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Todt steps up his bid for FIA president
Todt steps up his bid for FIA president
Posted By: James Allen  |  28 Sep 2009   |  11:35 am GMT  |  53 comments

This weekend has seen a PR blitz by Jean Todt as the campaign to be elected FIA president enters the final stages. The election is less than a month away and Todt has made his first visit to the F1 paddock since announcing his candidacy.

Outgoing FIA president Max Mosley has already publicly endorsed him and this week belittled his rival Ari Vatanen. Also this week Bernie Ecclestone came out strongly in support of Todt. This is no surprise; it was Ecclestone who persuaded Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo to hire Todt back in 1993 when he was at Peugeot.

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In everything that he has done lately Todt has strived to look presidential. He has been clever, using his status as an FIA official on the Keep Roads Safe campaign, to do a series of high profile FIA-sponsored events, making it very easy for people to imagine him the president’s role. In fact he looks like he is already!

There was a fascinating little cameo on the grid on Sunday, picked up by the world feed cameras, where Todt was proceeding down the grid, like a president, with people around him, including Ecclestone when Ari Vatanen pushed Bernie from behind as he jostled to be in on the group. You heard Bernie snap at him, “Hey, don’t push” and Vatanen looked such an outsider in that group.

Vatanen looks like an outsider in every sense, someone who talks a good game, but who has no direct experience of leading a large organisation. But the outsider is the role he has chosen for himself, the question is, does he have enough support? Max Mosley criticised him for never having run anything in the past, even his own rally car and it is true that it would take a leap of imagination to see him match Todt for leadership qualities. But Todt has a lot of baggage and carries the endorsement of Mosley and Ecclestone, which is a mixed blessing in the eyes of some. Vatanen represents a complete change of culture.

The key for Todt is whether he can decouple his instinct and track record of ruthless competitiveness from his broader management skills. There is no question that he is one of the great managers of sporting history, possibly the greatest in F1 in terms of results, but he pushed everything to the limit and sometimes beyond in his relentless pursuit of victory. In this new role there would be no place for that side of him, even though he would be required to fight the FIA’s corner, but the sport would clearly benefit from his ability to get things done.

Would he present the face he presented to the other teams at Indianapolis in 2005, where the Michelin teams ended up not running because he would not countenance any changes to the track which might allow them to? Or would he bring the same ability to win the day to benefit the FIA and the sport as a whole?

Todt is closely aligned with Mosley and Ecclestone and although he would bring about important structural changes – such as the F1 commissioner and the disciplinary panel – which I think are excellent ideas, would he be prepared to bring about a cultural change too?

The question then is whether the key members of the FIA have the stomach for an overhaul of the way things work. If Vatanen can get enough of the right people to want to bring about that change he will be put in a unique and privileged position, but if he can’t find some game-changing moves soon, he could just be steamrollered by the Todt establishment.

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Some of the biggest names from the motorsport scene around the world came out for Todt this weekend, men like Michael Schumacher, Alain Prost and Mario Andretti. None of them has a vote on the FIA presidency, but their voices resonate widely.

One of them, legendary Amercian team owner Roger Penske said,
“One of Jean’s great abilities has been his level of commitment to encouraging the very best performance from his team. He was 1000% committed to team Peugeot, 1000% committed to team Ferrari and in the future will be 1000% committed to team FIA. For Jean nothing less than this commitment is enough and if he only achieves a fraction of the success at the FIA as he has done in motor sport competition, we can expect great things from the governing body in the future.”

Ecclestone’s endorsement is significant, even if it is slightly odd that he would come out on the side of one candidate. He usually backs a winner, though.

“I have known Jean for many years,” Ecclestone said on Friday. “He is a most reliable, gifted and trustworthy person. He is determined and dedicated to whatever goals he sets himself and I admire and respect him greatly for everything he has achieved. The FIA needs a president that is strong, capable and with experience at the highest levels of motor sport.

“Jean is by far the most knowledgeable and capable candidate for this vitally important role. I hope everybody will support his candidacy,”

Meanwhile Todt has this weekend met with the teams through FOTA and with the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association. There is some concern among the FOTA hardcore about a Todt presidency and Toyota’s John Howett has already expressed his view that the president should not be someone with such strong links to F1 and to one team in particular, F1’s most important team historically and financially.

