27th July 2009 – Boy, do we love a good conspiracy?! We even love the bad ones and I’m afraid the Great Todt Conspiracy really isn’t that great at all, but will unfortunately be making blog fodder for some time to come. Actually, I’m being unfair, the story is of some interest, but is being blown completely out of all proportion and is currently providing excellent opportunity for us F1 “know-it-alls” to spout our opinion as if it were fact. However, the fact is none of us really know the truth and the likelihood is that the actual situation is probably quite dull and not the least bit salacious.
The conspiracy and scandal is that the evil Lord Sith, Max Mosley, using the dark side of the force has manipulated and moulded his not-so-young apprentice, Darth Todt to take over as Emperor of the FIA. The shocking sensation is that, allegedly, the Empire has paid for Darth Todt to secretly campaign for his leadership whilst accompanying his lady-friend, Princess Yeoh, who is on official FIA Foundation business. This means that poor old not-yet-a-Jedi, Ari Vatanen-Skywalker doesn’t stand a chance in the up-coming election and he has publicly accused the Empire of corruption. The Empire strongly denies this, but all those in the Rebellion don’t believe it and are outraged at this pathetic cover up and want Vatanen-Skywalker to defeat Darth Todt in their head to head battle!
Enough of the fantasy, let’s assess what we really ‘know’ and whether it actually matters. This all kicked off with Max Mosley writing a letter to FIA Members on 15th July confirming again that he will not stand for re-election in October. In it he also stated that he felt Jean Todt would be the best man to take over and outlined his relevant experience and suitability for the role. He also highlighted the FIA Road Safety and environmental campaigns both Todt and his partner Michelle Yeoh had been involved in. Todt announced his candidacy the following day.
A lot of people believe it was wrong or inappropriate for Mosley to have made his recommendation in an official FIA communication as this suggests that the FIA is behind Todt and it won’t be an open and fair election. But is Mosley doing this so out of order and biased? It is important to remember that Mosley is not the whole FIA, just one man making his personal recommendation. He has been the FIA President for 16 years and is somewhat uniquely knowledgeable of what it takes to be FIA President and so his recommendation carries a lot of weight and something the FIA Members would probably want to hear. It was also a publicly made recommendation, not a secret telephone call or email which he could have easily done instead if he wanted to do something underhand.
Let’s also check our interest in this FIA Presidency election. Why are we so bothered? We must remember that the FIA isn’t just about F1, that’s only a small part, its main purpose is to represent ‘the rights of motoring organisations and motor car users throughout the world via campaigns and activities that defend their interests. On issues such as safety, mobility, the environment and consumer law the FIA actively promotes the interests of motorists of the United Nations, within the European Union and through other international bodies.’ It also acts as the governing body for motorsport worldwide and administers the rules and regulations for all international 4-wheel motorsport including F1, World Rally Championship and World Touring Car Championship.
Also, we don’t even get a vote! the F1 Teams don’t get a vote, only FIA Members get to do this. The FIA is a non-profit making association which derives its income mainly from the annual subscriptions of its members. Its members are national motoring and sporting organisations around the word, e.g. in Great Britain the FIA Members are the AA, the RAC, Eurorap, the Camping and Caravanning Club, the Caravan Club and the Institute of Advanced Motorists.
Another point to clarify is that, despite what your personal views are of the man are, Max Mosley is well liked and approved of by FIA Members. He became President in 1993, re-elected in 1997, 2001 and in 2005. He has stood unopposed on each occasion as there has been no one else out there with his credentials and ability to challenge him. If he decided to stand again for re-election in October I would bet a lot of money that FIA Members would vote for him again. Some comment of Mosley that he is this evil power-obsessed puppet master that wants Todt to succeed him so he can still secretly be in control as he will retain a role on the FIA Senate. This is just plain ridiculous and the operation of the FIA does not work like that even if you still believe the 69 year old is desperate to still be in charge, that Todt is not a man of his own free mind and that FIA Members are so stupid that they will just do what they are told.
