Ari Vatanen has positioned himself as the candidate for change as he prepares to go head-to-head with Jean Todt for the FIA presidency in October – and he has made it clear that he’s not happy with the way incumbent Max Mosley has named the Frenchman as his preferred successor.
The 1981 World Rally Champion and former Finnish MEP threw his hat into the ring in the first week of July. The following week Mosley finally confirmed that he would be stepping down, adding that Todt was “the ideal person to continue but also to extend the work of the last 16 years”.
The following day Todt’s candidacy was formally confirmed. Following a change to the rules, made in 2005, potential presidents have to nominate a 22-man team or cabinet to stand with them and take various roles. Todt’s three key choices are Nick Craw of America’s ACCUS, Graham Stoker of the MSA, and Brian Gibbons of New Zealand’s AA.
Todt is regarded as an FIA insider having held a seat on the World Motor Sport Council in Ferrari’s name for many years. He has also played an increasingly high-profile role on safety matters, and has recently been touring the world and meeting member clubs on behalf of the FIA Foundation.
Todt’s manifesto and its associated website were clearly created with the assistance of the current FIA media team, and indeed FIA communications director Richard Woods – the man known widely as Mosley’s spin doctor – has resigned from that role to officially run Todt’s campaign.
The election remains hard to call. Todt clearly has the votes of the club bosses who form part of his team, and there remains a hard core of members who will no doubt take heed of Mosley’s recommendation.
On the other hand, not all those who have remained loyal to Mosley over the years may regard Todt as an automatic choice. His brusque personality and long-term ties to Ferrari are among the question marks. Sources suggest that his final departure from Ferrari was far from amicable, however, and his strained relationship with Luca di Montezemolo means he has no reason to favour the Italian team.
Vatanen has also enjoyed ongoing links with the FIA, while his real-world political experience – he was voted out this year after a decade as an MEP – gives him extra credibility. His main supporter is Bob Darbelnet, boss of America’s AAA, and he says he is also backed by Spain’s two clubs and by Germany’s ADAC.
“It’s like anything else in life,” said Vatanen. “You need a kind of lightning conductor, and maybe in my modest way I can be a lightning conductor in this situation. If people don’t know there’s an alternative, what can they do? Let’s say people’s frustrations, their hopes, their wishes, they cannot be [focused] on anything. So now we’ll see what kind of movement
I can create.
“For a movement for change, for a new start, for a new deal for the FIA family, people will come on board.”
Vatanen attended July’s German Grand Prix and was pleased with his reception in the paddock.
“As expected, as I knew, [it was] very positive,” he said. “But we must not fool ourselves. You don’t have a vote. You can help the good cause, but the automobile clubs are voting. The automobile clubs are the owners – that’s the only right term – of the FIA. And we must respect them.”
He conceded that Todt has a head start in terms of gathering a Mosley-approved team for his cabinet: “Of course that system has been made to protect the incumbent president, and if I got there that would be the first thing I would change, so that people would be able to get rid of me easier than now.”
Concorde deal to secure F1
As Motor Sport closed for press the imminent signing of a new Concorde Agreement looked set to finally put an end to the uncertainty over the future of Grand Prix racing. Max Mosley has kept his side of the deal made at the World Motor Sport Council meeting on June 24 to stop a breakaway FOTA series by confirming that he won’t be seeking another term as FIA president.
Mosley now has to sign the new Concorde Agreement on behalf of the FIA, although he made it clear that the version initially presented by the teams after the WMSC meeting required a lot of work. It is believed he was unhappy with the extra influence the teams were seeking.
The teams themselves had to come up with firm plans on reducing future costs to the notional ‘level of the early ’90s’, as agreed at the WMSC meeting. Representatives of all 13 teams – including the three 2010 newcomers – met in Geneva on July 15, and while there was no final agreement, progress was reportedly made.