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GP Week : Issue 233
OPINION MIKE DOODSON sometimes you know instinctively when somebody has screwed up and is making an appalling mistake. Think short-sighted man walking into a telegraph pole. That's how many of us felt on saturday when Jean Todt, who as President of the FIA is the official representative of everyone involved in our sport, had the effrontery to try to belittle the gravity of the events which had cost the lives of more than 120 innocent people in the terrorist attacks of the previous evening in Paris. Almost since he assumed the presidency of the FIA in 2009, Todt has been putting out an image of being a seriously confused (not to mention short-sighted) person. We will come to this shortly. Like his predecessor Max Mosley, he has been conscious of the federation's supplementary non-sporting rôle as the body originally set up to represent the interests of motoring organisations whose members use their cars for touring and travelling abroad. These days, of course, with car travel no longer the adventure it still was half a century ago, the FIA has moved on to campaign for improved standards of car construction safety. Mosley had some notable successes in this area. Todt has followed up that good work by rather noisily throwing his weight behind road safety campaigns aimed, somewhat optimistically, at reducing the world-wide death toll, which he estimates at 3500 per day. In Todt's muddled mind, those 3500 daily deaths outweigh the significance of the attack by Islamist terrorists in Paris – his own home city – which killed and critically injured so many in recent days: "Do you realise that the number of people killed in road accidents is by far bigger than the number of people who died in Paris yesterday?" he whined at the presenter of a TV show in which he was appearing. It is difficult to avoid imagining that Todt's antagonism towards the victims of the blood-thirsty terrorists was personal. For some months he had been planning to supplement the pre-race ceremonies in São Paolo with a tribute to the nameless thousands of dead road- users. Paris changed all that, overnight, and Bernie Ecclestone was (correctly) urged by numerous people from all walks of F1 life to ensure that their sympathy for the victims, and their unconditional condemnation of the perpetrators, were expressed on race day. Instead of setting aside his very personal political agenda of road safety, Todt attempted to downplay what had happened in Paris. Yes, each of those road deaths is a catastrophe for the families who have lost a loved one. But the Paris attacks were deliberately planned to destroy and brutalise lives at random, in the name of a per verted ideology. Just as we stood to honour the innocents who died at the hands of similarly-minded criminals in New York in 2001, or to pay tribute to those who were murdered in the Charlie Hebdo outrage earlier this year, we needed to acknowledge those whose lives had been lost or wrecked last Friday. I am sure that Todt had no intention of appearing to be insensitive or offensive. That, though, is the impression which he has given out to the world. He did not help himself when, for reasons known only to himself, he rejected any suggestion that the FIA (based in Paris) should wish to share the pain of fellow-Parisians. "Paris is one of the great capitals of the world and it's not appropriate to link the FIA to this tragic accident," he said. Pardon me, Monsieur le Président, but that wasn't an accident on Friday, it was a murderous conspiracy by deranged idealists who hold you and your countrymen in such deep contempt that they believe you deserve to die violently simply because you value being members of a free-thinking society. Far more appropriate for the President of the FIA would have been some words of compassion. He even seems to have overlooked the fact that there was more than one important international event taking place at the weekend. Without any inter vention from FIA headquarters, the mood at the finish of Rally GB on Sunday was appropriately sombre, with three- time winner Sebastien Ogier declining the usual champagne in favour of simply spreading his country's flag across the screen of his winning VW. Jean Todt's obsession with reducing the road toll would be more commendable if the FIA were the only international organisation involved in promoting road safety. In fact it is just one of many (and not one of the most influential). The leaders of some of the rival organisations are suspicious of Todt's motives, believing that he has an eye on securing some future position with, say, the United Nations, or even on getting himself nominated for some prestigious international award. His lack of popularity with fellow road safety campaigners inevitably stems from the fact that his rôles at the FIA are contradictory. How can anyone take seriously the commitment to sweeping death off the roads of a man whose day job is to promote a sport in which competitors seek to drive at speeds which under most circumstances would seriously endanger the lives of others? As this column has observed on more than one occasion, Formula 1 motor racing urgently needs the services of an administrator who can analyse its shortcomings, develop a solution and bang together the necessary heads to make it happen. It's not so long ago since Todt presided over the creation of the new hybrid F1 which was supposed to make the sport more transparently eco-friendly while also limiting financial extravagance by penalising drivers (not the engine suppliers!) who used more than four power units per season. In Brazil at the weekend, Fernando Alonso found himself using his 12th Honda power unit of the season. Jean Todt's response to this glaring demonstration of a failed rule, when not trying to avoid calls for F1 folk to show any sympathy with the victims of terror in Paris, was to offer his support to a plan for a "budget" engine. In abandoning the regulations laid down by his own federation, I'm certain that Todt is behaving unethically, and I'm pretty sure he's also breaking his federation's own rules. Surely it's time for the president of the FIA to go back to work, start concentrating on things that really matter and try to secure for himself the reward for doing the job he was elected to do, not the one which he thinks will earn him sainthood. 12 GPWEEK.com // 12 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: OPINION when priorities are so, so wrong