Jean Todt faces an FIA election in December and for some time there has been vague talk that there might be a candidate against him. Some have felt that Bernie Ecclestone might support such a campaign if he cannot do a suitable deal over the Concorde Agreement with Jean Todt.
Thus far no-one has emerged from the shadows, while Todt has been busy, gathering commitments of support from FIA clubs in different regions, notably the Americas and Australia. However, in what looks like a deliberate leak, The Times has run a story suggesting that the Frenchman might face opposition from David Ward, the Director General of the FIA Foundation for the Automobile and Society.
Ward (56) started out in British politics and from 1988 to 1994 was chief policy advisor to the Rt Hon John Smith, who replaced Neil Kinnock as the leader of the Labour Party in 1992. He competed in karting, saloon cars and historic sports cars and is a member of the Royal Automobile Club.
Smith died of a heart attack in 1994 and was replaced by Tony Blair. After that Ward switched from politics to the automobile world, becoming the director general of the European Bureau of the FIA in Brussels from 1996. He was responsible in this role for the FIA public policy agenda including mobility, safety and the environment and was particularly involved in legislative campaigns concerning automobile crash test and emission standards, while also overseeing the FIA’s problems with the European Union over competition and the restriction of tobacco advertising and in helping to develop the EU’s attitudes towards sports governance. He played an important role in the development of the European New Car Assessment Programme crash test programme) and in recent years has played a key role in road safety programmes.
One of Max Mosley’s closest advisors, he was appointed director general of the FIA Foundation for the Automobile and Society in 2001. This is an independent UK registered charity established with an endowment of $300 million from the FIA, the money that was raised when the commercial rights of F1 were leased to Ecclestone’s Formula One group for 100 years. The Foundation’s objectives are to promote road safety, environmental protection, sustainable mobility and motor sport safety.
Ward has also been the secretary-general of the FIA International Court of Appeal.
After Max Mosley left the role of FIA President Ward remained in charge of the foundation. He campaigned for Jean Todt at the last FIA election, but has not always seen eye-to-eye with Todt since then.
Ward says that he is thinking about standing against Todt because there is always the need for a debate within the FIA and if there are no other candidates then there will be no debate. The story in The Times seems more like a toe-in-the-water test to see if there is any support for the idea of a rival candidate. The biggest problem that Ward faces is that he will be seen as a Mosley man and, by extension, a supporter of Bernie Ecclestone.
However this might not turn out to be the case. With Ecclestone possibly in deep legal trouble in Germany, there is a possible opportunity for the FIA to cancel the 100-year deal and take back the commercial rights and thus create a new structure that will be much more beneficial for the FIA and for the sport. It is not yet clear whether Todt will go down this path, as he has tended to be very cautious in all his decisions regarding F1. Ward is a man who might be more decisive and so could be seen as a much more attractive candidate by some within the FIA who seen this as an opportunity to restructure the commercial arrangements of F1 with the FIA getting a share that would enable the federation to have the money to do much more than it is currently doing in many different areas, increasing its power and influence. The F1 teams would likely support such an initiative because they would get substantially more money than is currently the case.
The prospect of a potential rival may push the FIA President towards a more active role in regaining the commercial rights, on the basis that if he does not act, it would leave the field open to a rival candidate.
The election takes place at the FIA Annual General Assembly in Paris between December 2-6. Those wishing to stand for office must put in their election lists between October 23 and November 13.