Today in Paris Jean Todt was re-elected FIA president for a second four-year term. The election was unopposed after the withdrawal of former FIA Foundation head David Ward and the decision of the Emirati powerbroker Mohammed Bin Sulayem not to stand.
Todt now has a clear mandate for a second term and, if his stewardship of Ferrari is anything to go by, he is likely to roll his sleeves up in the second term and get some things done.
Critics have argued that he has not done enough in his first term to address some fundamental problems with the sport in general and F1 in particular, but Todt and his staff counter-argue that he has been putting in place all the background and infrastructure of change, as well as setting up the Decade of Action on Road Safety agenda.
At the same time his opposite number at Formula 1 Management, the commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone, is now 83 and facing a string of legal challenges. Will he still be in post as F1’s CEO at the end of Todt’s second term and if not, how would Todt act if Ecclestone were to leave the sport, for whatever reason?
So what should Todt seek to achieve in the second term which will make a serious difference to the long-term health and prosperity of Formula 1?
Here are our three suggestions:
1. Cost control This is the first order priority for Todt’s second term as far as the sport is concerned. It’s not sustainable as it is at present and we risk losing teams soon and with them the diversity of the grid.
At the moment costs are running out of control again, after a brief period of sanity when the Global Financial Crisis struck in 2008/9. Then the teams agreed to limit their costs and although some of those measure are still in place, like limits on wind tunnel time and summer shutdown, there is so much more that can be done. It should be possible for every team to run on a maximum of $100m a season. At the moment the top teams are spending several times that amount. The new hybrid turbo engines -championed by Todt – won’t help in 2014, as they are very expensive.
Todt had a chance over a year ago to force through cost controls in the FIA Sporting Regulations but it meant standing up to Red Bull and he didn’t want that confrontation. So 2014 is the time for action to make all the F1 teams sustainable.
Mark Hughes, speaking in the latest JA on F1 Podcast, argued for Ross Brawn to be given the role of FIA F1 Commissioner, with a brief to deliver a cost control mechanism together with the teams. It sounds like a very good plan.
2. Introduce some proper long term thinking F1 needs to look five years and more down the track, rather than live by a series of knee jerk decisions. F1 now has a Strategy Group, but this is viewed with suspicion by the middle sized and small teams because they are excluded from it and they fear it is really a lever to eventually force them to run customer cars.
The Pirelli Mercedes test episode highlighted the dysfunctionality of relations between teams and how that links in with the governing body. The second Todt term should focus the teams and the Commercial Rights Holder’s attention on what they want F1 to be 10 years from now, in terms of spectacle, how the content is consumed around the world, in innovation and technology terms and also work on the broader message of what F1 is about and what it represents.
3. Rationalise the staircase of talent so the best drivers get to the top At the moment the approach for single seater drivers wanting to get to the top is confusing and ripe for exploitation.
There is no shortage of talented kids coming into the funnel at the start, but those with money are more likely than ever to progress ahead of their more talented peers.
As the funnel gets narrower, near the top, that is exacerbated. The line between a pay driver and a driver who attracts sponsorship is blurred, but F1 must always be about the “best of the best” and by clearing a defined path to the top and managing that process, we can end up at a situation where we are sure we are watching the best drivers in the world, not just the ones who have the best backers.