Mosley’s ‘Empire Strikes Back’ as Jean Todt is elected President of the FIA


In May 2002 there was a Presidential election in France. Jacque Chirac, the incumbent President and ultra astute politician, found himself to the chagrin of many commentators, in a straight two way political shoot-out with the leader of the fascist Front Nationale (FN) Jean Marie Le Pen.  Despite Le Pen's vile and abhorrent utterances about race in France, he gathered support to his message, particularly in the South of the country, because he was going hell for leather against Chirac's administration that had been tainted as profoundly corrupt.  During the election many French voters made a great exhibition of their unwillingness to vote for Chirac by publicly holding their noses and fumigating themselves as they left the voting booth.

Fearing a setback to democracy, French voters returned Chirac to power. Despite fears of an upset, Chirac eventually won the election with one of the largest margins in French history.  A margin of 82% of the vote went to Chirac, and Le Pen hasn't been heard from centre stage of French politics since then.  However, the FN continued to be the third largest party in French politics till about 2006.

Over the past couple of months events leading up to  FiA election in France today have had nothing to do with political ideology,(as far  as anyone can tell), but similar to the French Presidential election of 2002,  it has been nothing short of being dramatic, acrimonious and peculiarly engaging.  To Finnish Ari Vatanen's credit, he managed inject some much needed excitement into the election process by running a very professional campaign. Utilising momentum for change in light of  Renault’s trouble's involving Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds to his own end like a consummate politician.

All things being equal, Vatanen might have won.  Unfortunately, he alienated the infamous 'Piranha Club' (to borrow a term from Author Timothy Collings) and subsequently burnt his bridges.  So, Max Mosley, the Darth Vader equivalent of the 'Piranha Empire' doing the bidding of Emperor Ecclestone, struck back with much force and alacrity.   Not only did Frenchman Jean Todt's candidature continue to secure influential endorsements leading up to today's election, but considering the margin of defeat for Vatanen, it's fair to assume that many of Vatanen's allies for some reason abandoned him.

According the FiA press release,  Jean Todt got 86 votes more than Vatanen out of a total of 196, with 12 votes invalid or abstaining, leaving Vatanen to pick up 49 votes to Todt's 135. Reuters reports that Vatanen was surprised at the Todt's margin of victory. “I didn't expect such a vast majority would vote for Jean Todt” he told reports. How could he have seen it coming?  Hardly anyone saw Todt on the campaign trail. That's politics from the Darkside.

Since the election, the Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) has congratulated Todt, with Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo saying “I have always appreciated his ability, dedication and commitment”.  It seems like Max Mosley was telling the truth about the FiA, when he wrote that letter to Prince Feisal of Jordan earlier this month  warning him off Vatanen because he would lose badly. Many observers, including myself expected Jean Todt to win but not by such a wide margin. I'm absolutely satisfied that the outcome is legitimate so to me  there seems little point of Vatanen retaining legal council since the margin of the defeat negates any confusion about who really won. Yet, despite the outcome overwhelming tilted in Jean Todt's favour, I for one will forever suspect that some members of the FiA held their noses when they cast their vote for the continuation of Formula One's Piranha Empire.

  • Pat Pepper

    Many may well have held their noses as they voted for Todt, but I’m not sure the analogy with the 2002 French elections is a perfect one. Voters held their noses as they went with Chirac seven years ago, because the alternative was an unpalatable racist. I don’t think even Mad Max or Richard Woods would try and level that smear at Ari Vatanen. I think maybe a better analogy would be with those voters in the UK who metaphorically held their noses as they voted for a third term of New Labour in 2005 or a third term of Thatcherism in 1987. In both cases, the victors’ appeal was wearing thin, to put it mildly, but the alternative looked like very much a shot in the dark, at a time when the voters were “voting with their wallets”. And that’s the point here, isn’t it? Too many of the FIA’s member clubs “voting with their wallets”. Admittedly, the analogy still isn’t perfect, because in 1987 and 2005 UK voters were able to make their own minds up about who was best for their wallet. But then the UK electorate is far too big for the proverbial Norman Tebbit or Peter Mandelson to ring each one of them up individually and threaten them with dire consequences should they dare to vote for the other lot. Or alternatively, to make a comparison with at least one reported case from today’s little farce, to ring up a voter individually and promise to clear his personal debts should he “vote the right way”….