Keeping faith with Formula 1

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As we celebrate 60 years of the Formula 1 World Championship, once again we note there is nothing new under the sun. Even Grand Prix racing – somewhat ironically in an age where television audiences dictate the start of races – has returned to its roots as a contest of relative endurance over a format of sprints split by pitstops. That’s not very ‘fan friendly’, is it?

As is so often the case in life, reality failed to match expectation as the new F1 season began. But at Motor Sport – ever the optimists – we dare to continue to hope. This is not blind optimism. Yes, the new race format, devoid of refuelling, appears to hinder rather than help ‘the show’, but we won’t be joining the hand-wringing hordes just yet.

Why? Because for once the axis of F1 – FOTA (the teams), FOM (Bernie Ecclestone) and the FIA (led by new president Jean Todt) – has a chance of working to the same agenda, and the right one at that, to improve the racing if so required.

Now, if a tweak to the sporting regulations is made mid-season to improve the spectacle, it doesn’t have to be of the knee-jerk variety, leaving affronted teams squawking about being railroaded into change. As a united body, FOTA should be able to enjoy an open and effective dialogue with the FIA to agree on future direction changes, while Bernie will be happy as long as his show does indeed improve.

The key to our new-found sunny optimism is, very much against our own expectations, that man Todt. You may remember our, er, lack of enthusiasm at the prospect of the Frenchman succeeding Max Mosley last year. Todt was hardly known to act in the best interests of the sport when he ran Ferrari and we feared, as Mosley’s preferred candidate, that his regime would be a case of ‘same as the old boss’. Of course it’s still early days, but we might have been wrong to tar him so.

According to those who have worked with him, Todt is a man of immense intellect. It seems that he recognised the value of using Mosley’s FIA ‘machine’ to get elected, but has quickly cut the strings once in office. This is no ‘puppet president’. He’s doing things his own way with his own team.

At Ferrari he was blinkered to the benefits he could gain for himself and his employers. But as the head of world motor sport we are seeing the ‘other’ Jean Todt, the one in love with racing and rallying. The signs are good: he’s introduced ex-drivers as race stewards and he’s talking about uniting the World Rally Championship and its upstart rival the Intercontinental Rally Challenge. And, significantly, he’s doing it for the most part behind closed doors, the way FIA business used to be conducted before the days of Jean-Marie Balestre.

So is Todt (I never thought I’d write this!) a throwback to a less politically driven age? Will he bring a new stability to the governance of motor sport? Is he motivated to make a positive difference rather than his own name? We’ll see. But we have to admit, he’s made a good start.

When news reached the Motor Sport office that Sir Stirling Moss had been injured falling three storeys down a lift shaft in his London home, it was difficult to comprehend how close we’d come to losing the world’s greatest living racing driver, and in such bizarre circumstances. Motor Sport has long cherished Sir Stirling for his importance to the sport, as a valued link to the past and for being the man he is. I’m sure I speak for you all in wishing him the best on his new road to recovery.

Damien Smith, Editor