Although he feels that Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley have done a very good job in the past, getting Formula 1 to the point where it is today, as one of the world’s leading sports series, FIA president Jean Todt says he must focus the FIA’s efforts on what F1 needs to be in the future.
And, 15 months into his first term as president, he doesn’t rule out running for a second term of office.
On Friday I went to FIA headquarters in Paris where Todt gave a rare interview to the Financial Times. My FT colleague Roger Blitz and I spoke with Todt for almost two hours. The resulting articles are published in today’s paper.
It was a wide ranging discussion, with topics including the next Concorde Agreement, whether CVC are looking to sell, Bernie Ecclestone’s criticsm of Todt’s FIA administration as a “joke”, the 100 year agreement between the FIA and FOM and an EU request for the FIA to run an electric car championship.
What is very clear is that he plans to robustly fight for the best interests of the FIA, in the same way as he fought – often controversially – for Ferrari’s interests in his 16 years at the helm of the Scuderia. He wears a different hat now, but his modus operandi is the same.
On Bernie Ecclestone’s criticism of him
In the Daily Express newspaper last week, Ecclestone launched a stinging criticism of Todt, calling him “a poor man’s Max,” and attacking the greener engine rules for F1 from 2013 onwards,
“He has been travelling around the world doing what Max didn’t do too much – kissing the babies and shaking the hands, ” said Ecclestone. “It is probably good for the FIA but we don’t need it in Formula 1. We should write the rules with the teams. The competitors have got to race and have got a big investment. We have got a big investment. It (the FIA) should be like the police – the police don’t write the rules and say you’ve got to do 30 miles an hour. The FIA is a joke.”
Although they are perfectly civil to each other on the phone, the comments reflect the battle between the two most powerful men in the sport ahead of the latest round of negotiations over a new Concorde Agreement. Crucially both are looking to get the teams on their side.
But Todt, who claims that the he’s very pleased with the support he’s getting from the teams on the 2013 rules, doesn’t want to get into a public spat, “The manufacturers agreed (the new rules) the world council agreed unanimously and Bernie is part of the world council. There is emotion, but what is important is never to overreact. I feel confrontation, unless it is necessary to achieve the final result, you lose time.”
On the 100 year agreement
In 2001, following a demand from the EU that the FIA separate the regulatory and commercial side of F1, a deal was signed by then FIA president Max Mosley whereby the commercial rights were assigned to Ecclestone’s company for 100 years for a fee of US$360m, which was paid upfront. This money sits in the FIA Foundation in London, and runs programmes like the young driver academy and global road safety programmes.
Although the fee looks very light now in comparison to the value of TV rights deals and circuit licence deals being done, Todt says that at the time, it was “a good initiative, a wise decision in 2001 to sell the rights”, but that he has done a thorough study of the agreement, which came into force at the start of 2011 and “it cannot be changed. It is what we have.”
But interestingly, he also spells out that he will take the opportunity of the next Concorde Agreement negotiations, starting shortly, to robustly pursue a deal for the FIA, which reflects current values.
“Now it is my responsibility to make the best out of it and to secure the best future for F1,” he added. “And you know that it is a commercial agreement, called the Concorde Agreement, which is on much shorter periods and the term of the current one is end of 2012. So together with the commercial rights holder and the teams we will have to discuss the next Concorde Agreement.
“I will make sure that everybody realises that since the (100 year) agreement has been signed and now times have changed, technology has changed. 15 years ago you didn’t have all the sophisticated electronics you can enjoy today when you watch the TV. All that has a cost. Definitely we need to take that in consideration because I must make sure that the funding for the FIA is correct. Our costs are greater than they were 10 years ago. Evolution has a price.
“For me what matters are the best interests of the FIA and these, if they are protected, are the best interests of everybody. Because you cannot have the FIA F1 world championship without the strong commitment of the FIA. And that’s the best guarantee for the teams and for CVC.”
I imagine that he will also seek to leverage F1’s global media platform to push the FIA’s Road Safety agenda even harder as this seems to be the area he spends most time working on. As part of the new management team Todt has also hired a marketing director, the first in the FIA’s history, and he is charged with finding new sources of income for the federation.
On CVC’s involvement with F1
Private equity firm CVC owns a controlling interest in the commercial rights holding company in F1 and there has been some suggestion recently that they might be shaping up to sell. Ecclestone has said that the debt, of over $2 billion, will be paid down in the next two years and Reuters reported last week that CVC has been doing a study into a possible sale. However Todt says he doesn’t think that they are on the point of selling their stake in F1,
“When the agreement was made I wasn’t president of the FIA. They (CVC) are very smart people. They have left Bernie total freedom to run the business and he has done an outstanding job as a promoter, but not alone; it’s like a movie, you have the director but you must also have the actors and the actors (in F1) have been strongly participating in the show and in the success of the show.
“What is important now is to consider what everyone has contributed in the evolution of what was F1, what is F1 and what F1 has to be in the future. And to have a healthy discussion about how to share the revenues and the costs.”
Does he think they want to sell, “I don’t think so,” he said. “They are committed, they have done an excellent job, they like the F1 business. CVC is the owner, but if CVC decides to sell the FIA and myself as president have a role to play.” This refers to the “Don King” clause in the 100 year agreement, which gives the FIA the right of veto over a prospective purchaser of the commercial rights.
On running for a second term
Ecclestone’s comment about Todt travelling the world and “kissing babies” is no throwaway. The 65 year old visited 55 countries last year and this year will visit 45. He has been fulfilling a promise to visit many of the clubs around the world, who’s membership of the FIA gives it its powerbase. It is the act of a man who is not ruling out a second term and who is shoring up his own powerbase.
When it’s put to him that he said he would only run for one four year term he is quick to point out that it was reported as such but he never said that. And he readily admits that he will not achieve all that he wants to in a single term, “My frame of mind is to achieve as much as I can in my first mandate,” he said. “I’m healthy, motivated. We don’t have to decide anything for another two years.”