It’s interesting and significant that the two most awkward team principals, as far as a Todt presidency would be concerned, have now left the sport; Ron Dennis and Flavio Briatore. Todt would not have been able to come in to the job and get rid of them and without them his life as president would be much easier.

The drivers have often felt that the FIA doesn’t really listen to their concerns, although Mosley always denied that and sought several high profile meetings with them over certain issues. Todt also hinted that some of the FIA frontline figures in F1 might be moved on,

“I am ready to start from a white sheet of paper at all levels, ” he said. “I will forget that I had a problem with a team because it would be inappropriate. So starting from a white piece of paper, if some people are now involved in the administration of the FIA [it’s because they are] they are good, I can only respect them.

“If I feel that some people are not appropriate or should be put in another position it is something I will discuss with the team. And it needs to be reinforced.”

The election is on October 23rd.

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Does the presence of Nicholas Todt as manager of racing drivers including Felipe Massa – and an increasingly visible figure in the F1 world – surely not place Jean Todt his father in an untenable potential conflict of interest position as the President of the FIA?

Is such a situation not somewhat akin to that of Flavio Briatore as manager of drivers and simultaneously their team principal?

Should the mere possibility of possible implications of future bias in rulings or decision making not be sufficient to disqualify Jean Todt from seeking the FIA presidency?


I think the point everyone is missing is that F1 is only a part of this. The majority of the voters have no F1 involvement in their countries and it was Mosley’s (often financial) wooing of these clubs that secured his position. Despite Todt’s recent faux pas with South Africa, I cannot believe he has not been smart enough to have made the necessary pledges.

Todt is difficult to like and his background does indeed show a ruthless imperialism but his management abilities coupled with an understanding of how the FIA really works (which is not to say the way it works is at all laudable) should lead to some changes being made for the better. I fear Vatanen’s approach is likely to be overly idealistic (which is not to criticise those ideals in any way) and could result in him being an isolated president forever at probably futile war with the FIA’s partners. Sometimes, pragmatism works best.

I must admit, I’d love to be proved wrong, though!



This sums up quite nicely many thing wrong with F1 and FIA at the moment, and which will remain that way unless someone from the outside like Ari becomes FIA president.


Hi James, well having just run through all the comments left on your excellent blog up to this point, I would say that support running for Todt is about 40 to 1 against with a couple of people giving him a grudging nod.

Imagine – from fans and knowledgeable followers of F1 just 1 wholesale endorsement!

What I have come to detest about F1 is the clear presence of the fear factor that dominates the governing and administration of this sport. It appears that people are just plain scared excrementless of the power at the top. The parallels to A.K. Rowlings fictitious and fabulous “He who must not be named” character are fascinating. Everyone it seems connected with F1 in some way, whether as journalists, team members or principals has to stay on the right side of the behavioural equation – or I guess they will find themselves being marginalised ever further out of the loop. No wonder Bernie had good things to say about Hitler.

Ari Vatanen regrettably has no chance in this contest for the FIA Presidency. Those that run things – or see which side their bread is buttered on – will do whatever it takes to preserve and stay well-in with the status quo.

Actually I would say that F1 and motorsports in general need almost anyone NOT endorsed by the current powers that be.

Mike from Medellin, Colombia

These “Commissioners”….are they going to be just puppets?

So, we’ll end up having F1 run by a puppet of another puppet? Will the puppet’s puppet also have a puppet?


Any politician, motorsport or otherwise, is destined to disappoint, otherwise they’d die in the job, right? Mosley and Bernie worked the politics well enough to oust Balestre, but then Mosley ran the FIA as an autocrat and gave the impression that he fancied himself as an emperor, born to rule and to die in the job, no differently to his predecessor. Todt is also autocratic, but I think he understands what’s needed of the FIA presidency better than anyone. He’s excelled in the positions he’s held, and I think he’ll excel as president, should he make it. Todt is motivated by pride in the results he achieves. He might be old guard, but he’s the part that works. Ari is a sentimental outsider, but Jean’s got runs on the board. If the FIA, and F1, needs to change for the better, I think Todt’s the man to manage it. He’s never going to be Bernie’s, or Ferrari’s, or anyone else’s, patsy, if change is needed.


