LUNCH WITH JEAN TODT
From rallying co-driver to presidency of the FIA, Jean Todt has seen success at every level of motor racing – which is why Formula 1 is only part of the story…
The FIA President and former Ferrari boss talks to Maurice Hamilton about his friendship with Michael Schumacher
Signicant snapshots from Jean Todt’s life hang on the wall behind him. Facing his desk is a vast world map showing the FIA’s constituent parts spread across 141 countries, but watching over the president are the people and events that mattered and motivated him during a distinguished career in motorsport. An action shot of Jim Clark’s Lotus 33 during the 1965 British GP leads to the more expected selection of co-driving and managerial world championship success in rallying, sportscars and F1 with Talbot, Peugeot and Ferrari.
Even more personal and telling is a group of photographs taken on the day of his election to the FIA presidency in 2009, which show “the most important people in my life”: his son Nicolas, wife Michelle – and friend Michael Schumacher.
For those who know Jean Todt well, such personal and warm intimacy will come as no surprise. He may have a reputation as being cold and calculating – uncaring, even – but anyone who has worked closely with Todt, be they a co-driver, driver, mechanic or manager, will beg to differ with such an assessment.
As I walked into the FIA’s imposing Paris headquarters in Place de la Concorde, I wasn’t sure what to expect but remembered the words of Eddie Irvine many years after he had left Ferrari: “Jean Todt is the best guy I’ve ever worked with. No question.” And you know how difficult Irvine is to please. Lunch in the dining room upstairs promises to be interesting… Maurice Hamilton: I couldn’t help but notice the picture of Jim Clark on your wall. You made your name in rallying, but was F1 your rst love? Jean Todt: I was always interested in nice cars and racing. At the age of 14 or 15, my dream was to become an F1 driver. My main role models were Jim Clark and Dan Gurney. I don’t know why I chose Gurney: I liked his style and I suppose he looked like a grand prix driver should.
I met some people who loved cars and we created a group that was interested in racing. I also met some rally drivers and attempted a small rally in 1965 with a BMW. In the autumn of 1966, at the Critérium des Cévennes rally, the co-driver in one of the works NSUs got sick at the last moment. I was asked if I wanted to do it. It was a pace note event, so quite difficult. I had a half-hour trial and did the rally. It went very well and I was asked if I wanted to do some more.
I was still hoping to become a racing driver, but my father was a doctor and he was not very enthusiastic about me doing this. I went to the Volant Shell competition, where I was quite competitive – but I was not experienced enough. Also, I am quite short and I could hardly reach the pedals; I didn’t have a proper tting. I had a spin and was excluded. I did a few races but I was getting a lot of offers to be a co-driver.
People talk about some driver and co-driver pairings staying together for 20 years. At the time, there were well-known co-drivers like Gunnar Palm and Henry Liddon. I looked
at them and thought: ‘They’re good, but I don’t want to be with the same driver for a long time. I don’t want to be doing that at an advanced age.’
I was at university, but did not do as well as my father expected. So I thought: ‘Let’s look at rallying as my university. Even if you study for a long time, it has to stop between the ages of 30 and 35’. That was how long I would spend codriving: my goal was to become a team director. MH: What did you gain from co-driving? Was it the organisation necessary and the pressure, because you were with some top drivers? JT: It was the experience. I was dealing with different teams and, as you say, I was with some of the best drivers at the time: Hannu Mikkola, Timo Mäkinen, Ove Andersson, Rauno Aaltonen. MH: Did you enjoy the sensation of speed when sitting alongside these guys? JT: Yes, I liked it. I also liked travelling. I felt I was fortunate because I was going to countries I’d never expected to be able to go to. I also liked meeting people. By now, being a driver was no longer a consideration. But being a co-driver with top teams and top drivers would let me go to the next step, which was running a rally team.
