Jean Todt received severe criticism for comparing the cruelty of the Paris attacks with road deaths. But FIA’s push towards road safety has had far adverse effects on Formula 1 than the aforesaid PR disaster, as Rachit Thukral explains.
In the build-up to the penultimate round of the 2015 F1 season, it became evident that FIA President Jean Todt has turned inconsiderate to anything other than road safety.
Ever since his appointment at the helm of motorsport's governing body in 2009, Todt has given prime importance to what should only be a secondary objective for the Frenchman. He has been actively pursuing his interests through the FIA Institution and was recently chosen by the United Nations as their Special Envoy for Road Safety.
And while his efforts are noble by all means, Todt need to pay attention to some of Formula 1’s more pressing problems, and other global issues, in general.
“Do you realise that the number of people killed in road accidents is by far bigger than the number of people who died in Paris?,’’ Todt said in an interview with French TV channel Canal+, a few days after terrorist attacks in Paris shook the world.
These quotes drew severe criticism from several quarters of the media, for the Frenchman was clearly putting his own agenda forward. He had planned a one-minute silence for World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims and was forced to alter the schedule following the attacks.
Eventually, it was agreed that a joint silence will be held on the starting grid, with drivers also wearing black armband on the parade lap to commemorate the 127+ people who lost their lives in a cruel attack in the capital of France.
“We had already planned to do something at the occasion of the day of celebrations for road victims,’’ Todt later said. "Every day on our streets, 3500 people die. Every day there are 30 times more people who die than in the Paris assassinations. We had decided a minute of silence and of course we can't ignore what happened in Paris. We will thus have a moment of attention for what happened in Paris."
Formation of the Strategy Group
FIA’s obsession with road safety has had far-reaching consequences than just bad PR. During the middle part of last decade, Max Mosley leased the commercial rights to Bernie Ecclestone for peanuts.
Even worse, majority of the proceeds were eaten up by the FIA Institute. So, by the time Todt took over the presidency in 2009, the governing body’s accounts were firmly in the red.
And instead of cutting down on costs, Todt increased his involvement in road safety, pressuring FIA’s cash flows even further.
Eventual result? FIA was forced to relinquish 3/4th of its voting rights - a move that led to the formation of the now-infamous Strategy Group - for a $40 million annual payment.
During its brief history, the Strategy Group has earned a reputation of being incompetent and losing the plot in search of short term gains. Its members have repetitively vowed to reduce the cost of going racing, but have failed to come up with reasonable solutions.
Personal agendas have taken priority over greater good of the sport. Many a times two parties within the group have joined hands for their own vested interests. Take the cost cap saga, for instance. The teams, with support from Bernie Ecclestone, rejected the proposal from the FIA - who, logically, should only take accept advice from the teams and the CRH - making it look impotent.
The fact that the FIA has admitted its mistake in handing over the voting rights only proves that it should have stayed within its financial limits while diversifying its role. For there was no need of forming the Strategy Group - a direct consequence of FIA’s financial troubles - when a more democratic F1 Commission was already in place.
But as they say, the damage has been done. FIA is now trying hard to reassert its authority, with the recent push for an alternative engine being a prime example.
Further, it has given a mandate to Ecclestone and Todt ‘to make recommendations and decisions’ regarding some of the prevailing issues curtailing Formula 1, namely, governance, power units and cost reduction. The duo have been given a deadline of 31st January, 2016 to come up with their conclusions.
But that doesn’t prevent us from wondering one thing: what was the need for the FIA to spend its resources on a financially unviable project, especially if it was going to come at the cost of the very reason it was formed - to govern motorsport as an independent body?
by Rachit Thukral