You make some very valid points here, Murray


The only competition suitable for Todt is with Nelson Piquet Sr. for the title of ugliest man in motorsports


James, you said in one of your previous texts that Vatanen possibly set himself on a collision course with Bernie after announcing some of his goals if he was to be elected for president. Those were “keeping traditional venues” and if I remember correctly, reviewing, if possible, the whole mess about leasing the rights for F1 to FOM for 100 years for a pocket money.

The very fact that such common sense goals are to be so vigorously opposed seems a good indicator that things indeed have to change, and is probably one of the reasons why Bernie is backing Todt. It’s obvious Bernie supports him because he feels he will if not represent then certainly defend his interests.

That in itself is a good indicator that Todt probably won’t go against Bernie in tackling some of the most important issues, and tackling those issues sport desperately needs!

Just one more reason why Vatanen is desperately needed.


Ari barging Bernie out of the way is now on the Tube.Love Bernie’s back stab retaliation.



Giday, Ari for president, no question! Mossly, Xeltin, Toddlywinx!!! What a CONSPIRACY!!!! Bloody Hell we would’nt want those guys running the show, no telling what they’re cooking up behind the scenes!!!!

Go Ari!!!!



James, thanks for the well written blog.

Have you seen the following clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qsYRmOVmwhM

Bernie really can not stand Vatanen.

To be honest I can not understand why such strong feelings against Todt by a lot of the fans. Is it because they do not approve of Ferrari? Surely we as the fanbase of the F1 are ill equipped to understand how Todt or Vatanen will operate as FIA presidents. Ari seems well intentioned but this is not a guarantee of competence. Just to intrigue the fellow readers, you can draw a parallel with Chamberlain in the late 30s (as I am having a link with Bernie, I might as well use his “misintepreted” comments about the same era to make a point). I am sure he was well intentioned when he was agreeing with Hitler the future of central European countries but the result was catastrophic, for the future of Europe.

I know the parallel is weak but I am trying to make the point that in the cut throat environment of F1, we need visionaries that can shape the future rather than dreamers that may not be able to get through the obstacles of the establishment.

Whatever happens lets hope that the new president will use the position for good both in sporting terms and mobility terms. My feeling is that both will be much better than Mosley, who really made a mess of our sport especially in the last year.


“Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

When a few select people have run organizations or governments for too long, the kind of utter nonsense that fans of F1 have been subject to for the past several years culminating in the Gong Show that has been the 2009 season is inevitable.

Having Todt in there wouldn’t change anything. He and the rest of his ilk have got to go for F1 to truly heal itself. Vatanen an “outsider”? One would hope so. I sincerely hope those who have a vote will see this clearly and give him a chance.


Most of the names supporting Todt are no surprise. I have long been a fan of Mario Andretti but I am utterly disgusted that he is supporting for FIA president a man who thinks it is acceptable for one team to have an illegal secret deal with the FIA to veto technology of other teams.

I simply cannot believe Mario Andretti has done that. It is the first time he has ever said something that has disappointed me.


I am also a huge fan of Mario; and I can see why he would support Todt. Mario is a dedicated competitor and has a longstanding affinity with Ferrari.

I have met him twice: at Goodwood, when drove the Lotus 79 and at Donington a couple of years back when he drove a Lotus 49. Both were demonstration runs but were pretty close to the limit, which we discussed. He strikes me as a man who likes to push he envelope but not break it, which is possibly how he perceives Todt.


“Vatanen …has no direct experience of leading a large organisation”

Neither did Obama and look how that came out.

Mike from Medellin, Colombia

Exactly. Having no experience in my opinion is better than having had an experience of failing.


I don’t get how all those credentials that Todt has can be seen as positive for a future president of FIA. If he was to be a president of a company or something like that it would be great, but here he has to work for the benefit of others and all credentials he has just go to show that working for the benefit of others is probably something quite foreign for him.

Judging by all of his achievements, he would probably do exactly all the bad things that Mosley was doing, but unfortunately, with much more success in achieving them.

And I’m afraid, that’s the main reason he is getting so much support from all those who are already in power. Because they will only gain more power from that it just preserves this sick state that we are in at the moment.

Trust me, I come from Serbia and I know that if you are removing the corrupt government, they ALL must go. It can’t be gradual process, because as with cancer, the healthy tissue otherwise just gets corrupted too.

So please, no Todt and no cosmetic changes.

We need someone who Mosley doesn’t trust and someone who Mosley doesn’t like because that’s the best indication we are on the right path.


