Max Mosley’s latest promise to step down from the FIA presidency in October will inevitably be met with some scepticism.
After all, he’s already gone back on similar promises made in 2004, 2008 and earlier this year.
But this time we can be more confident that he actually is going, for two reasons. First, the teams are demanding it, and second, he has nominated a successor: Jean Todt.
At the Nurburgring there were rumours the teams were prepared to go so far as hand Mosley a pre-written resignation letter for him to sign. That didn’t happen, but it’s clear Mosley’s departure is partly at the teams’ behest.
The teams have also indicated their dissatisfaction the choice of Jean Todt as a potential successor. Mosley today confirmed Todt as his preferred choice, something which has been tipped to happen for a long time, especially since Todt conspicuously voiced support for Mosley during the sadomasochism scandal last year shortly before he left Ferrari.
There are a few reasons to be concerned with Todt’s name being linked with the FIA presidency.
First is the question of whether it is wise for the deeply unpopular incumbent to support a successor. It may be seen as an appointment rather than the democratic choice of the FIA constituents which Mosley has previous voiced support for.
Todt also risks being seen as Mosley’s puppet, allowing him to retain influence over the FIA presidency after leaving office.
Todt’s closeness to Ferrari is another concern. John Howett, president of Toyota F1 and vice-president of the F1 teams’ association, said last month:
From the teams’ point of view, we would like to see someone who actually is independent. Perhaps independent from any of us currently or historically. The federation covers much more than just motorsport. It is involved in worldwide touring and from the position of the manufacturers; they would wish to have somebody that was able to represent appropriately the requirements of worldwide motorsports as well as purely focusing on the sport.
Mosley attempted to pre-empt this argument in his letter to the FIA endorsing Todt (PDF), arguing:
I must emphasise he would not in any way be a motor industry candidate. He would have no special relationship with his former company, Ferrari, nor with Peugeot Citroen, the manufacturer behind his former World Rally, Cross-Country and Le Mans teams.
And questions may be asked about whether Todt has sufficient respect for the ‘sporting’ aspect of motor racing. While in charge at Ferrari he infamously presided over the fixing of the Austrian Grand Prix in 2002. And while running Peugeot’s rally effort in the 1980s, he decided which of two of his drivers should win the Dakar Rally using a coin toss.
The driver who benefitted from that decision was his future FIA president opponent: Ari Vatanen. One person who’s met Vatanen told me:
Ari told me personally a few years ago that [Todt] is the man that he has the most respect for in motor sport. Todt was the first person to contact him when he regained consciousness after his accident in Argentina. Todt basically told him he could take his time and not to worry as there would be a car waiting for him when he was fully recovered. That loyalty has stuck with Ari since then and they have an enormous bond and respect for each other.
The FIA president election is likely to be fought along these lines: Vatanen backed by the teams, Todt backed by Mosley and the supporters, mainly from the automobile clubs of smaller nations, which won him the vote of confidence during ‘spankgate’. The same group which Todt has reportedly been touring Africa lobbying support from this past week.
As one battle finishes, the next one is already coming into view.