- The Inside Line
Ward of the stateKate Walker August 29, 2013
It's official. The news that the Formula One world has been waiting for since Silverstone has now been confirmed - David Ward will be running against incumbent Jean Todt in this year's FIA presidential elections.
Ward confirmed his candidacy by resigning from his post of director general of the FIA Foundation, issuing a statement saying that "the election period begins in September and it will be necessary for me to approach FIA members to secure nominations. In these circumstances I think that the correct course of action is to resign. Election processes inevitably involve robust and lively debate, and whilst the Foundation is independent and there is no legal requirement for me to resign, I believe that it is in the best interests of the charity that I stand down now."
David Ward is both a popular and divisive candidate. Known for his years of work spent building up the FIA Foundation from its infancy, Ward has been an active figure in a number of the FIA's key projects in recent years. He has been involved in motorsport safety, the United Nations' Decade of Action for Road Safety, the Global New Car Assessment Programme, and the Global Fuel Economy Initiative, among other projects and campaigns.
As such, the Briton has an extensive rolodex of key figures in the world of motorsport, which he has added to his already impressive list of contacts nurtured through years spent working in politics, both for the British Labour Party, and in his FIA-related dealings with the European Union. When it comes to connections, Todt and Ward are on pretty level playing fields.
But one of Ward's strengths is also a potential weakness. He is a long-time associate of former FIA president Max Mosley, and is believed to be Mosley's preferred candidate. That link could prove to be a troublesome one for some of the FIA member clubs (who form a chunk of the electorate), several of whom are still critical of the way in which the ex-president's peccadilloes caused public embarrassment for anyone linked professionally with the Federation, especially in the more conservative territories.
Another sticking point could prove to be Ward's historic ties with FOM boss Bernie Ecclestone.
While Todt has been widely criticised, both privately and in print, for a number of perceived mis-steps over the course of his presidency - not least Bahrain - the Frenchman has been applauded for his willingness to stand up to Ecclestone, refusing to kowtow to the demands and edicts being issued by Prince's Gate.
Ward, on the other hand, is well-known to the (non motor-racing) public for his role in the Labour donations row that Bernie Ecclestone found himself embroiled in during the late 1990s. In January 1997, the F1 supremo made a £1 million donation to the Labour Party. Later that year, tobacco advertising policy was modified in a way that benefitted Formula One, and - unsurprisingly - scandal ensued.
David Ward was the man tasked with cleaning up the mess, thanks in no small part to his in-depth understanding of both the political process, and of the Labour Party, earned during his years spent as chief policy advisor to then-Labour leader John Smith. He worked closely with both Mosley and Ecclestone, developing symbiotic relationships with both men.
While Ward has proved himself to be very much his own man in his years with the FIA Foundation, he has not yet been put in a position where he has been forced to go up against his old allies. It remains to be seen whether, like Todt, he would go toe-to-toe with Ecclestone if called to do so.
Whichever man wins the winter election, the FIA needs a president willing to take stands against the power players when necessary, risking upsetting the apple cart in the process.