- Interview -
A perpetual winner
In 50 years dedicated to motor sport, Jean Todt has become a driving force in the discipline. He holds 14 Formula 1 world champion titles, two victories in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and four podium finishes in the Dakar rally. In 2009, he took charge of the FIA. A brilliant and endearing figure, Jean Todt is concerned about the future of cars and strongly involved in road safety. This determined individual has always sought to pursue his career without taking any wrong turns.
How did you catch the automobile bug?
I was first drawn to motor racing when I was ten years old and my idol was Jim Clark. I soon began dreaming of a career as a racing car driver and started out as a rally co-driver, having decided that this would be the first step.
Among your highly impressive list of successes, which make you the proudest?
Michaël Schumacher’s victory at Suzuka in 2000 when he became World Drivers’ Champion for Ferrari. La Scuderia had been waiting for this event since 1979 and Michaël and I had wanted this title since we had transformed the team.
Which qualities have enabled you to reach such a level?
There is a constant search for excellence, motivation, passion and excitement for challenges. To make possible that which some people regard as impossible. My pleasure is still very fresh and I am not at all jaded, which is a true privilege.
Was becoming President of the FIA something of which you had always dreamed?
My predecessor at the FIA, Max Mosley, saw my appointment as a smart move before it occurred to me, and I thought it was a good idea. I was appointed in 2009 when I decided to leave Ferrari, which was in fact the most gratifying moment of my career with the Italian manufacturer. When I arrived in July 1993, people were sure I would give up within two years and everyone said I couldn’t handle it.
What are your priorities as President of the FIA?
Definitely environment and road safety. I have also been appointed the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Road Safety. As far as the sporting aspect is concerned, my mission is to develop the discipline throughout the world, building on our clubs in 150 countries.
Is it more difficult to become an F1 driver than a top athlete in another discipline?
While driving a F1 car is admittedly not within everyone’s reach, it’s easier these days since academies have been created. Careers often begin in karting, a discipline that can be practiced even in countries with meagre resources. Safety measures have been put in place to enable karting competitions to be organized in car parks. We have rebuilt a real pyramid, starting from karting and moving on to F4, F3, F2 and F1, the aim being to encourage vocations and promote the emergence of the finest competitors.
The theme of this issue is innovation. In your opinion, which have been the most remarkable innovations in recent years?
In F1, hybrid power has enabled cars to be much more efficient in terms of fuel consumption and contributes to protecting the environment. With regard to cars in general, seat belts, airbags, ABS and electronic stability control are great inventions that have had a major impact on road safety.
In 2021, your term at the FIA will be over. How do you see your future?
I don’t have the answer to that yet. I have tentatively agreed to write a book. Given the way I do things and my sense of perfectionism, that will take me a long time and the book should be published in 2022.
Based on an interview by Anouk Julien-Blanco
Photos © V. von Zitzewitz et © FIA