Practice at Formula One’s ‘cathedral of speed’ might have followed a predictable form, with Sebastian Vettel dominating for Red Bull yesterday, but the paddock was ablaze with speculation after former director-general of the FIA Foundation, David Ward, put himself into the ring as a contender for Jean Todt’s FIA presidency when elections are held in December.
Ward’s manifesto, entitled ‘Agenda for Change’, highlights some of what he perceives to be inadequacies of Todt’s leadership and calls for a score of reforms. Ward, 57, a former adviser to Max Mosley, Todt’s predecessor, also played a key role in Todt’s 2009 succession, but now says he is seeking “further governance reform”.
While acknowledging that there has been “useful progress” with regard to a comprehensive review of the FIA statutes and structure that were proposed in Todt’s 2009 manifesto, Ward claims that it has “fallen short”, and that “there is still work to be done”.
“The FIA can give the impression of being antiquated and autocratic,” he suggests. “The powers of the presidency are too wide to be effective or fully accountable. The maximum possible period in office for the president has been extended from eight years to 12. The threshold for nominations for presidential candidates has been set high, which favours the incumbent and deters other candidates.
“Recently there has also been unfortunate use of ‘ support letters’ at various FIA regional meetings which are designed to elicit public commitments of support before the election process even opens, thereby deterring alternative candidates from coming forward. These are of questionable legitimacy.”
It is unclear yet whether Todt will even stand for another four-year term, and while some suggest there is mounting opposition to that in some circles, several team principals indicated yesterday that they would be happy to see him continue.
McLaren’s Martin Whitmarsh took a swipe at Mosley, who so controversially fined the British team $200m in 2007, when he said: “I don’t know David Ward well enough but I would say that Jean Todt has not used the sport for his own ego. I have seen and survived three presidents – one of them only just – but Jean has been consistent and has acted in the interests of motorsport. For some there’s not been enough excitement and controversy, but for us in the sport that’s beneficial. He has done a good job so far.”
Marussia’s Graeme Lowdon said: “Democracy is a good thing, and with David Ward’s emergence it will be good to have healthy debate. That provides transparency and it’ll be interesting to monitor the process.”
Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn, who worked alongside Todt at Ferrari for 10 years in their dominant Michael Schumacher era, added: “Jean has brought stability and consistency, and having another period as president would be important.”
Reacting to suggestions that Todt’s great new vision for 2014 under which dramatically revised technical regulations will jack up the cost of competing in F1 by at least 50 per cent, Red Bull’s Christian Horner said: “We as the teams had the opportunity collectively to say no to the new regulations, and we didn’t, so we only have ourselves to blame on that, not Jean.”
On the track Vettel lost little time in the afternoon, after Lewis Hamilton had been fastest in the morning for Mercedes, in stamping the same authority he demonstrated last time out in Belgium. The world champion was six-tenths of a second faster than team-mate Mark Webber, who had the Lotuses of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean, Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari, the Mercedes of Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, and the McLarens of Jenson Button and Sergio Perez snapping at his heels. Alonso and Hamilton must beat Vettel in the Italian Grand Prix if they are to keep their slim title hopes alive, but on yesterday’s form Vettel looks like a shoo-in for his sixth victory of the season.
Hamilton said: “The car feels pretty good here today. The balance is reasonable and we’ve had a pretty smooth day, better than our recent Fridays, in fact. Although we’re quite competitive, we’re not quick enough yet and will have to work hard tonight to see where we can make some improvements if we want to compete right at the front tomorrow.”