Ari Vatanen: The man who would challenge Max Mosley (Video)

Ari Vatanen, world rally champion and former MEP, will stand against Max Mosley

Ari Vatanen, world rally champion and former MEP, will stand against Max Mosley

Ari Vatanen has declared he will stand for election as president of the FIA in the October elections.

Vatanen is well-known to motor racing fans having been a world rally champion and survived a serious crash in 1985. But his subsequent political career and passion for improving road safety also mark him out as a promising contender for the presidency.

Here’s a look at his career so far.

Rally champion

Ari Vatanen was born on April 27, 1952 in Tuupovaara. The village lies close to the Finnish border with Russia, which four of his uncles died defending during World War Two.

He was 18 when he entered his first professional rally, and in 1976 won the British Rally Championship driving a Ford Escort RS1800 with co-driver Peter Bryant.

In 1979 he paired up with future Prodrive boss David Richards and the pair won the British title again in 1980. Vatanen had also begun competing in the World Rally Championship six years earlier and in 1981 he and Richards won the title.

Having made only three starts in 1982 Vatanen joined the works Peugeot team for 1984, driving a Peugeot 205 Turbo 16. Just as F1 had its turbo era around this time, rallying had the infamous ‘Group B’ cars, of which the 205 was an explosively fast example.

Horror crash in Argentina

Vatanen gave the car its maiden win in the Rally of the Thousand Lakes in Finland in 1984. Two races into 1985 he had won the last five events he had entered. But he also suffered a series of accidents – including one in the Argentine Rally that year which almost cost him his life.

On a wet road on the second stage, Vatanen hit a rut that had been forged in the road by heavy rainfall. Travelling at atound 190kph (118mph), the Peugeot was launched into a series of flips, leaving little more than the twisted skeleton of the roll cage wrapped around the pair. The impact was so great it broke Vatanen’s seat, the driver sustaining a fractured lumbar vertebrae, a serious leg break below the knee and heavy chest injuries.

Co-driver Terry Harryman climbed from the wreckage and was spotted by a helicopter, which soon brought Vatanen medical attention. He spent 18 months in recuperation.

Paris-Dakar and Pikes Peak

By the time Vatanen returned to rallying Peugeot had left the world championship following a row with the FIA. He now spearheaded the team’s assault on the Paris-Dakar rally raid, winning the event in 1987 in a modified 205. The following year he was leading the rally when his car was stolen from the football stadium where it was kept in Bakano, and held for a ransom which Peugeot refused to pay. It was returned too late for Vatanen to rejoin the event.

He made up for that by winning the next three Paris-Dakar rallies, the last coming for Citroen in 1991. His second win in 1989, however, was controversial. Now partnering Jacky Ickx at Peugeot, the pair took control of the event in their 405 T16s with Ickx narrowly ahead. After stage 11 team boss Jean Todt decided his drivers should no longer race each other for the win, and notoriously decided which of them should get to win by tossing a coin.

Vatanen won the toss, but fortune now made a mockery of Todt’s decision. Vatanen went off on the penultimate stage of the rally and Ickx resumed the lead. And so on the final stage Ickx slowed down, handing victory back to Vatanen as per Todt’s insistence.

Also that year, Vatanen raced a 405 T16 at America’s famed Pikes Peak hill climb. One of his runs up the daunting course – which reaches a 4.3km high summit with sheer drops off the sides – was captured in the film Climb Dance, which was released the following year:

Vatanen continued to participate in world rally events, taking the Subaru Impreza to second on its debut in 1993 Finnish Rally. His last appearance came at the same rally 10 years later in a Peugeot 206 WRC. By then he had moved on to the second calling of his career: politics.

Vatanen in the EU

After many years service for French manufacturers Vatanen moved to southern France in 1993. Six years later he was elected to the European Parliament on behalf of the Finnish National Coalition party. He was re-elected in 2004, this time representing he French Union for Popular Movement, another conservative party.

His personal website reveals his chief political interests include transport policy. He has criticised the substantial sums taken from the motor industry and invested in the rail transport industry, and talks up the work done to make cars more environmentally-friendly. One can imagine the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association, which last month supported FOTA’s criticism of the governance of Formula 1, endorsing this point of view.

He has also argued for greater investment in road networks and improved road safety. Vatanen’s passion for road safety is rooted in his childhood – his father was killed in a road accident while young Ari was in the car.

