Who is... Jean Todt?
APRIL 20, 2002
BY JOE SAWARD
Jean Todt is the son of a Polish Jew, who escaped to France at the age of 17. He became a doctor and like many refugees did everything to ensure that his children had all the advantages possible. Jean was born in 1946 and was educated in Paris. He then went on to a commercial school in the chic Parisian suburb of Neuilly where he encountered a fellow pupil who was doing well in kart racing. His name was Jean-Claude Lefebvre and as they did not have much money between them Todt borrowed his father's Mini Cooper S and Lefebvre drove it in a rally, with Todt as his co-driver.
Bitten by the competition bug Todt was soon a professional co-driver with the NSU company, partnering Guy Chasseuil. By 1969 he was in international rallying in a Ford Capri, alongside Jean-Francois Piot. In 1970 he won the Tour de France with Matra, co-driving Jean-Pierre Beltoise and Patrick Depailler and afterwards was integrated into the Alpine-Renault team, scoring his first major victory as co-driver to Jean-Pierre Nicolas in the 1971 Portuguese Rally. In the years that followed he co-drove some of the top names in the sport, including Rauno Aaltonen, Ove Andersson and Achim Warmbold. He then began a successful relationship with Hannu Mikkola in Fiats and Peugeots and eventually gravitated towards Talbot Sunbeam Lotus, where he partnered Guy Frequelin. In 1981 Talbot won the World Rally Manufacturers' title.
In October 1981 Todt was asked by Jean Boillot, the head of Automobiles Peugeot, if he would set up a new competition department for PSA Peugeot-Citroen. The result was Peugeot Talbot Sport. Todt axed the Talbot F1 program and set about creating a program to take Peugeot to victory in the World Rally Championship with the now-legendary Peugeot 205 Turbo 16. The car won its first rally in the hands of Ari Vatanen on the 1000 Lakes in Finland in 1984 and dominated the World Rally Championship in 1985 and 1986 with 16 wins and two WRC titles. The success earned Todt the title of Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur, the French equivalent of a knighthood.
But in the middle of 1986 the FIA announced that Group B rallying was being cancelled at the end of the year. Outraged, Todt took legal action against the federation (he lost) and Peugeot switched to rally raids in 1987.
Todt's battle with FIA President Jean-Marie Balestre showed that he was not scared to take on officialdom. The two traded insults with Balestre mocking Todt's social ambitions and calling him the "Napoleon of the Sands". Todt fired back that he preferred that to being labelled "the Emperor Bokassa of the Place de la Concorde", a reference to the tyrant who was running the Central African Republic at the time.
The team won four Paris-Dakar victories with the 205 and its successor the 405 - three for Ari Vatanen and one for Juha Kankkunen. The cars also enjoyed success on the famous American hillclimb at Pike's Peak, won by Vatanen in 1988 and the following year by Robby Unser.
Such was Peugeot domination of raid-rallying that in 1989, in order to stop his drivers racing one another across the desert, Todt settled a battle between Vatanen and Jacky Ickx with the toss of a 10 Franc coin. Vatanen won.
Todt then embarked on a new project, with the goal being to win the World Sportscar Championship and the Le Mans 24 Hours. The Peugeot 905s ran for the first time in the summer of 1990 and in 1991 the cars began winning, going head-to-head with Jaguar battling for the World title. The following year there was no stopping Peugeot and Yannick Dalmas and Derek won the World title and shared a 905 with Mark Blundell to victory in the Le Mans 24 Hours. Todt was elevated to the rank of Officier de la Legion d'Honneur and the following year became a French national hero when he oversaw a Peugeot 1-2-3 at Le Mans.
That was his last event with the team he had created. Peugeot management turned down his proposal to take Peugeot into Formula 1 and when an offer came from Ferrari president for Todt to take over the running of the Ferrari F1 team he jumped at the chance. He took over the team in July 1993 and has been in charge ever since.
It was a more difficult job than everyone had thought but Gerhard Berger scored the team's first win under Todt's control in the middle of 1994. It was not until Michael Schumacher arrived in 1996 that the team really started to come together with three wins. There were five victories in 1997 although Schumacher was later excluded from the World Championship for unsportsmanlike driving. In 1998 he was beaten to the title by Mika Hakkinen and the following year when he seemed to be on course for victory he crashed and broke his leg. Ferrari won the Constructors' title but second-string driver Eddie Irvine could not beat Hakkinen. In 2000 however Schumacher was back with a vengeance and scored nine victories and took the title with Ferrari taking a second Constructors' crown. The 2001 season was a similar story with Michael picking up nine more wins and Ferrari taking a third title.
Todt says that when he finishes at Ferrari he will retire from the sport but there may be the temptation for him to see what can be achieved the rebuilding of the Maserati sporting image - perhaps in the United States.