Ari Vatanen anounced his campaign to run for FIA president last week. Since then Max Mosley has said he won’t stand but has come out in support of Jean Todt to be the next president.
Today I had a lengthy chat on the phone with Vatanen – he gave me his reaction to Mosley supporting Todt, told me when he pans to announce his cabinet, what he thinks of budget caps, and his view on North America’s place on the F1 calander
F1F: Max Mosley has said he wants Jean Todt to succeed him – are you happy with this?
AV: It doesn’t matter if you’re Ari Vatanen, or Jean Todt, or Keith Collantine, or anyone else – you don’t inherit the right to be in charge from the incumbent, you inherit it from the people who elect you. I believe the president should be neutral.
If the FIA is to be what it wants to be – the representative of billions of motorists – it has to be democratically run.
F1F: When did you decide to stand for president?
AV: It had been smouldering away in my mind for some time.
I had dinner with Jacques Regis (president of the Fédération Française du Sport Automobile) in Paris a while ago and he reminded me: “Ari, I said to you five years ago you were one of the people I thought best suited to run the FIA after Max.” At the time I’d said I couldn’t do it because I was in the European Parliament.
And during the events last year I thought perhaps an opportunity to stand might come up.
F1F: When will you announce who’s in your cabinet?
AV: Next week, before the Hungarian Grand Prix. I don’t want to take anything away from what Jean has announced but I believe I have credible people lined up.
F1F: Todt is seen as Mosley’s choice of candidate and you are seen as FOTA’s choice of candidate. Would you say that is an accurate impression?
AV: Not at all. I cannot imagine that the only alternative to the FIA view is FOTA’s.
Take a look at my voting record in the European Parliament on things like block exemption, garage servicing and car taxation. I have always been on the side of the consumer. I backed legislation which allowed Finnish citizens to go abroad and import cars, which manufacturers didn’t like, but was what consumers wanted.
In F1 our consumers are the manufacturers. If we don’t give them an attractive business environment they will go elsewhere. It is in the interest of the clubs and the FIA that the manufacturers want to be involved. Power games like what we have had are short-term and self-destructive.
If they see they are wasting money and the daily running of affairs is made cumbersome because the rules are lacking stability (which big companies need) they will leave. I want to finish with this one-sided approach.
F1F: A major part of your work in the European Parliament was road safety promotion. What would you hope to achieve in road safety as FIA president?
AV: It’s not just a question of road safety, it’s about the value of life. It is the most noble human cause to protect human life.
At the highest government level we must make them aware of the importance of road transport. Nine times out of ten people choose to make a journey in a private car because of the advantages it gives. Politicians must realise people are not wrong to make this decision, they are just choosing what’s best.
I’m not against public transport but private motorists have to pay high costs and I think they should all be treated on an equal footing. Our society cannot function with poor road networks – it must meet the needs of its users. That includes car safety and we have to realise cars have improved in this way by leaps and bounds.
F1F: Budget caps have been a major sticking point of the negotiations in F1. Are you in favour of them?
AV: Things like this hav to be done in an intelligent way. Ferrari is a brilliant example of this.
Ferrari produces only 6,000 cars per year yet is able to run its production and an F1 team, thanks to its brand value and the sponsors it is able to bring in. You can’t go to Ferrari and say “F1 is too expensive” because their business concept is sound.
You have to negotiate with everybody, not just come up with proposals that would change the setup totally.
F1F: Should F1 return to North America?
AV: Yes, of course. Surely we should.
F1F: Even if they won’t pay as much as, say, Abu Dhabi or Bahrain?
AV: Once again, it’s like anything else in life – you need to get all the people around the table. I’m an all-market economist. We cannot just have races for the highest bidder.
If the anchoring countries, the birth places of motor sport, are without Grands Prix, then we have gone too far.
There is an argument for rotating rounds between different years but we cannot rotate the whole championship. Nor can we let people take it for granted that they will always have a Grand Prix.
If we leave too many places it will have an effect on audience figures. You’ll see it in the grandstands and on TV. It comes back to the consumers, the people who want to take their families to see the Grand Prix. If they can’t, then who will be paying for our sport?
It always comes back to the consumer. If they are not happy, they will vote with their feet.