Along the way, I was an advisor for Peugeot. As I said, my goal was to step out of being a co-driver between the ages of 30 and 35 because I didn’t see it as a lifetime job. If it didn’t work out, I would sell ties; work in a shipyard; anything; I didn’t know. But I knew 1981 would be my last year as a co-driver.
I was already involved with organising everything on the Tour de France with Matra and rallies with Peugeot in Africa. I started discussions with the board of Peugeot and they decided they would do a top rally programme at a professional level. Out of that came the Turbo 205 T16. The Peugeot group were in a very difficult situation at the time and our success completely changed the image of a company that was close to bankruptcy. MH: And, along the way, you had a head-to-head with the man whose chair you now occupy! JT: Yes, we evolved the 205 T16 until I had what I would describe as quite a tough exchange with Mr [Jean-Marie] Balestre [president of FISA, the sporting arm of the FIA]. Honestly – and peace to his soul – I was not a fan of the guy, his past or his behaviour. If I’m provoked, I try to be tough. I was a bit tough against him. We were both French, so we got into opposition. Added to which, Peugeot were dominant in rallying, and I’m not sure Mr Balestre liked that.
When Henri Toivonen had his fatal accident in a Lancia Delta S4 in Corsica in 1986, Balestre immediately banned Group B. For me, that was not a rational decision. We had invested in Group B. Peugeot had built 200 cars and we had to build 20 each year to homologate the latest car. We sued the FIA; it was a big conict, but Group B was banned.
I suggested to the Peugeot board that we do the Paris-Dakar. We were very successful; we won all of them. After that, we had to nd a new challenge. So I suggested we go to sportscars. We won in 1992 and 1993, including Le Mans.
I asked the board to give me an opportunity to do something else. F1 was thought to be too expensive. When they did not propose anything else for me, I never thought I would do this, but I decided to leave. Fortunately, I had a few opportunities elsewhere – not with French companies, but with German and Italian companies – one of which was Ferrari. A few people I spoke to said: “Don’t go to Ferrari; it cannot work.” I had a lot of respect for Alain Prost and I asked his opinion. He said: “You have been successful wherever you have been; here you will not be successful.”
I like a challenge. It’s childish but, if you tell me I cannot do something, I want to do it. Prost said it would last one year, maybe one-and-a-half years, then I would be red. But, for me, Ferrari was – is – an iconic brand, so I accepted. MH: Saying that, Ferrari was an entirely new world for you. I take it you knew all about it, because you had been following F1? JT: I love F1. I remember going as a spectator to some F1 races; I will not miss a race on TV. I was not an expert in F1 but I considered myself a decent manager. For me, the challenge was in not being Italian.
When you speak about Ferrari, there are three categories you have to think about: the team in Maranello; the media in Italy and the board in the Fiat Group. They all have a certain inuence. When I rst arrived people thought: ‘He will be well paid and, in one year, we don’t see him any more because he will be spending his weekends at home.’ But I’d like to think they saw that I was committed and trying to get the job done.
I arrived on 1 July 1993. Luca Di Montezemolo was the president and Harvey Postlethwaite was the technical co-ordinator in Maranello. There was FDD [Ferrari Design and Development] run by John Barnard in Guildford. Niki Lauda was special advisor, with Gerhard Berger and Jean Alesi as drivers. I had to deal with the conict between the UK departments and Italy; they did not want to speak to each other.
I made an assessment and, once that was done, I started to change things and get rid of some people while choosing others to build
“When I moved to Ferrari I was not an expert in F1. For me, the challenge was in not being Italian”
the orchestra; to build the team. At the same time, we were in the middle of the season and, every two weeks, there were races, which were a disaster. You had the mentality of people expecting a new guy to arrive and start winning next week. If you take a scale of one to ten, I think Ferrari were at two when I arrived. MH: So, you were in no doubt at this stage about the size of the task ahead of you. It took at least 12 months before you saw your rst win, which was probably no surprise to you? JT: No surprise: 1994 was all about the rebuilding process. Gerhard won one race at Hockenheim that year. In Canada the next year, just one win again: Alesi in Canada when Michael retired his Benetton. People were saying: “We’re not winning because we don’t have the best driver”. So I said we should try to take the best driver and then we wouldn’t have that excuse any more. I had already started talking to Michael. I went to Monte Carlo to meet him and his manager Willi Weber. After about 15 hours of discussion, we nally ended in Michael’s at in Fontvieille and signed an MOU [Memorandum of Understanding].