In 2005 his report “Halving the number of road accident victims in the European Union by 2010: A shared responsibility” was accepted by the commission. But by 2008 only France, Portugal and Luxembourg were on course to hit the target.

Vatanen will not be in office to see if his ambitious goal is reached, having lost his seat in the European Parliament in this year’s elections. His decision to oppose Max Mosley in the FIA president elections in October may be borne as much of a desire to continue his efforts to improve road safety as his interests in motor racing.

The right man for the job?

Vatanen with Dakar team mates Colin McRae and Giniel de Villiers

Vatanen with Dakar team mates Colin McRae and Giniel de Villiers

His essays suggest a mind which values the practical over the political, which certainly would be a breath of fresh air for Formula 1 right now.

Vatanen’s political career has not stopped him returning to the Paris-Dakar, racing for Nissan from 2003-2005 and then for Volkswagen in 2007. After the death of Colin McRae in 2007 he joined in the commemorative Colin McRae Rally in 2008, reunited with Richards once again. Richards also presented him with the Autosport Gregor Grant Award for lifetime achievement in motor sport.

If he can put together a successful candidacy and navigate F1 out of its troubled waters, that would surely be an achievement to rival his rallying successes and fight back from injury. Faced with the alternatives of Max Mosley and Jean Todt, I suspect many F1 fans will welcome Vatanen’s bid for the presidency.

More on Ari Vatanen

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37 comments on Ari Vatanen: The man who would challenge Max Mosley (Video)

  1. HounslowBusGarage said on 10th July 2009, 22:48

    It’s my honour to send one of the first responses to this article.
    Ari Vatanen has successfully weathered the intricacies of the European Parliament and proved himself to be the victor over the many layers of the almost Byzantine beaurocracy in doing so. In which case he must have demonstrated patience, determination, understanding and diplomacy.
    Seems like the perfect candidate for the FIA Presidency.

  2. persempre said on 10th July 2009, 23:38

    I only remember him from his rally days so can’t judge his suitability but I’d hope he would be an improvement on the present incumbent.
    Did Jean Todt actually say he’d stand?

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 10th July 2009, 23:49

      No, but it’s been rumoured ever since he left Ferrari.

      • jess said on 11th July 2009, 4:33


        With all this going on how do you feel about the sport now. And if (and I hope not) there is a “split”. Who would you watch. If they split I wont watch either I saw what it did to Cart/IRL and I tried to keep up w/both in hopes of a unification and now it is a shell of what it was. I feel a split could do the same.

        • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 11th July 2009, 11:14

          I keep getting asked this and I’m honestly not contemplating it. It would depend how the split works out. I could just as easily end up watching both, either or neither. It would be a huge risk for the sport. Even unified the IRL isn’t out of the woods yet.

  3. persempre said on 11th July 2009, 0:05

    Ah, thanks, Keith.
    I thought maybe I’d missed something.

    Even though I’m a Ferrari supporter I’ve always maintained he’d be the wrong choice because of his ties with team.
    He has all the right credentials but, purely from the point of stoking the fires of the conspiracy theorists, it wouldn’t be a good idea.

  4. How Ironic is This??? said on 11th July 2009, 1:41

    Does anyone else find it amusing that the man who is going to challenge Nazi Sex freak Max Mosley (and hopefully hold his Hitler idolizing henchman Bernie in check) is from Finland, a nation that briefly was allied with Nazi Germany during World War II? It sure is a small world…

    • Frank from Oz said on 11th July 2009, 2:17

      I don’t think you are being entirely fair How Ironic is This???
      Choosing between Hitler’s Nazis and Stalin’s Soviet Union were the only options for many countries. Many chose Hitler, but many (including the Allies) chose Stalin. Not a choice I would have to make.

    • Ben Ell said on 11th July 2009, 3:19

      Yup and I’m sure Ari had a lot to do with that, given it was 10 years BEFORE his birth. You really are grasping at straws.
      Are you going to make similar comments about anyone from Germany, Austria, Italy, Japan etc? How about some “reds under the bed” comments about people from Eastern Bloc countries?

  5. Seems like his political experience combined with a knowledge of racing would be a good mix. He also probably has acquired the political skills required to build his proposed FIA cabinet between now and October.

    But in short, anybody but Max or a former F1 team principal. That would be you Mr. Todt.

  6. PrisonerMonkeys said on 11th July 2009, 2:26

    But would the teams be happy to deal with him?

