Having taken over from Max Mosley in 2009 he has steered the organisation in a different direction, just as Mosley transformed it after succeeding the colourful Jean-Marie Balestre.
You might not agree with all his decisions, but the workaholic Todt has achieved much during his tenure in charge, and in particular he has built on the achievements of his predecessor in safety matters on both road and track.
Meeting with journalists in Paul Ricard he’s in a relaxed mood, which is not always the case when he deals with the media. Perhaps that’s because the chequered flag is almost in sight, and he’s preparing to start a new chapter.
Mosley said that he wanted his legacy to be safer roads, with potentially thousands of lives saved. So how would Todt like his three terms in charge to be remembered?
“Honestly, it’s too early for that,” he says when we ask about his achievements. “I must say I’ve been blessed. My career was 1966-’81, first chapter as a co-driver. Since ’81, when I’ve been appointed to run Peugeot, until today, I did not miss one day of work, which is a blessing. It’s a kind of mixture between a bit crazy, and blessed.
“And so I will go until 17-18 December, and I will be fully committed to my job. And if we speak about what we did achieve, what we did not achieve, then that will be the proper time to ask me the question.
“Incidentally, it’s no secret, I’m preparing a book, and it will come out in about the end of 2022. And it will be a combination of kind of my story, then the perception of some people who are very dear to me, and my contact with other things, which are different from motor racing. So I hope that it will also answer some questions, and you may get to know me a bit better.”
He may be 75, but it’s hard to see Todt slowing down. Aside from finishing work on that autobiography with its ghost writer he says he will have plenty to keep him occupied.
“I do a lot of other things, which you probably don’t know. And it takes me a lot of time. I have a lot of interests, in a way a lot of privilege to be involved in things which are not F1, or not motor motor racing, and I love it. So most of them, I will still do. And then I have some other ideas.
“But as I said earlier, it’s too early to speak about that, and some more may come, so we’ll see. And another thing, talking about unpredictable, is health. I’m not any more a young boy, so I’m more vulnerable, which is something true.
“Look at Mansour Ojjeh, 68. We know he was struggling. Look at Max, 81. So it doesn’t happen only to the others. So I hope it doesn’t happen to any of us. But we must live knowing that it can happen. And of course, then it guides your life.”
You might expect Todt to retain some form of honorary role with the FIA after he leaves his post, but intriguingly he insists that won’t happen.
“A link with FIA? No link with FIA. It will be unhealthy. I will finish my term. And, of course, I will always be available if there is a question about what I leave behind me, but I will not be any more involved with FIA.”
Graham Stoker, FIA Deputy President for Sport; Nick Craw, FIA Senate President; Jean Todt, FIA President; Brian Gibbons, FIA Deputy President for Mobility in a FIA Press Conference
Photo by: Daniel Kalisz / Motorsport Images
So what then of his successor? Thus far two candidates have entered the contest, namely Mohammed ben Sulayem and Graham Stoker. As the deputy president for sport the latter is a close ally of Todt, but the current boss won’t commit to supporting him, in public at least.
“Honestly, I don’t have the choice,” he says. “I will respect the choice of the presidents, the club representatives, who will decide. So far, I hear that there are two candidates who have announced their interest for the job. Maybe more will come, because I think closing [of nominations] is sometime in October. So, still a long way.
“If you take my position, I think I announced I was a candidate in July for election in October. And I announced my team at the last minute, at the time of the elections. Each candidate has already announced what will be his team.”
For the time being Todt remains in charge, and there’s still much to be done in the next six months. In F1 terms big issues like the Concorde Agreement and the 2022 technical regulations have been sorted, but there are always details to be attended to, and the next generation of power unit is a major topic.
After Bernie Ecclestone and Chase Carey Todt is now working with his third F1 CEO. All three have very different styles, and the fact that Stefano Domenicali used to be his employee makes for an interesting dynamic.
“Let’s be straightforward,” says Todt. “Bernie handed over to Chase. Chase decided to reorganise F1, which he did with his choices. So he appointed Ross [Brawn] with a certain role, he appointed Sean Bratches with another role. He created more a team than a one-man show.
“Bernie was Bernie, he could do things that Chase will not do or could not do. I must say I had a great relationship with Bernie, which was different. I will never forget that I went into F1 because Bernie suggested my name at the time to Ferrari. It doesn’t mean that we always agreed, because clearly for him, it was different to deal with Max than to deal with me. Was it better or worse? You should ask him. I know the answer!
“Then Chase decided to step back and Liberty Media appointed Stefano. Of course Stefano, I know him, we’ve been working together for 16 years. When I was elected President of FIA I appointed him as the president of the single seater commission. From being a kind of working colleague, I was his boss, he has become a friend. So I was very happy for him.
