Poor old Max. He’s very old now and not very healthy. I have not seen him in while and it was a little sad to find him in such a state, but that is age for you. Time moves ever onward and it waits for no man – nor any dog.
And in case, you are wondering I am not talking about the outgoing FIA president but rather a labrador that used to be mine, who is now nearly 16 and coming to the end of his days. He was named after Max Mosley, coming along at about the time Mosley became FIA President and having the same colouring. I also had a dog called Bernie, but he was way too much trouble and had to be given away after less than a year. But Max was not a bad dog. He had a habit of running away and causing mayhem in duck farms and slaughtering chickens just for the sake of it. He had a killer instinct, but he also had a great deal of charm. He was a crafty animal, but generally good natured – until he felt the need for some killing. The chicken-owning neighbours were none too impressed…
It is odd that the day after I saw Max the dog again, Max the FIA president decided that he is leaving motorsport politics (or at least he appears to be). Instead he wants the FIA to support Jean Todt.
Oh Lord. Of all the people who might want the office, Todt is the one who I believe is the least suited to the role. I am not generally a contrary soul, but I feel very strongly about this. And here is why…
For me Todt is not a sportsman. He is a commercial pragmatist. He is not a man who has shown much belief in the ideals of sport. The best example of this was Todt’s fixation with Michael Schumacher. It was ordained that the German would win race after race for Ferrari, subjugating his Ferrari team-mates – often contractually. For me this is not sport. Todt spent his entire career a motor manufacturer man and he did what his bosses wanted, not caring whether it was sporting or not. There is no sign that he ever fought to change this. When the FIA decreed that Group B rallying should be banned because of the dangers – following the deaths of Henri Toivonen and Sergio Cresto on the Tour de Corse – Todt fought to stop the FIA from making that decision because Peugeot had invested heavily in the technology. He would not take no for an answer and even took the federation to court, threatening its very existence. In the end the FIA won and rather than accept the decision and continue to race in the WRC, Peugeot took its cars to raid rallying, where it enjoyed much success.
I did not meet Todt until January 1989 and the very first encounter left me less than impressed. We were in a town called Gao, on the banks of the Niger River, in Mali. Peugeot team-mates Jacky Ickx and (surprise, surprise) Ari Vatanen were fighting for victory. There were six days to go – six days! – but Todt decided that expediency was more important than true sporting values. Peugeot must win at all costs and so he decreed that his drivers must stop fighting. He took a 10-Franc piece and tossed it and declared that Vatanen had won. I was outraged and argued with Todt that it was completely wrong to do such a thing. He disagreed.
We never really got on after that.
I do not see him as a sportsman, but rather as a super-effective middle manager who was always willing to sacrifice what was right to ensure that his employer (and thus he) got what was required. It did not matter how this was achieved. To me, the argument that “I was only following orders” is not acceptable if the underlying “morality” is not right. Sport is not about winning at any cost. It is about winning in the right way.
Anyway, this what I wrote at the time:
“C’est la vie,” shrugged Ickx, playing the professional.
“I didn’t want to settle it in that way,” said Vatanen, not wanting to play the game.
It was, in all ways, an unsatisfactory way to settle the outcome of the last true motor sporting adventure.
Both drivers would have preferred to fight it out, away in the desert, without external dictates. Being professionals, they said nothing, but the hurt shone from each. These are not politicians, they are sportsmen and their great adventure had been tarnished; sacrificed on the altar of commercialism. It left a bitter taste in the mouth, far removed from the enthusiasm of which both Ickx and Vatanen had spoken in the days leading up to Gao.
“When you sleep out in the flat desert and you see the camel caravans coming past, you see ancient times and modern times meeting,” said Vatanen, waxing lyrical. “It makes you realise that things are not as black and white as you think and that what you value in normal life is not necessarily worth having.”
Not so for Monsieur Todt.
“The most important thing is having to face all sorts of problems and situations that you don’t face normally in your life,” said Ickx. “It helps you to know yourself much better. The sport is only part of it.”
Not so for Monsieur Todt.
Perhaps Todt’s bizarre adventures in North Africa will come back to haunt him…