Saturday, 24 October 2009

Jean Todt wins by a landslide margin to become the new FIA president

Following months of tough campaigning, former Ferrari team principal Jean Todt comfortably beat his rival candidate former World Rally Champion Ari Vatanen to become the new president of the FIA. The election took place on Friday in Paris, and Frenchman Todt received a 135 votes in his favour compared to 49 received by his Finnish rival. There were 12 abstentations or invalid votes. With more than two times the votes as his rival, president-elect Todt takes over from outgoing president Max Mosley with immediate effect. Briton Mosley had been in charge of the FIA for sixteen years.

Among some of the key people in Formula 1, the outgoing president Mosley, commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone and seven times World Champion Michael Schumacher had all publicly backed Todt's campaign for FIA president. Although none of the above mentioned people had a direct say in the voting process, as the voting is only done by the different member clubs that make up the Federation, it is not very hard to see that such high profile public backing definitely made Todt stand out markedly from Vatanen. Only time will tell whether Todt's election was good for motorsport, or if Vatanen could have been better.

When all the political debacle between the FIA and the Formula 1 teams earlier in the summer was resolved by the signing of the 2009 Concorde Agreement, Mosley committed to not running for re-election for what would be his fifth term in office. After seeing him at the helm of world motorsport's governing body for four consecutive terms and a total of sixteen years, many people in the sport were eager to see a change. It is undeniable that Mosley has done a lot in terms of safety, particularly for Formula 1, but many felt that it was now time for him to move on. Specially after the way he handled the disputes with the Formula 1 teams in recent times, most of the stakeholders in Formula 1 wanted to see a change at the top of the governing body. So it was not surprising to see both the potential candidates, Todt and Vatanen, vowing to bring a much needed change to the FIA.

With the election now over, Todt has called on the FIA to be united and work together to sort out all its problems. Todt also said that he will see through his plan to appoint commissioners for each of the FIA's world championships, something that will allow him to stay at arm's length from Formula 1 and not be involved in the active running of the sport. Some rumours in the media have tipped Michael Schumacher, a close friend of Jean Todt, to be in the running for the FIA's F1 commissioner. All the separate commissioners would oversee the FIA's role in the respective world championships, dealing with the teams, the commercial rights holders, helping with the rules and regulations and so on.

Among other changes, Todt has also vowed to do a complete review of all the FIA's committees and councils. He plans to introduce a new disciplinary panel, which will be in charge of handling all the disciplinary and appeal hearings instead of the World Motor Sport Council (WMSC). However, the WMSC would still meet to vote on major changes in the sport, including any changes in regulations. The new president plans to strengthen up the Race Stewards as well, as they have been involved in some controversies in recent years regarding the handing out of punishments and penalties on race weekends.

The end of the current Formula 1 season is approaching fast with just one more race left to go, but by the time the 2010 season starts, we should already be seeing some of these proposed changes in the FIA taking shape. Luca di Montezemolo, president of Ferrari and the Formula One Teams' Associaton (FOTA), and John Howett, chairman of Panasonic Toyota Racing and vice-president of FOTA, both heartily welcomed Todt in his new role. Like them, and in fact everyone else in Formula 1, I am looking forward to the dawn of a new era in the sport. Hopefully much better times are yet to come in Formula 1. With him in charge, Scuderia Ferrari turned around from a team struggling at the back of the field to one that dominated the Formula 1 World Championship for several years in a row. We all hope that he can repeat the same feats in charge of the governing body as well. Congratulations on your new role Jean, and all the best for the future!

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