Jean Todt is the new president of the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile, the governing body of world motorsport. The Frenchman won a vote of the FIA membership, made up of national automobile associations, comfortably, defeating rival Ari Vatanen by 135 votes to 49. There were 12 abstentions.
The margin of victory was a major surprise, with pundits having suggested the two candidates were closely matched following weeks of increasingly hostile campaigning.
Todt, most famous for running the Ferrari Formula One team between 1993 and 2007 during the Michael Schumacher era, had been the longstanding favourite and had received the public backing of outgoing president Max Mosley and Formula One commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone.
Vatanen had been marginalised by the existing establishment during the weeks of campaigning that preceded the election at the FIA General Assembly, prompting the Finn to go as far as to question the electoral procedure around the vote. The vote was independently audited by a French Hussier de Justice.
Todt had earlier arrived at the vote flanked by his partner, the Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh, and seven-time Formula One world champion Michael Schumacher.
The election, which took place at the Intercontinental Hotel in the centre of Paris, followed a 15 minute presentation from each candidate. Unconfirmed reports from inside the venue suggested that Mosley allowed Todt extra time to complete his presentation, while Vatanen was stopped precisely as his allotted time ran out.
Though the FIA president is responsible for road car safety and development, it is its role as the governing body of the world’s major motorsport championships, notably Formula One, that attract most attention and have been at the centre of a bitter election campaign between the former Peugeot World Rally team members.
Todt’s manifesto calls for the appointment of a championship commissioner to run each of the FIA’s major series, in a bid to prevent further accusations of interference by the governing body which have marred the latter years of Mosley’s tenure.
Vatanen had campaigned for a consultation process involving working groups across each area of Formula One to consider the future path of the sport.
Mosley, meanwhile, steps down after a controversial reign having served as president of the FIA since 1993. The election of Todt is likely to also be controversial, with many in Formula One concerned that his links to the Ferrari team threaten his impartiality.