OCTOBER 11, 2008

Todt to leave Ferrari in November

The word in the paddock in Fuji is that Jean Todt will leave Ferrari at the end of the month and it is expected that he will take a new role at the FIA at the next General Assembly in November. The question that is being asked in F1 circles is whether this will be as the replacement for Marco Piccinini, the FIA Deputy-President (Sport). The Italian will step down at the meeting. If Todt gets the sporting role it will be a clear sign that he is the candidate to replace Max Mosley at the FIA in the autumn of 2009. This will not be popular in Formula 1 circles as Todt's all-too-obvious links with Ferrari will simply serve to underline the perceived links between the FIA and Ferrari.

We understand that while there are a number of FIA delegates who have serious reservations about Todt becoming a top FIA official, there are also fears that there is no-one within the federation who would be better-suited to the role. Todt has always been a very effective manager in his jobs at Peugeot and Ferrari and his dedication to winning has been spectacular. He has some serious weaknesses, not least the fact that his methods have not always been seen as sporting and his understanding of how to deal with the media has been seriously flawed.

The very fact that he may end up as the FIA President would also compound many of the perception problems that the federation has, particularly in F1 circles.

The 62-year-old Frenchman has been involved in the sport since the late 1960s when he was a rally co-driver. He has been involved with the federation since 1975 when he first represented the rally drivers. When he retired from active competition in 1982, he set up Peugeot Talbot Sport and in 1984 the Peugeot 205 won two World Championships. After a major fall out with the federation, Peugeot switched to raid rallying before moving on to sports car racing in 1990. The team won Le Mans twice and took the World Championship in 1993. When the Peugeot board turned down his plans to enter a factory team in F1, Todt departed and went to work at Ferrari where the team finally began to win titles after five years of trying.

Mosley (68) obviously has a plan for some kind of succession at the FIA and Todt appears to be part of that. However there are few who think that Mosley will stop dabbling in the future. He has said that he will step down as FIA President in 2009 but there is a feeling that he will find a new role as President of the FIA Senate and will still continue to exercise power from behind the scenes. Todt is too old to sit around and wait for Mosley to retire so there is also the potential for friction between the two men. However, given the characters of both men one must assume that they have thought this through and have come up with an arrangement that suits them both. There are some who believe that Todt might end up in the role of Deputy-President (Touring) in order to put him into a strong place to replace Mosley in the longer term, but not being involved directly in the sport, in order to avoid any obvious discontent in F1 circles. Given that the FIA clubs have shown little gumption in recent years it is safe to say that Mosley will get what he wants unless someone makes an effort to challenge the status quo. The car manufacturers might not want Todt, but coming up with a rival that would be acceptable to the FIA member clubs is not going to be easy as there is a natural suspicion of any industry-backed candidate. However as the clubs seem incapable of producing a sensible opponent it may end up with Mosley getting his way.