F1 | ITV Sport
FIA prepares to elect new leader
Friday, 23 October 2009 00:00
After a long, complicated and bitter battle between Jean Todt and Ari Vatanen, the FIA will vote for its new president in Paris today.
The election marks the end of Max Mosley's eventful 16-year tenure, as his successor will take over immediately.
The FIA is the governing body of mobility across the globe, not just a sporting authority, and oversees all international motorsport as well as Formula 1.
But it is undoubtedly best known for its involvement with the F1 world championship, and it will be the new president's approach to motorsport's premier series that gains the most attention.
Todt is well-known in F1 circles for his hugely successful period in charge at Ferrari.
The legendary team was something of a laughing stock when Todt was recruited from Peugeot - where he had been in charge of the French company's rallying and sportscar efforts - in the early 1990s.
He duly turned Ferrari's form around and laid the foundations for its crushingly dominant seasons at the turn of the century.
But his uncompromising style was not universally popular in the paddock.
His rival Vatanen has a background in rallying - where he was not only a world champion but also one of the most spectacular and popular drivers in the sport's history.
However after retiring from driving Vatanen showed a very different side to his character as he became a member of the European Parliament.
This combination of sporting and political nous always made him a likely candidate for the FIA role, and he was first to announce his candidacy.
However it was Todt who received current president Mosley's emphatic endorsement - even before he had confirmed he would stand! - and the Frenchman was installed as an early favourite.
Todt has the support of much of the current FIA establishment, his slick campaign being run by Mosley"s former PR
guru, and has been able to reel off endless lists of high profile supporters including a host of sporting legends.
But while the FIA is best known for running F1, it is not the sport's participants who will decide the election, as the president is voted in by the world's automobile and motorsport clubs.
Both candidates have announced a host of supporters from around the globe, but the nature of the electoral process makes it very hard to predict where they stand - there is no such thing as an opinion poll in the FIA contest!
Vatanen has campaigned on a 'change' card, presenting himself as the man to transform the FIA and take it into a new, more conciliatory, era after recent well-documented rows with F1, in particular the disagreements that led to the breakaway threat earlier this year.
Mosley's strong support for Todt led to suggestions that electing the Frenchman would simply be a continuation of the current regime - for better or worse.
But Todt has worked hard to refute that impression, with his former driver Michael Schumacher recently writing to the FIA clubs declaring that Todt could also bring a totally fresh approach to the governing body and would make a firm break from the Mosley era.
Vatanen"s campaign hit some early stumbling blocks, particularly when he intimated that Todt was using an FIA-funded private jet for his canvassing efforts - when in fact he had been travelling with his partner, the actress Michelle Yeoh, who was working for an FIA safety initiative.
He has also been accused by the Todt camp of lacking detailed policies, and of bringing a negative tone to the campaign with his calls for changes to the current FIA working methods and his questioning of recent FIA decisions.
But it has not all been plain sailing for Todt and his team, particularly in recent weeks.
Vatanen's criticisms of the current FIA establishment's backing for Todt have become more pointed, and he has threatened legal action as he believes the process has not been sufficiently impartial to satisfy French law.
The FIA also agreed to amend elements of its voting procedures after a meeting with Vatanen.
With both candidates promising substantial changes and several big challenges ahead for the FIA - including Flavio Briatore's bid to have his lifetime ban from international motorsport overturned, ongoing issues over the 2010 F1 entry procedure and the continuing work to cut costs across motor racing - it is sure to be a fascinating few months ahead whoever triumphs in Paris.
Both candidates will be given the chance to address the FIA members before the vote takes place, with the result expected to be declared this afternoon.