Three months into his tenure as FIA president, a period in which he has kept a low profile and got on with work behind the scenes to restructure the FIA and put new policies in place, Jean Todt has broken cover and started to talk about his agenda for office and the things he wants to get done. He said that he took on the unpaid role of FIA president because of his “passion” for the motoring and motor sport.
Yesterday at a small gathering of media in Paris he spoke about controlling costs, the possibility of new team “no-shows’ at Grands Prix this year, his desire to see F1 teams embrace the environmental concerns of the real world and the idea of licences for team bosses, as discussed here on JA on F1 in the wake of the Renault crash scandal.
He also confirmed that he will stand for just one term as president, unlike his predecessor, Max Mosley.
His words on new teams would appear to rule out the possibility of Stefan GP getting an entry in the near future, even if one of the other new teams were to fail. And although Stefan has sent a container of equipment out to Bahrain, the earliest the team might get to race would be China, because of the new agreement permitting three “no shows”. Todt confirmed that this had been agreed at the last World Council meeting. Bernie Ecclestone said at the weekend that he doubted whether Campos or USF1 were going to make it.
Todt said, “In the final version of the Concorde Agreement it’s written that a team may be absent for three races. But if a team can’t go on, it’s not a given that another team comes in. It’s up to the FIA to decide who has the requisites.”
Stefan GP boss Zoran Stefanovic challenged the FIA over its selection process for new teams and although he appears to enjoy the support of Bernie Ecclestone, there are clearly some political hurdles for it to overcome.
“We will have 13 teams,” said Todt. “Three new ones, a Sauber team which is returning to its origins, Virgin, Lotus. A Renault team which has different shareholders. It will be an interesting season. What has surprised me the most from testing has been the reliability of all the teams. Once they used to break suspensions and gearboxes, now they don’t.”
Todt is preparing the ground at the moment for taking the sport towards a greener agenda, something Mosley was keen to achieve too. It’s a big and urgent responsibility and it needs to be handled carefully. Mosley saw KERS as a way to give F1 relevance to the motor industry and society as a whole, by making it the laboratory and proving ground of future technologies. Todt has a wide ranging brief as FIA president and it’s clear that he doesn’t plan to spend too much of his time on F1. But as the FIA’s most high profile activity and one which has some issues to resolve, he has some strong views on what is needed,
“The future is new technology; it’s not acceptable to have given up with KERS,” he said. “The teams complain that it costs too much? Then they must find the way to save money. The teams are sensitive when we talk about lap times, less sensitive when the environment is discussed. We need to cut costs, improve the show and draw investors. F1 must understand that the world has changed. How can you explain that an F1 car needs 80 litres of fuel to cover 100 kilometres? And fans don’t care if a team spends €50 million or €5 million.”
Todt said he favours getting costs under control by clarifying the rules, rather than imposing budget caps. For example, he would like to see the introduction of one aerodynamic update only per season. This time last year, the teams, via FOTA, proposed something similar although they were talking about a maximum of three updates per season. That never came to fruition and instead some teams are planning to bring something new to every race, within the limitations on manpower and hours in the windtunnel set out in the Resource Restriction Agreement. Clearly the requirements of Monaco on the one hand and Monza on the other would mean that striking the right compromise would be a challenge.
The Renault Singapore scandal highlighted the risks of team bosses and key decision makers not being under the jurisdiction of the FIA as they do not hold licences, unlike drivers. When the FIA lost the case in the civil courts in January we discussed the possibility of key men being made to become licence holders and it now seems that, having reviewed the lessons of the Singapore scandal, Todt plans to push ahead with this initiative,
“I will put forward the idea that team managers should also have to hold licences,” he said.
Todt, 64, also indicated that he will serve just one term as FIA president as he still has other ambitions in his life,
“Everyone has his own style: 16 years at the helm are too many, it’s crazy. No, I’m doing a single mandate; otherwise I wouldn’t have time to do other things anymore.”
He added that the job is just as stressful as heading up the race teams at Peugeot and Ferrari but that, “There I was well paid for it, here I’m not. I do it because of passion and to make a contribution to a sector and a sport I love.”
The next thing to come out of the FIA soon will be the identity of the new F1 commissioner. Todt has restructured the FIA and the motor sport administration will largely be run out of Switzerland, where the F1 commissioner will be based.