    • dayne dewsbury said on 21st July 2009, 14:15

      Not all of the teams would be happy to deal with him, renault in particular, although, the ferrari powered teams may submit to him as he is instrumental in the purchase of their powerplants for next year. Also, many may just see him as m.mosley the second. a shorter, chubbier clone, but just french. my personal view is that vatanen exudes a calm confidence, mixed with the fact that he knows that many of the teams are looking for what he has promised, ” a breath of fresh air in the sport and constant stability”. This wins my vote any time.

  7. Aaron Shearer said on 11th July 2009, 3:12

    I’d love to see him stand for the FIA presidential election. I’m sure he would be able to fulfil most peoples expectations.

    I really do hope that Todt does come to his senses and does not stand for the election. It just wouldn’t be right on a number of levels …

    We’ll have to see who else is going to give it a go.

  8. I say he;s probably the perfect candidate. Rally driver are in a league of there own. Y+That video shows the difference between them and F1 drivers, in my opinion. I can’t say can visualize myself driving an F1 car, but I can assure you that I had goose bumps watching that Pikes Peak video and can’t even imagine myself ever driving like that. Where were the run off areas, at the bottom of the ravine?. As to the guy that brought up the Finnish German (irony?), take a break. The gentleman is exactly what the Fia needs in it’s leadership. Someone that sees the whole picture. F1 is the top form of pavement motor sport, but the FIA is about more than that.
    I just want MM out and no JT replacing him. I don’t want some from F1 at the top, but in the cabinet would be fine. Lauda, Stewart, Prost, Watson, Mario Andretti, all would be fine with me, in the cabinet.
    I have a feeling that this gentleman would be perfect.

  9. wasiF1 said on 11th July 2009, 3:23

    Ari Vatanen biography looks good.But will FOTA be happy with him.I stll think Jean Todt will be the right candidate.But my favorite is still Sir Jackie Stewart.

  10. Martin said on 11th July 2009, 3:34

    I’m ok with Ari.
    So he is from Finland, thats ok too.
    Right now I’m ok with anyone who isnt from the UK or has any ties to any F1 team.(Not trying to beat up on people from the UK) I’m just fed up with the current group as it is between the commercial side and the rules side. I am sure there are plenty of folks from the UK with honor and integrity, just none of them have any position of power in the F1 world.
    FOTA should not wait to start this break away. They should make it happen and in 3-5 years if the FIA wants to play nice in the sandbox then talk about reunifying the series under FIA control.

  11. At the heart of it all, the head of the FIA is a politician. So perhaps Vatanen would be a good choice. Real driving experience and real political experience. But he needs the votes of the clubs. Do they even know him? Has he ever worked with them?

  12. Maksutov said on 11th July 2009, 8:00

    Well, im not sure what to expect from Ari Vatanen, but he did say “It is time for change”, so that sounds ok.

    but he does look a little bit scary, in that he doesn’t look much different to Mosley haha..

    bottom line is, anyone other then Mosley will be more balanced and suitable for governance, and will do the job they way its supposed to be done. If they are not, then teams will eventually split next year or the year after and that’s that.

  13. scunnyman said on 11th July 2009, 9:16

    I’ve always liked Ari Vatanen, but i still stand by my opinion of a non motorsport FIA president.
    However if there are non forthcoming then if we have a choice between another Max term, Max clone Todt or Ari then i choose Ari.

    He definitely has been a very personable guy.

    If he does become president though i hope he doesn’t become corrupted with the job.

  14. known devil… unknown angel..

    I think, I want the unknown angel

  15. PJA said on 11th July 2009, 10:43

    Of the suggested candidates so far of Vatanen, Todt, Mosley or Mosley’s choice of successor I would choose Vatanen. I want Mosley out as soon as possible and I don’t think his replacement should have such strong connections with a current F1 team as someone like Todt.

    But I don’t just want a new president of the FIA I would like major reforms of the FIA. From Mosley’s presidency it looks like the president is the one who is in charge of F1 while only paying lip service to all the other forms of motorsport that are under FIA jurisdiction, I remember someone on this site mentioning that Mosley’s first visit to a World Championship Rally was when he wasn’t welcome at any Grand Prix during the sex scandal. While Mosley wanted to control F1 he wasn’t bothered about other series as they weren’t high profile enough for him.

    The President should just be in overall charge of the FIA, and each different series should have its own body in charge of it.

    The changes that Mosley made so that each candidate has to name his 22-strong was obviously a change to favour the incumbent, in other words Mosley, and should be got rid of.

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