• The Inside Line

The wisdom of saying very little

Kate Walker
October 8, 2013
FIA president Jean Todt is keeping his cards close to his chest © Getty Images

Formula One is a very complex entity. Far more than 'just' a sport, the world's most expensive travelling soap opera is able to appeal to all sorts of different types: technology geeks, historians, travel buffs, politicos, financiers, the list goes on.

It is bordering on the impossible to be an F1 jack of all trades - there are those who understand the technology, those who can wrap their heads around the labyrinth of financing, and those who can identify races from a single photo of a driver on a stretch of track with no identifying features in the background. No one can do it all.

Outwardly, the most important bit is the sport - officially, racing is why we're all here, after all. But now that sport has become a business, the politics and the money are equally important. While politics always has a role to play (Machiavelli would have had a field day in the paddock), in an FIA election year the political side of things takes on an official importance rather different to the standard wheeling and dealing we're so used to seeing.

David Ward (presidential candidate or stalking horse, depending on your sources) set out his manifesto - the Agenda for Change - during the Italian Grand Prix weekend. In the Korean paddock on Friday, rumours began to swirl that Jean Todt (the only other official candidate at the time of writing) would be publishing his own manifesto at midnight.

That turned out not to be the case, but as the paddock moved from Mokpo to pastures new in preparation for this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix the Todt team did publish the incumbent's official campaign website. The website is a summary of Todt's achievements over the past four years, and appears to have been designed with a view to answering some of the charges levelled against the Frenchman by Ward in the Briton's communiques with FIA member clubs and the media.

Peppered with phrases linked to current hot-button issues in FIA politics, Todt's website celebrates the Federation's membership of the International Olympic Committee, the creation of the FIA Ethics Committee (which is currently investigating Ward's accusations that Todt misused FIA resources in accruing pre-election support letters), and speaks of improved standards of governance and increased funding to member clubs aimed at growing grassroots motorsport around the world.

What it lacks is any form of manifesto. By looking backwards, not forwards, Todt and his team appear to have made the tactical decision to remind the electorate of his evolutionary improvements to the Federation. Whatever may happen in the media, the press (and public) do not vote in the FIA elections. The electorate is comprised of the body's member clubs, a traditionally conservative group who are wary of losing their power, and for many of whom the concept of the sort of revolution being proposed by Ward seems rather frightening.

Transformative change tends not to sit well with bureaucrats in blazers. Or, to put it another way: softly, softly, catchee monkey.

There is another advantage to be had by keeping one's hand close to one's chest. By not revealing his cards right away, Todt can design his manifesto in response to the agendas set out by Ward, the as yet undeclared Mohammed bin Sulayem, and a fourth candidate rumoured to be waiting in the wings.

The design of the Todt and team website has obviously been done in response to Ward's manifesto, and it can be assumed that Todt's own manifesto will include the Frenchman's answers to the stances taken by his rival candidates - the Frenchman's re-election run has so far been more reactive than proactive, and that stance is unlikely to change over the next two months.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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