Jean Todt: The Right Man to Be FIA President?

Fraser Masefield@@fmasefieldContributor IDecember 5, 2013

Jean Todt
Jean TodtMark Thompson/Getty Images

Jean Todt gets re-elected unopposed as the FIA president on Friday, but what does that really mean for the sport?

In understanding whether or not Todt’s tenure as FIA president has been a good or bad thing so far, we must first consider a few options.

These include what state the sport was in when Todt took over for outgoing president Max Mosley, what Todt has done to liven up proceedings since and why there were no other candidates to challenge Todt for the job.

A popular choice

It may well have been to Todt’s benefit that Max Mosley left his role of president under something of a cloud.

Max Mosley left the presidency under a cloud
Max Mosley left the presidency under a cloudPaul Gilham/Getty Images

Mosley became embroiled in a very public court battle with the News of the World newspaper, who published video footage of him involved in a sadomasochistic orgy that the paper alleged involved Nazi role play.

Mosley won his court battle against the paper on the grounds it constituted an invasion of privacy and that the Nazi allegations were also false.

But whatever good Mosley may have done for the sport during his 16 years in charge, there remains one thing in particular that springs to the front of most people’s minds at the mention of his name.

In his column for the Daily Mail, Stephen Glover recently said that it must not be forgotten what Mosley did and that his successful attempt to erase all internet proof of what happened, as reported in The Guardian, is an attack on the freedom of individuals.

He blames everyone except himself. It seems never to occur to Max Mosley that he may have acted unwisely or wrongly. In trying to bury his unwholesome past, this peculiar man would, if he could, cheerfully dismantle all our freedoms.

Not long afterwards, Mosley announced that he would stand down as FIA president at the end of his term in October 2009. In July 2009, Todt announced his intention to run for the presidency and although he had a rival in the form of former rally driver Ari Vatanen, it was always going to be clear-cut, and he won, with Mosley’s support, by 135 votes to 49.

Todt was already a popular and recognisable figure in F1 circles due to his successful career as general manager of Ferrari, where he guided the team to unprecedented levels of dominance from 2000-2005 alongside Ross Brawn and Michael Schumacher.

But that didn’t mean it was going to be easy to follow in Mosley’s footsteps.

A tough act to follow

Despite the unsavoury manner in which Mosley ended his tenure, he left the sport in a healthy situation, and it’s easy to forget much of the good measures he helped push through.

These included the introduction of the HANS (Head and Neck Support) device for increased driver safety and a call for cost-cutting measures and for F1 manufacturers to develop technology more relevant for practical use in road cars, including the KERS system.

For Todt, then, following Mosley’s lead appeared to be a double-edged sword. On the plus side, he inherited a sport in a healthy situation, but he could not be seen to sit back and do nothing.

A difficult start

The job of the FIA president is to oversee all of the rules and regulations surrounding the sport, and Todt has already had some tricky decisions to make.

With engineers forever looking to exploit loopholes in the regulations to gain an advantage over the opposition, the FIA has to try to make it as level a playing field as possible whilst at the same time appearing not to handicap design ingenuity.

With leading teams finding a way of blowing exhaust gasses over the rear end of the chassis to increase downforce even with the driver off throttle, Todt and the FIA decided to outlaw the practice, known as "hot blowing" as described on ESPNF1.

The reason for the ban is the FIA is unhappy that 'hot blowing' is a waste of fuel, and believe that blown diffusers in general are making use of moving parts of the engine to influence aerodynamics, and therefore infringe a regulation against moveable aerodynamic devices.

The changes have not gone down well with everyone—Red Bull and their design genius Adrian Newey, in particular, who saw it as a direct way of limiting the team’s dominance, as he told Autosport at the time.

It's pretty much as we feared before the season started. Having explored exhaust blowing technology quite heavily for two seasons and then having that taken away together with other changes like the front wing flexibility [test rules], hurt us quite a lot. Probably [it hurt us] more than other people because we had been exploiting it for longer. It has taken a while to try to understand what we need to do and to recover.

There have, of course, been other recent controversial regulation changes enforced by the FIA and none more so than the tyre changes introduced to encourage overtaking and improve the racing spectacle.

Pirelli’s faster-wearing tyre compounds have been one of the major talking points of the season after a series of spectacular blowouts at Silverstone led to concerns over driver safety. The FIA and Pirelli were quick to react, introducing stronger Kevlar-belted tyres and a return to the previous year’s front tyre structure.

An exciting future?

In fairness to Todt, the intention was always a good one, to widen further the appeal of F1 to the masses in producing more exciting racing.

And continuing Mosley’s theme of developing ever more efficient and greener technology, the 2013 season sees one of the most radical changes ever introduced with the normally aspirated 2.4-litre V8 engines making way for 1.6-litre turbocharged V6 powertrains with a focus on their electronic recovery systems (ERS).

The fact that Todt stands unopposed for re-election lends much to the fact that Englishman David Ward withdrew his opposition because he could not find enough backers.

As reported in The Telegraph, Ward argued for a complete overhaul of the FIA’s management structure, but he found few takers.


My candidacy in the 2013 election has not been motivated by a burning ambition to serve as President of the FIA. My clear preference would be for a club President to be elected to that role, supported by the appointment of a new Chief Executive. That is why I have described myself as a reluctant candidate. What I have tried to do is to encourage debate about the flaws that exist in the FIA's governance system. I am satisfied that I have succeeded in that.

Whether or not Ward is right about the flaws in the governance system is not something that will concern Todt.

For the moment, he is fully focused on making Formula One as exciting as it can possibly be with the goal of securing its long-term economic future through cost-cutting measures.

On paper, the 2014 regulations look like an extremely positive start, but only time will tell whether it will be the defining act of his tenure.


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