16th July 2009 – Today, and to no surprise in the world of Formula 1, former Ferrari head honcho Jean Todt, 63, has announced he will be standing for presidency of the FIA when Max Mosley stands down in October. He will be up against former world rally champ Ari Vatanen, but it is almost a foregone conclusion that Jean will be the next FIA President. This is not to any detriment of Vatanen, but Todt’s credentials, political acumen and recent movements show that he has positioned himself perfectly to take over the helm from Mosley later in the year.
The way Todt transformed the fortunes of Ferrari was hugely impressive as he not only secured the services of such talents such as Michael Schumacher, Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne, but perhaps more significantly he really galvanised what was an almost pitiful and not very successful group of individuals into a consistently winning and high performing team and his legacy still continues. In the last 10 years, Ferrari has won the Constructors’ World Championship an astonishing 8 times. This is no fluke.
Ferrari is not an easy team to be involved with at the best of times as it has such motor racing pedigree and heritage that there is such an expectation that anything less than winning is simply not good enough. Most teams would probably say this applies to them too, but Ferrari is simply in another league in this regard. With the massive investment and financial resources made available to the team comes enormous expectation, endless scrutiny and the level of politics that only Italy can provide. Jean Todt has not only survived but excelled in this environment and he has done it in it in a remarkably understated way that contradicts the classic stereotypical French and Italian manner. Those familiar with F1 will know that he always appeared so calm and in control and when confronted with the most poisonous of media questioning he handles it with aplomb, so measured and unflappable.
Todt had been rumoured to take Mosley’s place as far back as 2004 and to keep his services Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo promoted him from F1 Team Principal to CEO of Ferrari’s entire operation including normal car production as well as the racing team. Stefano Domenicali took over as Ferrari Team Principal and he remained as CEO until he resigned in March this year, leaving Ferrari completely. This makes him ideally placed to make a bid for the FIA Presidency and Max Mosley has commented that he feels Todt would make an excellent FIA President and, of course, Italy and Ferrari will have his total support.
Todt comes across as quiet and unassuming and one suspects he is unlikely to bring the scandal that Max Mosley unfortunately generated in his tenure, but this is not to say the Frenchman is without any controversy or tabloid excitement. He is engaged to the beautiful and talented actress Michelle Yeoh but it has hardly been a big story. However, last month he had been accused of taking a payment from the Malaysian government to promote tourism, something that Todt strongly denies and insists he is a tourism Ambassador and this is purely a voluntary role. Again, this is not really a big story but some may try to make more it given his declaration to become FIA President.
Max Mosley is in a great position to judge appropriate candidates and he is clearly convinced. “I believe the right person to head that team would be Jean Todt,” he added. “Jean is unquestionably the outstanding motor sport manager of his generation and arguably of any generation.” Can you think of someone better suited?
Jean Todt will be the next FIA President.