O Opinions & Commentary

FIA’s new President. Does it matter who wins?

_26Y4155October 19, 2009: This week, Max Mosley will be replaced as president of the FIA. So what?

The FIA is an international umbrella organization which represents the national motoring organizations (like the CAA) and the national motorsports organizations (such as the so-called ASN-Canada) from around the world. I don’t think that Max Mosley ever had much to do with the motoring organisations. For that matter, I don’t think that he really had much influence on the racing activities around the world – even the FIA championships which are mostly focussed on Europe – except he has played a huge role in one aspect of motorsport, Formula One.

And that’s what all the fuss is about in this election of a replacement for Max.

I doesn’t take any deep insight to realize that Bernie Ecclestone is the man in charge of everything that counts in the management of Formula One. Max Mosley is a former associate of Ecclestone’s and, once he was installed as president of the FIA, he handed over the rights to F1 television and its other revenue-producing aspects to Bernie. On the strength of that, Bernie has sold these rights to others – now operating as CVC – while Bernie remains in place as part-owner and the manager of the F1 money operation.

In this position Ecclestone controls all the aspects of the business that generate serious money – most of it going to pay off the debt load on the billion dollar plus sale. Some goes to the teams to finance their lavish operations – but we all know that they are now under severe pressure to reduce their budgets. Meanwhile the promoters of each Grand Prix have been squeezed for more and more money – event though they lack any effective way to earn the money needed to break even. Bernie’s answer is that the respective governments should pay big time to make up the shortfall..

Good luck getting government money for an F1 race in the United States – so no more USGP. In the end, despite all the assurances to the contrary, I expect that the hopes for a Canadian GP will be dashed for lack of multi-millions in government money. There was no French GP this year. There is a real possibility that there will be no British GP next year. The organizers in Belgium and in Germany are having serious problems meeting the demands. So, it’s no surprise that Bernie has been looking to Asia for governments who will be prepared to shell out multi-millions in hopes of building prestige for their once backwater countries.
There are two candidates for FIA president, Jean Todt and Ari Vatanen, both well-know motorsports figures. Todt is Mosley’s hand-picked successor. If he is elected, Bernie – and everyone else – can expect it to be business as usual. Todt will be an Ecclestone puppet the same way that Mosley was and we can expect more of the same. No surprise that few who are close to Formula One racing support Todt’s candidacy. If Vatanen is elected president, we might see Bernie’s hold over Formula One eroded – and the money flow redirected to make the traditional race venues like the USA and Canada and France and Belgium financially viable and a more fair split of the reduced revenue between the race teams and the ‘rights holder’ CVC.

Clearly, Ecclestone and his CVC cronies have a lot riding on this election – and they seem sure to succeed. Last year, Mosley was caught on camera is a grubby S&M orgy with German-speaking ladies. The FIA held a vote of confidence and Mosley sailed through effortlessly on the votes of third-country national delegates from around the world. That same gravy train is still in place and it’s hard to imagine that it won’t deliver the votes for Todt – and Mosley and Ecclestone – one more time.

As for Canada, the CAA representative is part of Ari Vatanen’s slate of officers, so we know where his vote is going. As for the ASN-Canada, the Canadian sporting association, Roger Peart will carry the vote and he has been a long-time confidant of Ecclestone’s, so it seems obvious where his vote is going. The same thing probably holds for the USA with the AAA already on record calling for Mosley’s resignation and unlikely to support his protege Todt. Nick Craw, the ACCUS rep, is on Todt’s slate, so another split vote. The votes of big associations like the AAA or the RAC in Britain carry no more weigh that the votes for clubs in nations with only a handful of active motorists.

The result? I’m expecting a near landslide win for Todt and the other Ecclestone puppets. This new regime will continue to have little effect on touring club matters or on any race activity save Formula One, where things will continue as before.

Does that mean that F1 will become more and more a series that runs in Asia and not in Europe or North America? Does it mean that the auto makers who look to these traditional markets for a big share of their sales will decide, like Ford and Honda and BMW, that F1 is not the place for them to spend their marketing dollars?

Formula One has proven to be remarkably resilient and it seems to have been able to retain a huge audience in Europe and a not insignificant audience in North America. Perhaps, despite the way this premiere racing series has been debased, it will remain strong.

Of course, if Ari Vatanen emerges victorious in the FIA elections, all bets are off!


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