FIA president Jean Todt has served two terms and he has yet to decide if he will stand for a third as the election is at the end of this year. If I’m honest, I think it would be a good time to explore other candidates.
It’s not that I have a personal axe to grind with Todt or that he hasn’t done the job, it’s that the Formula 1 and motorsport world is changing and perhaps it’s time for the FIA to have a change too?
In the FIA’s Auto magazine, Todt gave his thoughts on the future of F1 and motorsport and to be quite frank, I am concerned about his views and ideological position as well as its impact on the sport I love.
I have a lot of compromise and excuses as to why Todt may feel the way he does given the current march toward alternative energy solutions, climate change, the amount of manufacturer participation in F1, WEC and WRC as well as the political pressures applied that place weight on the bifurcated mission of the FIA—A regulatory body of motorsport and a road safety as well as sustainability through mobility global organization.
I am more concerned that these two responsibilities are becoming more than a simple exercise of edge-blending where they touch each other. In fact, I would argue that they may be jumping the fence and running with reckless abandon through each other’s fields.
When leaders of a certain age are confronted with sweeping changes, such as digital media, it can be a real challenge. If the digital revolution was not around in their youth, then they certainly aren’t digital natives and some of them struggle with their quest to become digital migrants—think Bernie Ecclestone. As a result, they tend to offer equally sweeping concessions rather than anchoring themselves to timeless leadership qualities that can manage the mustard-gas-laced trenches from which they just traversed as well as the digital smart bombs they will now face.
Jean Todt may not be a digital native but I’m not sure if his comments show he has made a successful transition as a digital migrant or if he’s making sweeping concessions that could have serious impact on motorsport.
“I’m convinced that hydrogen will be a technology that will be used in the future,” says Todt. “Maybe in five years the zero car in rallying will be a driverless car. I think motor sport is changing, will keep changing. But we must make sure that we keep the best ingredients together.
“Again, that is one of our responsibilities – to decide not what we will do next year, but what Formula One should be in 2021, in 2030 – what rallying should be, what endurance racing should be.
“The heart of the sport will still be there but it has to take into consideration the evolution of society,” he continues. “When you see all of the emphasis that is put on climate change, on pollution, I feel we have the responsibility to participate. It is true a Formula One race will create less pollution than one plane going from Paris to New York, but we must be an example. And to be an example we cannot allow ourselves to create unnecessary pollution because it’s just the wrong image.”
I’m struggling to see the passion for the purest sense of motorsport—the competition of man and machine against other men in machines. I use the term “man” and “men” generically here so please refrain from the emails demanding equity. I’ll let you use whatever pronoun you prefer here.
I struggle to find the key ingredients that draw the faintest line between the FIA’s mission of sustainability, road relevancy, alternative mobility programs and the mission of simple, well-regulated, entertaining racing. Are the two mutually exclusive? Of course not, at least to the FIA, but that doesn’t mean they should be sharing the same bed and spooning each other every night. I would much rather, if they must share the same bed, they fight for the covers every night and even occasionally go sleep in the spare bedroom or on the couch if I’m honest.
For me, the mission to the world of mobility, sustainability and road safety is a noble charter by anyone’s measure and Jean Todt seems to like that aspect of what he does very much. I applaud his efforts. It’s the oversight of motorsport that I feel is starting to get a bit odd as if it has been placed in the zippered side-pocket of his Mead Trapper Keeper stuffed with his very important papers—showing all his work, mind you—on global life-saving mobility programs and earth-cooling strategies. It’s not that these things aren’t important to him or others, it’s just that I would like him to get his filthy hands off my desert.
Society won’t accept it
As, perhaps, no better example of the reaction to the F1 entertainment conundrum versus galactic series expenditures and manufacturer placation, Todt was asked about the return to louder, normally aspirated V!0 or V12 engines.
“It will not be accepted by society,” says Todt. “Again, we have a responsibility to run an organisation monitored by global society. And global society will not accept that. Indeed, I’m sure if you said, ‘let’s go back to engines from 10 years ago’, many manufacturers would not support such a move. I’m convinced a minimum of three out of four would leave. Also, we know that stability is essential – firstly, to have as much competition as possible, and then to protect the investment. You cannot invest in new technology every year, it is not financially sustainable, and we already complain about the cost of racing, the cost of Formula One – a cost that for me is absurd.
“It’s something we need to fight. So far we have not managed to find the ideal solution and I’m happy to take part of the responsibility on behalf of the governing body. But saying that, it is not easy because you need to find common ground. For me, I always like to achieve some kind of solidarity when you take decisions.”
The last time I checked, Formula 1 fans do, collectively, comprise what we call “society”. So the mobocracy won’t accept it? After bankrupting three teams over the exorbitant cost of being road relevant and sustainable with hybrid V6 turbo power units, I find the argument bereft of impact. Each year, car makers produce thousands of cars with internal combustion engines in them and I think there is still some real innovation in that area of mobility. Perhaps more road relevant and sustainable in the near-term than other forms.
Liberty Media bought F1. Liberty Media hired Ross Brawn. Liberty Media engages digital media and wants to increase the revenue stream of the sport and find more equity for smaller teams as well as retain manufacturer participation. Liberty Media has taken a big bite of a very ornate sandwich and it will be interesting to see how they do. I suspect very well. I also suspect that perhaps it is a time to reconsider the FIA’s role and/or structure to dovetail with F1’s new direction as well as WEC and WRC.
Separating motorsport from mobility
I would advocate a separate division within the FIA that focuses purely on motorsport and racing. Let the other division do its best at saving lives and the climate but let the motorsport division do its best at regulating a sport for “society”…or as we like to call them, fans. Let the F1, WEC and WRC revenue support this new motorsport division and equally, let the mobility division and its member’s dues support it. I sense an income versus expense issue there but I could be completely wrong.
In fact, the FIA just made $70m from the sale of F1 and that should be earmarked for this new motorsport division of the FIA. That should get us through a few years of regulatory oversight don’t you think? As it is, with the mobility division sticking its hand in the F1 windfall profit pocket, how many “drive safely and sustainably” posters can you print for $70m and put up in airports in Jakarta and Haiti?
This new motorsport division of the FIA I am championing should focus on the future of the sport and certainly consider all factors including relevant engines. Want a manufacturer-friendly new power unit? Then create a group of engineers from each car maker and have them offer proof-of-concept systems to be evaluated by the FIA. Let Ross Brawn have a peek at that sucker too.
I feel as if Jean Todt would be a terrific FIA president for global action regarding road safety and sustainable mobility while a new division could help keep the two worlds complimentary but not overtly oppressive of the other. Sometimes society just wants an entertaining motorsport series to watch because it relishes the escape from constant, oppressive news, ideologies, strife, struggle and planet-doom talk.
Sometimes we are fine with good enough and maybe in the end, we just want to be amazed and gaze at the marvel that is man and machine racing other men in machines. Sometimes we wake up and aren’t compelled to save the world rather be entertained by one, small element in the world. Maybe “society” would do well to know that not every element of life comes replete with a sword, shield and helm of morality in which to cure the world’s ills. Maybe some elements in life come with a simple, compelling command…Watch this! You’re not going to believe this move/car/driver/team! This…is F1.
Hat Tip: FIA