According to an official statement by the FIA, “Jean Todt has been elected president of the FIA for a four-year term by the FIA General Assembly at its annual meeting in Paris.” The final vote tally was 135 votes for Todt, versus 49 for former World Rally Champion Ari Vatanen, and 12 abstentions.
Todt is the former team principal of the Ferrari Formula 1 team. He led Ferrari through the golden years when Michael Schumacher took five world titles for the team, and Ross Brawn was the technical director. In his challenge for the FIA presidency, Todt had the support of both Luca di Montezemolo (the chairman of Fiat and Ferrari, and the founder of FOTA) and Michael Schumacher. As quoted in The Telegraph, Schumacher responded to the news by saying, “It’s positive, very positive.”
In recent weeks, the campaign had become contentious. Current president Max Mosley at one point sent a letter to HRH Prince Feisal of Jordan, whom Vatanen had named as a prospective FIA vice-president, stating that Vatanen had made a number of “untruthful claims” during the course of his campaign, and that he “would lose the election and lose badly.”
Vatanen reacted by asserting that the election process was not transparent, and that the result was being engineered behind the scenes. Vatanen threatened legal action against the FIA, and had gone so far as to submit an application to the Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris, requesting that the French high court impose certain strictures on the election proceedings to guarantee a fair result. However, three days prior to the election, he withdrew his application.
In an official FOTA press release, Chairman Luca di Montezemolo said, “I would like to send my best wishes to Jean Todt in his new role, as I have always appreciated his ability, dedication and commitment. I am sure that, under his guidance, the Federation will be rejuvenated and will restore a climate open to dialogue and constructive collaboration with the teams and FOTA, thus ensuring stability of the regulations and the whole environment.”
To this sentiment, FOTA Vice-Chairman John Howett added, ”I extend my best wishes to Jean Todt as he takes on this demanding but crucial role. I am convinced that Jean Todt’s presidency represents an opportunity for all Formula One’s stakeholders to unite under his leadership and work together to strengthen our sport. FOTA is looking forward to supporting him to broaden the appeal of our sport among fans and sponsors while respecting Formula One’s great heritage to which he has contributed enormously.”
In the end, it seems that Vatanen was playing against a stacked deck. Most of the FIA establishment had thrown their weight behind Todt. Vatanen asserted that Jean Todt would end up being nothing more than a clone of Max Mosley, but only time will tell if this is true. Todt succeeded in reviving Ferrari’s fortunes when that team was at a low ebb, so it could be that he’ll bring a fresh approach to his new leadership role at the FIA, as well.
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