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.
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.