After we got Michael, I wanted to close FDD and bring all the team under one roof at Maranello. I had been talking with Ross Brawn, but he did not know I was also talking with Rory Byrne. During the British Grand Prix that year, Rory came to my hotel. I told him: “Look, I’ve hired Ross. You should have a beer together.” I called Ross and told him about Rory and said it would be good having them work together and they ought to have a chat. They both worked at Benetton, but neither of them knew about the other coming to Ferrari until then. MH: What was your relationship with Michael at this stage? Were you close? JT: At the time, Michael was a driver and I was his boss. We had a good understanding together, but we were not yet friends. We had a difficult start in 1996. It was obvious it would be like this. I think it was after some retirements midway through the season that there was speculation
I would be red. It was part of what I could expect – remembering what Prost had said. Then I heard that Michael had said: “If Jean is red, I will go.” I did not know he had heard what was being said; I didn’t know he would do that. But this was the voice of a twice world champion and it stopped me being red – for the time being. MH: Given that loyalty is important to you and the fact that you will support people if they will support you, Michael saying that must have meant a great deal. JT: I don’t work on the basis of: ‘I do this for you, so you do something for me’. In love, friendship or business, it’s natural that you cannot give something without expecting something back; it’s a sense of life. It’s like sowing a seed and watering it: if you don’t do that, you get nothing back.
Michael was criticised in the beginning in Italy. He was not winning because he did not have the car to win. And he was also attacked because he could not speak Italian. I said: “We did not hire him to be a teacher of Italian; we hired him to be a winning driver.” Michael and I actually had much in common when it came to receiving criticism. I supported him always, like in the last race in 1997 when, in the ght with Jacques Villeneuve, Michael clearly made a mistake and he lost the championship. In 1998, when we lost the championship in the last race, there was more criticism. And at Silverstone in 1999, I was blamed because I left the pitwall to go with Michael to hospital after he broke his leg on the rst lap. MH: Interesting you mention that. I was talking to Fred Gallagher about this. He was your codriver in cross-country events and said he would bet that you’d have done the same thing – gone to hospital – if Eddie Irvine had broken his leg. JT: Of course. MH: Fred said that because when he injured his back during a rally, you were very supportive and made sure everything was okay – that he had the best treatment and so on. I’m digressing here slightly, but you’ve had your fair share of drivers being badly injured. I’m thinking particularly of Ari Vatanen when he and Terry Harryman had that massive end-over-end in the Peugeot 205 T16 in Argentina in 1985. JT: I am like I am. I had been ghting with photographers because I did not want a photo taken while Ari was being transported from the hospital to the plane. For me, it’s become a priority. Through this, I have created a fantastic relationship with Professor Gérard Saillant [the leading surgeon who deals with injured drivers]. We founded ICM [Brain & Spine Institute] on a 25,000m2 site in the heart of Paris.
Making that happen is probably the best thing I have achieved in my life. But the media are not interested in that. They are more interested in a third-rate controversy. It’s frustrating. I would say that’s life, but it sometimes makes me a bit sad. We have created ICM and it has 600 research people. One of the specic things of this institute is that it is driven by both private and public nance – and I have to tell you that Michael is the second biggest private donator.
