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Exclusive interview with FIA presidential candidate Jean Todt Print E-mail
Saturday, 26 September 2009 19:26
Telegraph Sport Formula One correspondent Tomy Cary has conducted an exclusive interview with Jean Todt, who is aiming to replace Max Mosley as FIA president. Here is a transcript of their meeting.


Man on a mission: Jean Todt has proposed to introduce an independent disciplinary panel if he replaces Max Mosley as FIA president Photo: REUTERS

Telegraph Sport: What do you make of recent criticism of you by your rival for the FIA presidency Ari Vatanen?

Jean Todt: Rather than talking I prefer action. You need to do things when it’s efficient. Why just talk for the sake of talking? It has always been the religion in my life. I don’t need to say I just do. I’m not going to make comparisons [between myself and Vatanen]. That is your job.

But each one has its own style, you know? I think in the life you must respect the style of everyone.

What do you make of Vatanen’s claims that the governance within the sport must change, particularly with reference to the “vested interests” of the World Motor Sport Council when deliberating over the Renault scandal?

I think when you start to judge an organisation you must be very rational and you must have all the elements in hand. And it’s not so obvious. So considering what has recently happened – the FIA realised that something happened in Singapore and they had to judge the facts with the elements they had. And it was not denied by the competitor involved so you have to take some action.

Do you feel the WMSC made the right decision to allow Renault off with a suspended ban and Nelson Piquet Jnr off entirely, while hitting Flavio Briatore with a lifetime ban and Pat Symonds for five years?

I will say yes. The manufacturer in question apologised for the damage which has been done so I don’t think it would have been appropriate to exclude Renault from Formula One. But I don’t think it would be appropriate for anybody, myself included, to tell them what they should have done. They did their job.

If you ask me what I would do if I do become FIA president – I don’t know if you’ve been reading our policy agenda – my team have proposed an independent disciplinary panel, which I feel would be a very good thing for the sport. That would make proposals to the world council.

It is part of a much wider status review which we are talking about.

So you feel that changes are needed to the FIA’s style of governance?

We are aiming for renewal but I think it would be unfair to say that what exists or what has been done is not good because it is not true.

It is simply not true. We need renewal. But at the end of the day the FIA did the job they had to do.

With Formula One seemingly lurching from one disaster to the next, how would you propose to rid it of the state of chaos that it seems perpetually to be in?

Well, I think talking about disaster is a bit out of proportion. F1 is one of the sports in the world which creates the biggest interest.

Over the years it has always been, from time to time, with a conflict, with an accident with a controversy. Of course it would be much better to aim for a peaceful life, for a peaceful sport. But all sports that have a large audience, you have things happening.

I agree, I wish some of what had happened in the past did not happen and will not happen again but you know we can maybe be optimistic think that what has happened over the past few years, and the decisions which have been unanimously taken by the teams, by the FIA, by the commercial rights holder with the renewal of the Concorde Agreement, will go in this direction.

A 14th team is on the waiting list which is amazing considering a few months ago we were talking about three cars per team because people were expecting less than eight teams in the championship. So I don’t think it’s fair to say that everything is in chaos. Saying that, it’s best for renewal, innovation and improvement, which is a challenge.

So you are saying the current state of chaos is a good thing?

I would prefer... I like seeing everything straight, square, without controversy. But maybe you don’t want to hear that. You look at people in the magazines, if it’s too nice you don’t sell.

How do you see the state of F1?

I left F1 officially a few months ago and I think they have made some good steps forward. They [the teams, the FIA and the commercial rights holder] are talking together, they are working well together and they have made some steps forward. It’s a good atmosphere amongst the teams which is a good thing.

But for the good of the sport it is a triangle: the teams, the FIA and the commercial rights holder.

What do you say to people who suggest that you are Mosley’s protégé? That it is unfair he has backed you so publicly? And to those who believe he will continue to exert an influence from the Senate once he steps down next month?

If Max has decided to step up, it’s not to keep having some influence in the Senate. He’s too proud for that. Either he’s in charge, or he’s not in charge.

The fact that he said, in his opinion, that I’m the best candidate – well, I can only thank him for his opinion. I’m sure he’s sincere. I think he has given so much of his life to the FIA that he would wish that the FIA remains in good hands and goes for improving where it can be improved.

But whoever is elected, Max will have a place on the Senate as it’s in the statutes; the exiting president has a place along with the 10 other senate members.

Was it right that Mosley backed you though?

Well, I still think it’s a very even contest. And anyway before he suggested that I was his preferred candidate, he was asked to support the other candidate [Vatanen] and it was his choice not to do it.

