Skip navigation

Tag Archives: Jean-Marie Balestre

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.