But, getting back to thinking about drivers and so on, when Felipe Massa and Sergio Pérez had their accident in Canada, I went to see them in the medical centre. I did not advertise this because I don’t need to. I went to see Kimi Räikkönen after his accident at Silverstone. For me, this becomes more important than the race. You can have another race in two weeks. But if you have somebody who is hurt, I feel I can make a difference by helping take the right actions. MH: This goes back to what you were saying; giving and taking; helping each other. JT: It’s hard to speak about myself but, if you talk to Peugeot employees, they think we had a fantastic time. If you speak with Ferrari people, the same. Okay, maybe it’s not the same at the FIA; maybe it’s harder to hear these things here! But, generally, there is a positive nostalgia. MH: Sorry, I digressed. We were talking about Michael and Ferrari. JT: I’ll tell you something about Michael that was amazing; he doubted he was a champion. And I understood that in a way because I always doubted whether I could do well or not. In 2004, for example, Michael won the drivers’ championship in July and we won the manufacturers’ in Budapest in August. But when we arrived at Monza in September, I found myself anxious as hell. I asked myself why I felt like that because it was unnatural. With Michael, at the start of each season he would ask to do a few laps at Fiorano “to make sure I can still drive well.” Here was Michael Schumacher, wondering if he was still a good driver. MH: Did those similar feelings help the chemistry between the two of you? JT: Yes, it made us stronger. One of the most fascinating things in my business is meeting different people from different backgrounds. The most successful people I’ve ever met are very humble. They know what they do and
“Michael doubted he was a champion. He’d ask to do a few laps at Fiorano ‘to make sure I can still drive well’”
represent, but they are humble. And then you can meet people who have done very little and yet think they have achieved a lot. The thing that created the strong link with Michael was not winning, rather than winning. It’s a fact of life; you remember the tough times you have been sharing rather than the easy times. MH: I’m sure you’ve been to see Michael quite a bit since his skiing accident? JT: Of course. Twice a week. I was with him two days ago. MH: That must be hard for you. JT: To be honest, it’s much harder for his wife and the kids. I had just arrived in Bali for my week’s holiday when the accident happened and the next day my wife and I were with him. MH: I see from the photograph in your office that Michael was very supportive when running for office. What was your thinking when you stood for the presidency? JT: Max Mosley had been asking me to stand for election in 2005. I thought deeply about it because, at that time, I felt my mandate at Ferrari was over. I love motoring, I love racing and I think I’ve been fortunate to get quite a lot out of it in every category I have been in. So I believe it was right to give something back. It’s a volunteer job. I told Max I would do it even though, of course, that did not mean I was going to be elected. But at least I would go for it. But then Di Montezemolo did not want me to go. It was not until March/April 2009 that I stood for election in October of that year. MH: When you arrived at the FIA, what stood out as being in most urgent need of attention? JT: I knew the FIA without actually knowing the FIA. I was on the World Motor Sport Council and the only thing that had interested me was F1. I did not know so much about the motoring clubs, members and this quite complicated organisation. During the election campaign I said I would visit all the members, and
believe me, visiting 141 countries is quite a heavy task. But it’s a very enriching experience because you get to understand so many things.
In our organisation, we have a headquarters here in Paris and one in Geneva, plus some facilities in the UK. Also in the family, you have the FIA, the FIA Foundation and the FIA Institute. So I was trying to understand and address all the needs of the organisation while also looking at motorsport from grassroots level to F1; looking at the vision for new categories and rebuilding the pyramid of motorsport. MH: Do you think that people in sport – specifically F1 – expected you to be more proactive? Particularly after Max? JT: I have my style, which is what it is. Max has his style and his interests; I have mine. He has his way of leadership; I have my way of leadership. Some people will feel he is fantastic and I am useless; some will think the opposite. You can’t change the opinion of people. I am a fighter if I don’t have any other choice, but if I can achieve the result by peace and friendship, it’s my favourite option. I don’t need to use the media to send messages even though I know I have a public role. Achieving results and strengthening our organisation is my mission.
But you must realise our world is not only F1. If you go to countries such as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Indonesia, they don’t know what F1 is, but I want those people to have an interest in motorsport. If I take ‘mobility’, which is the other pillar of the FIA, the goal is to give better service to the motorist and fully use our organisation – which is a unique organisation. FIFA, for example, is very strong – but it is only football. We have the sport and support for motorists to think about.