This must be what it feels like to be a parent seeing your son or daughter begin to fall in with the wrong crowd. It feels like my beloved f1 is about to be lead even further down the wrong path as Todt gets voted in and things continue to go from bad to worse. Todt is everything that is wrong with F1!!!


to be fair, as much as want to see ari get the position, i honestly don’t see how things can get much worse than they have been at their most recent with max and bernie turned up to ‘full crazy’

fota should have left when they had the chance, and taken ari with them – left max out in the cold and bernie trying to get cvc out the mess he put them in. sadly that dream is well and truly over and F1 is so much the worse for it.


I am reminded of the film “Airplane” with the IP indicator lights denoted “Unusual” “Strange” and “Wierd”.

In this case rotary knobs on Max’s and Bernie’s chests with settings ranging through Normal,-tense,-paranoid, -outspoken, -aggressive, -full crazy,-Psycho.


Remember part of Todt’s Ferrari legacy is also that it has taken to 2010 for Alonso to be in a Ferrari.

He callously resolved himself that “Alonso will never drive in a Ferrari”.

This man is a liability, a breath of stale air, in a puppet organization. He has to go, together with the old guard.


Mike from Medellin, Colombia

It’s not Todt’s ability that is in question….it’s his impartiality. With regards to these Commissioners….who picks them and who controls them? Who do they report to and by what means could they be removed from their posts.

At the end of the day this is all about the unsafe level of influence that Bernie naturally has…although this is proving counterproductive for himself ans the sport.


I’ve also heard that Todt has been using FIA and FIA foundations monies in furtherance of his campaign, and i’m not talking about the odd* free air charter. Though as yet unsubstantiated i’ve every faith that this may well prove to be truthful, and the evidence will be released before to long.

*odd as in every sense of the word


One thing looks certain, Mr Toad wont be garnering the “Motorsport South Africa” vote, F1 seems destined to always miss its golden opportunities for change and betterment, if Todt is voted in this will be just another such opportunity down the pan.

His comments about South Africa “not caring about F1” are disgraceful, is he going to restructure in order to deprive those countries without a current F1 race a vote ? because if he is, he’d best not mention it before they vote him in.


Clearly Max and Bernie’s agenda is to install a puppet so they can continue to pull all the strings. Such a shame that Todt will get it – a fresh, unknown face with no hangups or cliques is exactly what F1 needs. Instead it will follow the same path of recent years and continue to shoot itself in the foot.


I’m no Todt fan and doubt he will bring about the changes F1 so desperately needs, but to imagine a man with his pedigree as a Max and Bernie puppet is well wide of the mark.


FIA [mod] do whatever it takes to not change a thing. Vatanen has lost the game before it even started. Todt will get elected and nothing will change. Who knows what’s the relationship between Todt and Ferrari. Todt is known for playing dirty (Schumacher years), I’m not surprised if there’s going to be another secret agreement between FIA and Ferrari to give Ferrari an unfair advantage.

Too bad, Vatanen would do amazing job imo. Mosley has killed the WRC already, it’s 2 factory teams there, basically 3 drivers who can win a rally. I’m sure Vatanen would make things better both in WRC and F1. They say he has no experience, that’s no excuse. The truth is that he’s too clean, [mod]. What good has Mosley done with his so called experience? I don’t remember not a single good decision.


Ari is one of the greatest drivers of all time. If I had a favorite, it might be him(or Marku), but I try to be impartial. But not in this election, I am for Ari all the way. And maybe Todt is worried about him, I don’t know why. I think Jean Todt has an inside line. But maybe, just maybe, the Finn will be able to make his imprint upon my sport. Formula One would benefit, and we would all win. It would improve also with Todt-just not as much!


Although there’s no denying his credentials, is Todt the right man to take F1 forward in light of recent public criticisms of the sport and the way it is run. Todt is virtually assured the presidency, emphasising that the FIA is a gentlemen’s club, for which Vatanen membership isn’t required.

I hope Todt does bring positive changes to F1 but I do worry that he will take us back to those dark days of Balestra and FISA with the introduction of commissioners.


Only “1000%” committed? Pah, he’s not even breaking into a sweat, I’d expect to see 5000% at least…..



hahah, at first I thought it was a typo, but when I saw it three times I knew he was simply driving in the wrong direction up the one way street.

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