Step Seven: Put David Ward in as FIA President
The leadership of a sport, or for that matter almost anything, is a risky affair. Put the right person in at the top of the sport and one can move mountains. Put the wrong person in and one can almost kill it off. Do nothing effectual and one can preside over a slow but remorseless decline. Group 'C' racing provides an example of such a death. More pertinently, being FIA Series, both the World Rally Championship and Formula Three currently appear to be in remorseless decline.
Formula One in the past enjoyed mountain-moving leadership in the double act of Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone. They created a global force from what was almost a hobby for its participants. They saw opportunity and had the vision and the execution skills to deliver on it.
In my series of preceding articles I've pointed out some of the issues that face the sport. One important aspect is the need for Formula One to distance itself from its sleazy past. It needs to be clean and free of any association with corrupt practices or black money. A move away from conspicuous consumption and towards a hot bed of worthwhile engineering development is also, in my view, highly desirable. Why? To get the sponsors back, in particular the auto manufacturers. It needs to be viewed as not only aspirational but also a true meritocracy, a showcase for the best in engineering and in driving ability.
The future months will see an election battle. In evaluation of the candidates one must look at their records. The FIA Foundation's activities and indeed its charter are not well understood among racing folk, however it represents a true force for good that has come from Formula One. It came about because of the monies earned from the Concorde Agreement and the granting of commercial rights, and it has used that money to benefit as many people as possible in a real sense. The FIA Foundation's achievements in improving road safety are real, the result of great vision and terrific execution both from a management but also from a political standpoint. In a rather trite manner I imagine a 'totalizer' digital display at the Foundation adding up the number of people's lives saved by its actions. It's a big number I'd imagine. The NCAP crash testing standard is undoubtedly a major contributor to the reduction of road fatalities.
However the Foundation has not been a one-success pony. Its efforts to improve the design of road infrastructure, especially in the developing world, have had a notable impact. I believe the campaign for electronic stability control, a technology that appears to better the airbag in terms of fatality reduction, has also had significant influence.
Who is responsible for the vision to take these actions and the political deftness to sign up the UN and the World Bank to ensure enforcement? Yes the Foundation is an organisation, but at its helm from the start and throughout its history has been David Ward.
David has achieved all this because he is an action man, fearless in his drive to be effective, coupled with charm and empathy to persuade. Importantly the involvement of the world's auto-manufacturers is key to this success story. All this has been achieved without, to my knowledge, one hint of shabby practice or undue influence, just nothing but total transparency and ethical practice.
Now let's compare this to the last four years at the FIA. Let's look for the same vision and execution. We've had no end of statements about the need to get a handle on costs in Formula One. Mosley had the foresight to know this was a major issue that had to be tackled. Much was set up at the onset of Todt's presidency including a creditable team of advisers from the world of accountancy (in particular forensic accountancy) and the legal world. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the list of achievements in this respect is empty. We have four years of rhetoric as to how important it all is, but a clear policy and effective action plan appears absent. What matters is that the FIA has not fully tackled F1 cost control, unless some moves are not in the public domain and hidden to my old colleagues within the sport.
Being President of the FIA is a far bigger job than just looking after Formula One, but Formula One is the cornerstone of the FIA from a public perception point of view and is the engine room of its finances. It's a difficult position for the President. Indeed right now it could be a bit of a crisis situation. One reads that CVC would like to list Formula One and that a consequence of this might be that the FIA would lose some of the power it has over the sport.
Ecclestone has on occasion supported a view that Formula One should be independent of the FIA, and certainly the 'CVC' formulae (GP2, GP3) seem to have an arms length relationship to FIA jurisdiction. I'm not sure where the FIA would be if it had no legal or financial relationship with F1, but I suspect it wouldn't be good for its future. Concorde revenue isn't a nice thing to have for the FIA, it's fundamental. To ensure this, superb negotiation skills are needed. David Ward is an accomplished administrator and political advisor.
Money is important to the FIA in order that it can develop the grass roots of the sport. My last article talked about the need to ensure that really talented drivers fill the Formula One grid. This needs a clear policy to achieve the objective along with imagination to implement a structure that delivers real talent to the top. In turn this needs funding and for the FIA the best funding source remains Formula One. Thus a real strategic plan is required. Ward has proven himself capable of doing this at the Foundation. Such a plan must include funding. Yes, today's income covers regulatory costs, but to be effective the FIA needs far more than this.