So, getting back to our story, Mosley as president of his FIA Club wrote to his members to confirm he was stepping down and recommended that he, personally, thought Jean Todt and his team would be best to take over. No big deal really. Has he conspired to make this all happen? Unfortunately the boring truth is that Todt has been eyeing up this role for some time now (he considered running in 2005) and has been positioning himself for several years, at least, to be ideally placed to make his campaign. Mosley may have even given him some advice on how best to go about it. So what?!
Well, our alleged hero, Vatanen-Skywalker was clearly upset that Mosley had given Todt his endorsement to FIA Members and felt that something corrupt was taking place. A few days later in a statement he famously said, “At the expense of the FIA Foundation, Jean goes with a private plane with his girlfriend, supposedly as a FIA representative, to various parts of the world, sometimes he has gone to Asia, sometimes to Canada, sometimes to Buenos Aires, whatever. In fact, he is doing a campaign totally supported and paid by the FIA”. It should be noted these comments were made about a week after saying his campaign would be about ‘finding solutions’ and not ‘personal attacks’’ It is also important to know that the FIA Foundation is not part of the FIA itself, but an independent UK charity managing and supporting an international programme of activities (e.g. promoting road safety) and was established in 2001 with a donation from the FIA.
The Chairman of the FIA Foundation, Carlos Macaya, was clearly upset by Vatanen-Skywalker’s accusations and refuted them as strongly as he could. Todt’s partner, Michelle Yeoh has been, for over a year now, acting as global Ambassador for the Make Roads Safe campaign and in this role travels around the world. Macaya stated that Todt sometimes accompanies Yeoh on these trips when he also has legitimate business to attend to and gave the example of one these trips. He confirmed these trips have ‘nothing whatsoever to with the FIA, or recently announced election’ and added he was surprised at Vatanen’s comments as he is a Trustee of the FIA Foundation who would have been made fully aware of Yeoh and Todt’s activities some time ago.
This strong rebuttal, rather than halting the conspiracy, has only added fuel to the fire with members of the Rebellion asking whether Yeoh gets paid for her efforts and upset that Macaya only referred to one trip where both Todt and Yeoh had official business to attend to in the same place and that he did not provide expenses of all trips to back up his claim. Therefore, it is claimed, the FIA are paying for Todt to run his campaign.
Let’s be clear on this, it does not provide proof in any way of conflict of interest or that the FIA are paying for Todt to do his election campaigning. Firstly, Vatanen only referred to 3 trips in his short statement and then Macaya gave a longer reply and gave one example in some detail. Secondly, Macaya does not have to justify to us and provide expenses, however, the FIA Foundation (NOT the FIA) is a charity and reports to its Board of Trustees, of which Vatanen is a member! He knew about these activities for ages so why did he wait until now to say? He must have known Todt, like we all did, would be a fellow runner for the FIA Presidency. Also, as a Trustee he could demand to see expenses and prove his claim, but he hasn’t. Why not? Thirdly, none of these trips were made whilst Todt was an official candidate and Mosley only confirmed he would not re-stand a few weeks ago.
The simple fact seems to be that Todt has wanted to be FIA President for some time so thought it would be a good idea to get involved in activities that would appeal to the FIA Membership. Common sense really! If I was going to stand as a local Councillor here in London, then I would start to get involved in local activities and get my name known in the community where voters were. It’s basic politics. It’s probably why Vatanen became a Trustee himself aswell. Todt has simply done a better job at getting involved with initiatives that are close to the hearts of the FIA Members.
Vatanen-Skywalker definitely seems to want to make changes and modernise the FIA, which I am sure appeals to many, but it seems the Paduan-learner still has a lot to learn about putting together a constructive campaign. He promised his campaign would not involve personal attacks, but that is all he seems to be doing. The actual solutions he proposes sound good, but his message is getting lost and the way he has conducted his campaign will have not impressed FIA Members and may have pushed those undecided towards Todt. However, there are 3 months to go and so I hope that both the campaigns are about issues and not making false accusations or personal attacks.
So, this whole conspiracy is really quite lame. One candidate called foul about an election most of us don’t even get a vote for and it has been rebuked and he has not followed up or tried to prove his claim. There is no evil versus good fight, Todt is not an evil sith and Vatanen-Skywalker is not a Jedi. It’s all quite ordinary and mundane. If Todt turns out to be Vatanen’s father, then that will make it an interesting story!