The bitterly-fought FIA presidential election is too important to ignore

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

The FIA presidential election is on Friday
The FIA presidential election is on Friday

With the FIA presidential election just days away the row over Max Mosley’s efforts to ensure he is succeeded by Jean Todt and not Ari Vatanen is the subject of great scrutiny.

Vatanen has taken the step of appealing to a French court to ensure next week’s elections are carried out fairly, a move which drew an angry reaction from the FIA which insisted its procedures are fair and transparent.

It is typical of the FIA under Mosley that it should react to Vatanen’s request for legal oversight in such a heavy-handed way. If the FIA had nothing to fear from an investigation it would welcome it.

But with Mosley publicly backing Todt and other FIA members have been lobbying for him, it’s no surprise the FIA is being viewed with suspicion.

The latest row began after the Daily Telegraph published letters from two senior FIA officals who had been lobbying for Todt. The FIA Foundation reacted by insisting that the pair – FIA director general of region one Peter Doggwiler and director general of the FIA Foundation David Ward – were backing Todt in a private capacity not endorsed by the Foundation.

The support of Mosley and Ecclestone has proved a double-edged sword for Todt. It may have guaranteed the backing of some clubs, but for others Todt is tainted by association with the current regime.

A reminder of that came in Mosley’s letter to the FIA three days ago in which he heaped praise upon himself over the recent Renault scandal:

More recently we had an extraordinary plot to crash a car deliberately during a race. Again, there was controversy but this time the car manufacturer responsible took action and the truth was quickly established.

The FIA first became aware of this plot during last year’s Brazilian Grand Prix, yet took almost a year to investigate it. This was not ‘quickly establishing’ the truth. Why did the FIA wait so long? Was it because Briatore sided with FOTA in the teams’ row with the FIA earlier this year?

A close call

The election probably wouldn’t be generating quite this much antagonism if one candidate was comfortably in the lead. We could be looking at a fairly close call.

So far the motor sports clubs of Australia, Germany, Finland, Canada, Uganda, Jamaica, Netherlands, Sweden, South Africa, Ireland, Jordan, Peru, Switzerland, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Ukraine have all declared support for Ari Vatanen.

Jean Todt is known to be backed by the clubs of Bahrain, Monaco, India, France, Spain and the United Arab Emirates. However earlier this week he claimed to have the support of the majority of clubs in Africa, Asia, South America, Europe and the Middle East.

It’s difficult to understate the importance of these elections for the future of Formula 1. It’s been a turbulent 18 years under Mosley, who has often made a dramatic and expensive change to the rules only to undo it a few months or years later. Meanwhile the sport has been dragged through a seemingly unending sequence of damaging scandals.

So it is beyond me how some journalists with the access and opportunities to cover the election are choosing not to. Such as Joe Saward, who wrote on his blog:

I have completely ignored the FIA elections in recent weeks. This has been a deliberate policy as I do not wish to be accused by one side or the other of favouritism and given the shenanigans going on between them it is inevitable that even objective reporting will be viewed as partisan. In addition I feel that the whole process demeans the federation.

Not expressing a preference is one thing but this uniquely important, once-in-a-generation event should not be overlooked out of fear of treading on people’s toes.

An open, honest, fair election would not demean the federation. A rigged vote and a coronation would demean it, but we’re less likely to know that is the case if some journalists aren’t bothering to look. My disappointment in Saward’s stance is all the greater as I admire much of his writing.

Personally I have no qualms about expressing a preference: On the whole I am deeply dissatisfied with what Mosley has done for Formula 1 – particularly in the five years since he last promised to resign. I am therefore not willing to support a candidate who has his backing. And certainly not one who displayed the disdain for sportsmanship Jean Todt did in the 1989 Paris-Dakar Rally and the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix. At the last count 77% of this site’s readers felt the same.

F1 has been rocked by scandal after scandal in the past few years: Michelin, Indianapolis, spying, budget caps, Singapore – not to mention a string of inconsistent and disproportionately punitive stewards’ decisions.

Whoever wins this election has the chance to fix this, and if they fail it could be another 18 years before they are replaced.

Accredited F1 journalists often stand accused of giving the FIA an easy ride out of fear they will lose their precious permits. In 2007 the media colluded with the FIA in covering up a horrendous cock-up where confidential McLaren and Ferrari data appeared in a public FIA document.

Now more than ever we need the FIA to be held to account. A timid media with a a vested interest in preserving the status quo is not going to achieve that.

FIA President elections