Vatanen appears to have cast himself as the “candidate for change” while you are the seen as the “candidate for continuity”. Is that fair?

I refer you to both policy agendas. If you read carefully both of them, I will let you choose who is proposing the most changes.

Have you met Max? I can assure you we are not the same. I’m sure I’m better in certain aspects and Max is better at other aspects – that is just a fact of life. We have a different background, a different education, a different way of managing things and people and we are completely different. We have some common points. We are both very hard workers. We both have a passion for cars and for racing. But we have a completely different approach.

I am a manager. Alone I am unable to do a lot of things. But my skill is to find the right people, to put them in the right place and then to lead them to do a good job. I’m good at it and it’s what I want to do.

Is it fair to say that you are unpopular within F1 as a result of your long and successful career at Ferrari?

You know, time heals a lot. So what was true three months ago is not necessarily true now. I think I was a tough competitor. If you have a responsibility, you must defend your company or team. That’s always what I did.

If I’m president of the FIA I will fight to protect its interests just as I did for Ferrari and Peugeot. Of course it may create some tension.

But I know exactly where I stand. If people want to interpret things like that then it’s up to them. I don’t need to claim anything. I will demonstrate what I’m about and it will be quick. So on that point I’m not very concerned.

I have clear ideas about what I want to do. I’m very excited about mobility, about road safety, about new technologies on road cars. I’ve been following these subjects for the past few years with my partner, who is a Global Road Safety Ambassador.

And when we’ve been together in hospitals; when we have been talking together with families who have been hurt by accidents; when you see in Africa, in Asia, children who have to cross the road to go to school. It is a concern. So I respect the problems in F1 but there are so many other problems.

So who is going to deal with Formula One?

We are proposing to have Commissioners. Those people will have control of the championships and they will have to report to the World Council. But it’s a problem akin to asking the team principal to control the aerodynamics of the car – he will not have success. But if he finds a good aerodynamicist who is controlled by good technical director, he will have a good team.

Can you tell us who will be your F1 Commissioner?

No. Not Max anyway. I would I think it would be inappropriate to elaborate. I know you are doing your job and I would ask the same question in your position. But if you were in my position you would not respond because first, number one, you need to be elected. And then you need to speak with people and understand in detail the situation. And take the decisions when you have all your information to hand.

Do you not think it would affect the way in which FIA members vote?

There are over 172 mobility clubs and sporting clubs. And I am not sure that they are concerned with who is going to be the F1 Commissioner. Very often they are quite unhappy with the coverage F1 gets. Do you think people in South Africa care what is happening in F1?

But if you were to pick Alan Donnelly for instance, would it not show that you are tied to the current regime?

Again it would be inappropriate to say ‘It will be x, it will not be x.’ The only thing I can tell you, which is 100 per cent true, is that the decision has not been taken. I don’t want to have an autocratic leadership so first I would like to speak with people. I would like to have a potential list of candidates. I have started to think about that. For me the ideal profile would be someone who is fresh in the business and would have a lot to bring to the business.

Would you describe yourself as an honest man? There is constant speculation about your character and there were recent false rumours that you commandeered a private jet at FIA expense to attend an FIA Foundation meeting in Africa.

That was very grave to spray out rumours which are not true. I would say probably my biggest strength in my life is that nobody can control me by reminding me of something which should not have happened. That is very important.

You have people who are dishonest who spray information around which is not true. As far as the private jet is concerned, in fact I arrived in Cairo one hour late with 50kgs of luggage and Michelle had her bags as well. Then I read I was supposed to have been on a Bombardier jet.

It’s not very dignified for people to be saying that.

What about rumours that you receive money from the Malaysian government to act as a tourism ambassador?

People love to work with things which are not true. I have one and a half pages from the Tourism Minister in Malaysia apologising for this, which was prompted by this allegation from the opposition in Malaysia about something which is completely untrue.

Number one it is untrue and completely easy to demonstrate. Number two what would be the problem if as a free man I was paid by Tourism Malaysia to work for them?

Simply my partner is Malaysian and I am happy to do some things for them. I like Malaysia. Just for my own pleasure to please them. But then you can see how nasty some people are because they take things which are completely untrue without checking.

What about rumours that you were given a flat or land in Malaysia?

Completely untrue. I have applied to have Malaysia as my second home – and you are welcome to do likewise because that is part of my mission as an ambassador for Tourism Malaysia – and we bought a flat. I always blame myself because I should have got it cheaper. But anyway, we have a flat which we bought. Land? Nothing, unfortunately. I never got anything free from Malaysia. These are all just malicious rumours.


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