pod to take on phoney?

    1. Harveyeight says:

      Please go and sit on the naughty step.

  28. Paul Kirk says:

    Giday,
    Personally, I’d like to see the back/end of the likes of Mossly, Eeklstn, Todk etc., and introduce some new blood to F1 management. I believe the teams should be more involved in the organization of F1. The amounts of money the teams, the circuits, and entrants have to pay to put on their own show is bloody riduculous! My gut feeling is that Vatenin is the man for the job! He gets my vote!!!!

  29. Spyros says:

    Let’s see – that’s $3.5 million per year.

    What’s the smallest F1 team annual budget we’ve had, say in the last 10 years?

  30. Patrick says:

    F1 has become far too political over the past 4-5 years. Even the drivers are so boringly politically correct. Do we really need a politician in a position of inluence such as this.

    Will Ari stand up to Bernie? I doubt it. [mod]

    I don’t know if Todt is the man for the job.
    What I do know is that I love the traditional circuits and the privateers, I am losing interest in F1 rapidly and I have never enjoyed a street parade; not at christmas and not in Valencia!

  31. Martin Collyer says:

    “Even the drivers are so boringly politically correct.”

    Thank heaven for Mark Webber then.

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