Photo by: Uncredited
“In a way for us to work together, he has his style, which is different from the one of Chase, even if Chase remains as a non-executive role as the chairman. But I will say in a different manner I’ve been working well with Bernie, well with Chase, and now well with Stefano.
“Only thing, it’s a different kind of collaboration. But I don’t think the sport as ever been hurt by a kind of disagreement between the commercial rights holder and the governing body.”
The relationship between the FIA president and the F1 boss has often been a delicate one because of the financial relationship between the organisations. Is the governing body too reliant on F1 for its funding?
“Difficult question,” says Todt. “I mean, it is true. F1 is the biggest source of revenue. Incidentally, we have revenues from other championships.
“We know very well that there is less revenue with other championships clearly, because there is less income. Formula E has been a quite fruitful championship also, in terms of finance, we have generated more sponsorship. Probably not as much as we could, it’s something we’re still working, to promote on that.
“It’s the way FIA has been structured. It’s not a criticism, because I did not change anything on that, but the FIA and starting with my predecessor decided that the World Championships will be given commercially to a promoter. So he is assuming the risk, and in a way if it works, he’s getting most of the money.
“I agree, and even if I will not agree, contracts were signed, but I thought that we should generate more money, which we did. Particularly it does limit our wealth, compared to IOC, FIFA, UEFA, because those organisations are promoting, regulating and legislating the sport. We are only regulating and legislating the sport.”
COVID-19 has had a huge impact over the past 15 or 16 months, and together with F1 and the teams, the FIA has helped steer the sport through difficult times. Todt, who points out the pandemic “has been able to make all of us work together in one direction”, believes that some of the lessons learned will have long-term benefits.
“Clearly, budget cap is a big topic,” says Todt. “Personally, I’m sorry to say I’m against teleworking. But still, I’m sure that we can learn out of that. Very often you used to travel for a two-hour meeting in China or in Australia or Latin America.
“I think you will be able to have a more rational way of moving. And I hope that people will realise our planet can be so fragile and learn probably a lot of humility out of that.
Mention of the sustainability issue leads Todt into a discussion of the future direction of F1, in which electric and hybrid technology will continue to play a key role.
“We’re working on the definition of our 2025 power train,” he says. “We hope that we will have some new manufacturers joining, which would be great for the sport, we need to see what is the best combination between combustion, hybrid, electric. We need to work very closely, which we have started, with fuel suppliers, to be able to have a zero emission fuel. So that is the challenge.
“Over the years, the cars have become heavier, bigger. It’s something I’ve been discussing internally, all which is around safety, we should accept it. If I hear that the halo is 10kgs, good, we will keep the halo. But if there is a lot of technology which we don’t need, at the end of the day, we want motor racing to remain a sport where the driver will be able to make the difference.
Bernd Maylander, Safety Car Driver, with Jean Todt, President, FIA
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
“And of course, with the evolution of technology, probably it’s more space to technology than to the skills of the driver. So I think it’s something we need to re-address, and make sure that we divide all the improvement we have done, we can still do on safety all what is necessary, and what we could get rid [of] and probably also save some weight and give more space to the skills of the drivers.”
It certainly sounds as though Todt would like to see a much simpler F1 power train package in 2025, with less tech contributing to lighter, nimble cars. However he admits that we can’t go too far backwards.
“I think we all need to be positive. I never said the cars are too heavy, I said probably the cars over the years have taken weight. I think we need to understand the evolution. But on the other side, it’s an evolution of motoring. If you take your road car 40 years ago, and if you take your road car now, it’s completely different.
“We are in a world where it’s not like in football or in tennis, 50 years back or now is almost the same, it’s maybe around the advertising in the stadium or thing like that. But here, it’s a man and a machine, and the machine has drastically changed, and will keep changing because it’s evolution of motoring, so you cannot avoid that.
“But still, I think you must resist introducing a lot of electronics, a lot of things which mean the cars become much more complicated, much more sophisticated than they were.
‘But could you figure out saying okay, we have a car with a gearshift? We have a car with without power steering? It’s against the nature of the evolution of motoring. So we need to accept that, F1 being the pinnacle of motorsport, which means the pinnacle of motoring. It has to be close to what it is.”
Having earlier avoided saying too much about his legacy Todt sums up one of his achievements as changing the structure of the FIA, and creating more transparency.
“What I really want is that we have a good governance in all that we do, whether ethics, good compliance, in our sport,” he concludes. “It’s difficult because where is the interpretation of the regulations, where is the border between you can, you can’t? It’s not my job to do it, but my job is to make sure we have the best people.
“And clearly we have reinforced drastically the team, as you know. And incidentally, we have something which is very important. We have got what we call technical sporting committee, because I hate to be in a position to have one guy deciding you can, you can’t.
“It will be bad for us, bad for him, bad for everybody. So we have a steering committee, which we have also reinforced to help governing as much as we can. So we have to be very, very strict on achieving that.”