F1: FIA President Todt Considers Sanctions and Tells FOTA How It Is

What Happens When It Looks Like Trouble is Brewing

9:02am EST — Jean Todt had promised to be a FIA president in a different mold than Max Mosley, and yet more evidence suggests that this is the case.  Todt was quoted in Le Parisien as saying, “There is an incompatibility between the status of a role model champion, and a possible infringement on the road. A driver is a driver like the others. We are therefore trying to see whether to do something, and how,” suggesting that “it would make sense for F1 drivers to face sanctions if they committed traffic offences,” according to an Autosport article, since he said, “I have actually asked [if sanctions would make sense in such a situation].”

The situation he refers to is part of the FIA push for greater road safety, as “Last year, 1.3 million people died on roads in the world – 90% in developing countries. The forecasts for 2020 are terrible, and they estimate that nearly two million people will be killed if no action is taken by then. Now, with a minimum of dialogue, that figure could be halved. This requires education, improved road networks, and the involvement of new technology on cars,” according to Todt.

The question remains, though, as to how such a move would be received, both by drivers and teams.  It all comes down to the sort of sanction.  It would be foolish for the sanctions to be any sort of racing sanction, since that would defeat the purpose of racing.  Similarly, if we want independent drivers who are not simply part of a team’s PR machine, it would be important to not punish the team for something a driver did on his own time, as well as being entirely unfair to do so.  That, quite broadly, leaves only fines and community service as available sanctions.  I’m not sure fines would make much of a deterrent, particularly with the drivers making what they make.  Also, if the fines inherent in a traffic offense that has been punished by a county’s government (particularly when it would be grievous to sanction a driver for something the local police didn’t even yell at him  for) aren’t enough to stop F1 drivers to act the fool on their own time, a fine from the FIA isn’t likely to do much, either.

This brings us to the likely core issue.  It isn’t about deterring drivers from “hooning” as Lewis Hamilton did in Australia [and you though I couldn’t work “hoon” into another article!], it’s about the FIA and F1’s public image.  I don’t think it particularly matters to Jean Todt, the FIA, team principals, or any other governing body over a F1 drivers’ life if he goes out and does something silly but not life-threatening on the motorway.  Except that it looks bad.  As such, simply talking about the possibility of sanctions serves the purpose of sanctions.  “Well, we’ve considered it, and it’s not our place to referee a driver’s personal life, so there’s not much we can do” sounds a lot better than “I’m sorry it looks like we don’t care about road safety, because when it comes to the sporting side of the FIA, we don’t.”

In more information from the interview with Jean Todt, via Autosport, the FIA president seems intent on aggravating FOTA, noting that despite FOTA’s seeming crush on Pirelli as the 2011 tire supplier, the FIA certainly has a say in who the tire supplier will be, “and it [the FIA] will soon launch a tender, with the commercial promoter of the championship, Bernie Ecclestone. FOTA may suggest that it decides, but the strong man is not he who speaks the loudest [emphasis added].”

Those sound like fighting words to me, and they certainly will to the team principals.  This is about far more than tire supplier decisions, which are important enough in their own right.  It is also about whose side Ecclestone is on, as well.  In a FIA-FOTA war, both are on moderately equal footing as we saw last summer.  In a FIA/FOM-FOTA war, the teams can leave, but without the commercial genius Ecclestone has proven himself to be, it would be disastrous.  Any split would be a bad thing, but this time Todt looks to be forestalling the regular arguments and bringing out the big guns early on, so to speak.  Still, this sort of commentary makes one wonder.  Has Todt gone to the Ecclestone school of FOTA management?  What other behind-the-scenes machinations don’t we know about?  While the tire decision ought be made sooner rather than later, and it likely will be, the ramping up of tensions here feel like those heightened ones between North and South Korea.  Best to keep an eye on both situations, it seems.


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