Road accidents are one of the worst scourges in the world today. HIV and AIDS have been addressed: Malaria has been addressed. But there is no project for road accidents: the FIA has a strong legitimacy as a motoring organisation to get involved. MH: How big is that problem? JT: We have amazing technology that makes cars safer in developed countries. But, in developing countries, you have cars that are between 30 and 60 years old. You would not think about getting into your car without putting on the safety belt. In those countries, they don’t know what a safety belt is. There is no education; there is no support because, quite often, there is either no law enforcement or there is corruption.
“Road accidents are one of the worst scourges today. The FIA has a strong legitimacy to get involved”
MH: When working in F1, you tend to think motorsport is the be-all, end-all for the FIA. What percentage of time is taken up with motorsport in your remit as president? I’m guessing it’s between 30 and 40 per cent. JT: Ten per cent. Maximum. I love F1. I made an interview with one of your colleagues and was murdered because, apparently, I do not make decisions because I have given up. It’s not true! The FIA has more power in governance than before. When I was elected as president, the FIA was running the Technical Working Group, the Sporting Working Group; it had one seat in the F1 Commission and those decisions went to the World Motor Sport Council for nal approval.
Now, there is the Strategy Group in which the FIA has six votes, the Commercial Rights Holder has six, and each of the six teams present has one vote. It’s true that I said the proposal to reduce costs is a joke; I do feel that. But out of 11 teams, I would say a minimum of eight teams don’t want to see any change. MH: Why not? Surely it’s in the interest of F1? JT: It’s a good question; I don’t know why. I want to understand better and address the problem. It’s about everyone getting together. We need to make a better assessment because it would be a shortcut to say reducing costs will reduce all of the problems. I don’t think that’s true.
We have to make a global reassessment about optimising and improving the show. I don’t say the show is bad. In fact, for me, I feel the F1 show is amazing. When I go to see a grand prix, it’s still very special; I enjoy it. But it’s like going to the movies to see a thriller; some are good, some are not so good. Each one is different.
“Races are like going to the movies to see a thriller; some are good, some are not so good. Each one is different”
MH: How do you feel the FIA is coping in this age of rapidly changing communication? JT: I’m not good on social media. The world is changing and we need to look at the needs of young people. It’s not just motorsport. They are not interested in football and other sports because there are too many distractions with iPads, the internet and so on. It’s got nothing to do with cost. There should be an evolution to adapt F1 for 2015 with a vision for 2030.
Then we should readdress the cost issue. We need to work out why it should be done, how to do it and how to control costs. There has to be a global discussion, listening to other interested parties: new media, sponsors, promoters and so on. From there, we should have an understanding of what we need to do.
Sometimes, I see this image: we have a patient and the patient is tired. What is the prescription? What do we give the patient? We’re talking here of F1, but each category of motorsport could be a patient. For me, it’s nothing to do with the governance. It’s about bringing together people who have different understandings. I really want to get this in my prescription for the patient to see what needs to be done. MH: I wish you luck. It’s a huge task. Thank you for sparing the time in your busy schedule.
Team director Jean Todt celebrates Peugeot victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1992
As Ferrari team principal, Todt oversees the preparation of Gerhard Berger’s F93A
before the 1993 Portuguese Grand Prix
Todt hired Byrne (left) then Brawn (right), cementing one of F1’s most celebrated technical relationships
Todt was criticised for leaving the pitwall to take an injured Schumacher to hospital at Silverstone in 1999
Michael Schumacher at the pinnacle of his career on Ferrari home turf in 2004
Todt with FIA predecessor Max Mosley: “I have my style. Max has his. You can’t change opinion”
The F1 Strategy Group consists of the FIA, led by Todt (six votes) Ecclestone as head of FOM (six votes); and the six most successful teams have one vote each