Todt: 25 races, worried teams and 800M starving people

I read a strange comment by FIA president Jean Todt this week regarding the expanded 22-race calendar, as well as a possible 25-race schedule, and the wear and tear it has on team personnel over the course of a season. It’s a legit concern for those who travel so much and work so hard when doing so.

The teams are concerned about a work/life balance, burnout, and wellness for obvious reasons, Formula 1 is a complicated sport with pressures and schedules that would challenge the most regimented of people.

Still, the concern over this years expanded 22-race schedule as well as a potential 25-race schedule in the near future is something the teams and their employees have been discussing recently. It’s also something Jean Todt says they shouldn’t be grousing about.

“I think it will be a long process before being close to 25 races,” said Todt.

“Probably so much emphasis on speculating and assessing 25 races, and at the moment we should concentrate on 22, which is the situation.

“About what it represents, here I may have a different point of view.

“I really feel that, and I include myself, we are so blessed to be in a world where we love what we do. We have the passion. We are privileged.

“Whoever is in F1 is privileged. Of course, you have some duties.

“When I was in other positions [as Ferrari team principal], I was working 18 hours every day, seven days, six or seven days a week, because I had passion, I wanted a result.

“Then of course, the family, if you have a beloved family, they will understand. And you don’t do that for all your life.”

800 Million

Jean Todt says pull your boots on and get on with business. Working hard is part of life and when he was doing what he loved, he worked long hours and endless days. However, to drive home the point, Todt then goes on to say:

“Believe me, I do a lot in the other activities in my life, where I see people, if they are blessed, they get $30 a month,” he said. “In certain countries. So we should not forget that.

“You have an eight billion population, and you have 800 million people, they [are not able] to eat, to drink, to get a vaccination.

“We’re here to talk about F1, but we must not close our eyes and forget what is happening, for other people, for other communities.

“I feel again, we have to be blessed, and all those who are in F1, with much higher salaries, incidentally, than any other business, should be very happy.

“It doesn’t mean that it’s not hard working and all that, but simply assessing the position.”

On the surface of it, this could be seen as patronizing to those who have worked hard to achieve what they have in Formula 1 and who have sacrificed a lot to do what it is they do. Diving deeper, this comment is among the strangest I’ve read from Mr. Todt.

This is the equivalent of a mother telling a reluctant child staring bleakly at their plate of brussel sprouts, “eat those….think of all the starving children in (insert struggling nation), they would give anything to have those Brussel sprouts.”

Chances are, there was a time in the recent past that the child’s ancestors would also have given anything for those brussel sprouts and in order to ensure their children had them, they worked tirelessly to create a government that protected their land, a land fertile for seed, an economy to thrive in a market for fresh vegetables and an education system to empower their children to continuously build a civil society worthy of brussel sprouts any time they wanted them.

Is this Philosophy, Ideology or Racing?

Reading this comment from Todt and the implied guilt/shame intended, I can’t help but recall my collegian days studying the societies, cultures and philosophies around the world.

Todt’s comments seem to fuel this recent notion that only Europeans remember their guilt and only Europeans have to continuously atone for that guilt. Never mind the generations of bloodshed, graft and innovation it took to create the culture and society they have.

The words of Edmund Burke come back to mind from those dusty pages where I left him many years ago, “that a culture and a society are not things run for the convenience of the people who happen to be here right now, but is a deep pact between the dead, the living, and those yet to be born.”

The progress of societies is a linear affair full of strife, ideological turmoil, sacrifice and unthinkable setbacks. Todt’s own nation of France has experienced her share of change over the course of history replete with revolution, tyranny, wars, famine, plague, prosperity, persecution, and progress. The men and women, who bore the scars of this generational strife which forged a nation, worked tirelessly so their children wouldn’t suffer and might find happiness without as much toil.

There was a time that their ancestors lived as Todt’s 800 million do now or worse—they never lived at all or they lived very little before perishing. Being mindful of those struggling around us is a noble charter by anyone’s measure but equating the Formula 1 employment opportunities and graft needed to succeed in F1 in a 21-race season to 800 million struggling in their own nations for food, shelter, society, ideology, freedom, land and commerce is a non sequitur on the best of days.

Todt’s words are patronizing and contextually misplaced in my opinion. The matter at hand is sustaining a race team with 25 races in a season, not feeding the world. If F1’s mission was to feed the world, then his words would be ever more appropriate. If Todt believes F1 should self flagellate due to the mere fact that there is suffering in the world, then perhaps F1 should stop racing and focus its efforts on solving poverty in struggling nations. That would be a noble charter for sure, nothing wrong with that, but I suspect the series wouldn’t need all those team personnel that they are currently worried about.

“perfect systems”

Todt may be struggling with the conflation of F1 racing and world events, ideologies, politics, societal and social struggles. He may feel that F1 teams should feel blessed because others don’t have the quality of life they do. He has positioned F1 as a vehicle for the FIA’s agenda of sustainability and other social causes. Seemingly we can now add world hunger to that list of FIA causes F1 should tackle in between its guilt atonement sessions.

It brings to mind the words of T.S. Eliot when he said it was an effort at “dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.”

There is no system that perfect. Nations must rise and stand on their own footing and own the toil, strife and prosperity they sacrifice for and if other nations assist, that’s great but it has very little to do with Formula 1. I recall John Stewart Mill’s words on this point, “I am not aware that any community has a right to force another to be civilized.”

A 25-race season does have an impact on F1 and apart from thread-bare employees, it will cost the series a lot more money and that threatens the proposed cost cap Todt is trying to push through.

I think Todt would be better off by not trying to impose a shared guilt on F1 employees but by trying to solve F1’s challenges in context, not in philosophical juxtapositions.

Hat Tip: Autosport

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