April 18, 2013

On a promise

Jean Todt does not attend all races © Sutton Images

During the 1992 American presidential elections, Bill Clinton had tee-shirts made for all of the journalists following the governor of Arkansas on what he hoped would be his road to the White House. The press corps travelled by coach, tailing Clinton’s own vehicles, and the convoy was known internally by the sobriquet that would become the slogan on the shirts: Camp Pain 1992.

Electioneering is a complex process, whether one is running for Leader of the Free Worldâ„¢ or simply hoping to gain a second term as FIA president. There are hands to shake, babies to kiss, and campaign promises to be both made and kept.

This week Jean Todt has come under fire in some news outlets for what they call his ‘failure’ to attend the Bahrain Grand Prix this weekend. The president’s absence has been seen by some as ‘electioneering’. And to a certain extent, they’re right.

When Todt was elected to the FIA presidency in late 2009 the Frenchman promised that in the course of his term he would visit all of the 135 countries which host FIA member clubs. And in the years since, Todt-watchers have seen him pop up in all manner of far-flung places, from Kazakhstan to Indonesia – he is collecting millions of frequent flyer miles in his unpaid efforts to keep the promises he made in that first electoral campaign.

Todt’s office in the Place de la Concorde features an oversized map littered with coloured pins, indicating those countries visited and those left to visit. Pins from the former camp vastly outweigh those in the latter.

In recent days, Todt has been in Senegal, Benin, and Gabon. As recent additions to the FIA fold, the member clubs in Benin and Gabon lack voting rights, but received a presidential visit nonetheless.

Personal safety also doesn’t explain Todt’s absence from Bahrain. This year has seen him visit Israel, Palestine, Syria, and Iraq. In the latter country the president refused to wear the bulletproof vest he had been offered, choosing instead to travel in the same style as his hosts in the Iraqi Automobile Club.

With his first term coming to an end, Todt is working hard to ensure that promises made in 2009 have been kept. But travel was not the only election promise the former Ferrari team boss made all those years ago. He also avowed a less F1-centric FIA, a governing body that would promote all of its championships, not just the flagship series so beloved of his predecessor.

Max Mosley could be found on every F1 grid. Todt restricts himself to five or six paddock appearances a year, with Monaco and Silverstone the only two constants. Over the course of his presidency Todt has varied the other races on his agenda with a view to completing the full F1 calendar over the course of his four-year term.

Last year, when it was imperative that he be in Bahrain, Todt was a visible presence at the Sakhir International Circuit. This year, with the situation on the ground far calmer – opposition group al-Wefaq has given their public support to the grand prix – Todt will be absent.

Whether or not you think that to be a good move on his part is subjective. But it fits the model of his presidency thus far. Where Mosley saw F1 as his time to shine, Todt has not sought out the spotlight, preferring instead to let his initiatives do the talking.

He has divided his attention between the FIA’s numerous championships, worked with member clubs to promote the Action for Road Safety Campaign, pushed for the creation of Formula E, and stood firm on F1’s 2014 engine spec change, all while negotiating for a new Concorde Agreement more favourable to the long-term future of the sport as a whole.

Was his absence from Bahrain electioneering? Maybe so. But wouldn’t you rather have an FIA president who keeps his promises than one who pushes for personal gain and glory?


Posted by Jareesh C Myladan on 20/04/2013

Excellent article. As said by Viraj, first time i came to know FIA activities outside of F1. You must bring out more details on what is happening there. Especially road safety, engine spec changes.
Good one... keep it up..

Posted by Mrs Gail j Gray on 19/04/2013

I miss Michael Schumacher and Mr Jean Todt, they are gentlemen, i think formula 1 is not the same without them,they made my weekends so enjoyable and thrilling not it is dull and boring mind you i hope Seb Vettel becomes world champion this year in 2013, good luck to him.

Posted by Brendan Sloan on 18/04/2013

Thank you Kate.

A significantly better article than the one published (anonymously) yesterday. If you find the time, it might be worthwhile showing that writer this piece.

Posted by Bilal on 18/04/2013

Kate, your articles are brilliant! It a great idea to share the inside story behind what goes on in F1. Keep up the good work!

Posted by Viraj Ambetkar on 18/04/2013

A very well-written article that provides the other side of the story. I would never have known as to what entails being an FIA president. Jean Todt has been the antithesis of one Mr. Max Mosley. As to the 2014 engine regulations, the jury is still out on it...

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Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to ESPN. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, her unique approach to Formula One coverage has been described as 'a collection of culinary reviews and food pictures from exotic locales that just happen to be playing host to a grand prix'. Kate Walker