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Category Archives: MTRSPRT MINUTES

On 23 October, 2009 Jean Todt became the new president of the FIA (Federation l’Internationale de l’Automobile). He was elected into office to take the place of Max Mosley who had been serving as president since 1993. Ari Vatanen was competing against Todt in the election for the presidency.
Despite the controversies that plagued Mosley’s tenure as president time and again (namely the 2008 sex scandal and the 2005 United States Grand Prix), Mosley was by and large a formidable leader. His contributions to motorsport and road safety must be recognized. He was also a major role player in bringing F1 to its current heights (with much help from former-colleague at March, Bernie Ecclestone).
What makes Jean Todt’s new position is the conflict of interest that his presidency implies…let’s begin with a quick background check…
Todt’s managerial career began in the 1980s heading the Peugeot works effort in the World Rally Championship. While managing, the rally team proved to be very successful, winning world titles in 1985 and 1986. The manufacturer battle during these years, between Peugeot and Lancia, developed cars that reached speeds that would make the FIA (then headed by Jean-Marie Balestre) ban them prior to the 1987 championship season. Todt was also heavily involved in Peugeot’s successful Paris-Dakar and Le Mans teams during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
In 1993, Todt was hired by Ferrari to be the general manager of their fledgling F1 team. Ferrari had just finished their worst championship campaign and were looking to bring their team back to the top of the F1 pecking order. Todt proved to be what the team needed; he hired key members that were pivotal in developing Ferrari to what they would become in the 2000s. Ross Brawn was hired as race strategist, Rory Byrne as chief aerodynamicist, and the then two-time world champion Michael Schumacher was hired as their driver. The successes that followed (no less than seven manufacturers’ titles and six drivers’ titles) would return Ferrari as a major power in Formula 1. The marque accrued enough power to threaten their withdrawal from the sport twice in the 2000s, resulting in a high stakes poker game over television advertisement revenues between the FIA and the major car manufacturers that had huge sums of money tied into the sport. The leverage that Ferrari was able to find against the FIA made some believe that if there was no Ferrari, there would be no F1. The fans would go wherever Ferrari went (Ferrari threatened to try their hands in American open-wheel racing, good think that they didn’t…). Think something along the lines of if the Yankees left MLB, what would that do to the sport? To put F1 on par with baseball again… How would baseball fans feel if George Steinbrenner became the commissioner of MLB?
The FIA has already showed a strong amount of favoritism towards Ferrari, especially in the “spygate” scandal of 2007 where a former Ferrari employee passed confidential information from Ferrari to the McLaren F1 team. When this case resolved in England’s High Court of Justice, McLaren was banned from the 2007 world championship standings and was fined $100 million… The FIA presidential term is four-years in length, it’ll be interesting if Ferrari receives any more favoritism over the next years.

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This past weekend saw the crowning of a new Formula 1 World Driver’s Champion. Briton Jenson Button clinched the world title at the Grand Prix of Brazil at the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace in Sao Paulo. Challenging for the world championship was Button’s teammate at Brawn GP, Rubens Barrichello. Barrichello grabbed the pole position for the grand prix in an often-interrupted (for on-track incidents and inclement weather), wet, qualifying session.
At the beginning of Sunday’s grand prix, it appeared as if Barrichello would keep the title fight going on into the final round of the championship which takes place in two-weeks time in the United Arab Emirates. Barrichello was off like a scolded cat at the start of the race, tallying up five consecutive fastest laps during the first stint of the race. Chasing him hard though was Red Bull’s Mark Webber, who was driving nearly on par with Barrichello in a heavier-fueled car. Webber, looking to end his strongest championship campaign to date with an exclamation point, had to minimize Barrichello’s lead if he wanted to overtake the leader (Barrichello) during the first set of pit-stops (which he would, going on to win his second grand prix of the season).
Disappointingly for the home-race hero, Barrichello, during the final stint of the race suffered a slow-puncture on one of his tires (due to contact with 2008 World Champion Lewis Hamilton) and had no choice but to take an extra pit-stop, thus ending his chances to grab a podium finish and bringing the championship battle to an extra round at Abu Dhabi.
Barrichello is F1’s eldest current driver, seeing him and NASCAR’s eldest driver Mark Martin both challenge for championships late in their careers has been an interesting and ironic element to the 2009 motorsport season. The trend as of late has seen successful drivers becoming younger and younger.
Martin was recently the number one seed heading into the Sprint Cup chase, and his performances ahead of the chase gave many the right to believe that he would be a favorite for the championship. But, having watched last weekend’s Sprint Cup race, it looks as if he will likely fail to take the championship, not unlike F1’s Barrichello. At this most recent Sprint Cup race, Martin’s teammate Jimmie Johnson tightened his stranglehold on NASCAR’s playoff format. His performance this past weekend at Charlotte (pole position, most laps led, and race win), combined with his back-to-back-to-back Sprint Cup championships, makes it look like NASCAR should just hand him his trophy now.
A recent yahoo.com article raised questions regarding NASCAR’s faltering television ratings (also, having watched the Charlotte race, tickets sales may be down as well since the turn 3-4 grandstands were drearily empty). A major factor to this current rating drop is no doubt Johnson’s current reign. Formula 1, during the 2000s witnessed something much similar. Michael Schumacher, Formula 1’s most successful driver of all-time grabbed five world titles in as many years and an additional 56 grand prix victories in seven years. His time on top of the sport gave him an amazing 46% winning average. To curb Schumacher’s record breaking onslaught, F1 officials tossed several rule changes into Schumacher’s foray… They changed the way that points were distributed to the finishing drivers, handed-out draconic penalties to petty sporting crimes, and one year they even banned the changing of tires during races (the worst rule change modern F1 racing has seen, watching drivers skate around the course on burnt tires near the end of the race was, simply put, laughable).
Suggesting that NASCAR should implement rule changes to curb Johnson’s winning ways would most likely be a quick and undesirable decision. One must remember that NASCAR only recently introduced the “Car of Tomorrow,” which are the loose-handling, boxy, ugly bastard sons of General Motors, Ford, Dodge, and Toyota. A simpler way to increase the competition, suggested by NASCAR.com contributor Dave Caraviello, would be to “Jimmie-proof” the chase. He suggests that the chiefs at NASCAR should introduce tracks to the chase that aren’t traditionally dominated by Hendrick cars. Martinsville, Phoenix, California, Texas, Charlotte, and Dover are all present on the chase schedule and they are all tracks Johnson is incredibly successful at. What if NASCAR exchanged the race at Martinsville for a race at Bristol? Bristol is already one of NASCAR’s most well-attended venues, and although similar in length, it is about as different-as-you-can-get in terms of driving. Texas for Watkins Glen? Both are high-speed tracks, but Watkins Glen would throw a literal right-hand turn at Johnson’s campaign for a fourth consecutive Sprint Cup Championship (topping the record Cale Yarborough set, Winston Cup champion in ’76, ’77, and ’78). And lastly, what if NASCAR decided to end the championship at Darlington rather than Homestead-Miami? Sure, Homestead-Miami has three-tier banking on its corners which allow for exciting three-wide racing… But wouldn’t it be more exciting and gratifying if we could watch NASCAR’s contemporary greats let it all hang-out at the track “too tough to tame” for the championship at NASCAR’s oldest speedway? Expect some changes if NASCAR wants to continue challenging the NFL as America’s most-watched sport…