In the end it was not the outcome of last Friday's FIA presidential elections that surprised the combined worlds of motoring and motorsport, but rather the margin by which Jean Todt vanquished Ari Vatanen.
Ahead of the most divisive ballot for many a decade - arguably, even, for the century the body has been in existence - many, including members of the media with access to both camps, Formula 1 personalities and motor club presidents, suggested it would be too close to call, making the 135:49 victory margin rather difficult to comprehend for some folk.
Jean Todt and Senate President Nick Craw
Equally confusing was the wide berth given the outcome by the mainstream and sporting media. Within 12 hours a matter which had warranted thousands of stories across the globe was effectively forgotten - suggesting the FIA does not enjoy the same respect as do the Olympic movement or FIFA.
Given the increasingly politicised nature of the FIA, driven mainly by the lobbyists and political strategists in its full- and part-time employ, is it not inexplicable that, as a rapid read of Google shows, the world's Sunday broadsheets treated the elections as a non-event despite the FIA representing hundreds of millions of motorists and owning the planet's third most valuable sporting property?
Equally, given the massive media interest Max Mosley amassed during his presidency, is it not remarkable that the popular and specialist media have steered well clear of eulogies, for regardless of the scandal within which he found himself embroiled, it is certainly fair to say that his achievements, both with regard to commuter motoring and motorsport, have been commendable and far-reaching.
All this points to greater challenges for the incoming president than even his formidable team had envisaged, for, above all, the FIA needs to have relevance in a fast-moving world, and if the most influential publishing block treats the first 'real' FIA elections for almost two decades as an irrelevance, then that surely needs to be investigated.
That said, there is diminished news value in 'same-old, same-old', and for many that is precisely their take on the situation, particularly as outgoing president Max Mosley indicated Todt was the best person to 'continue but also to extend the work of the past 16 years' - even before the Frenchman's hat had landed in the ring.
Yes, Todt (and his team) promised to be his own man and pursue his own agenda, but analysts are patently not (yet) convinced that it will be the case, hence the muted press reaction.
Interestingly, a visit to the same internet bulletin boards as frequented by the lobbyists shows that the level of enthusiasm amongst motorsport's followers for Todt and Team is effectively the inverse of the ballot result, ie 25:75, suggesting that fans have their enthusiasm for the new regime well in check - notwithstanding the fact that the president led the iconic Ferrari and Formula 1's most popular driver to unprecedented heights. And, ultimately, motorsport belongs to the fans, who, should they choose to vote with bums and remotes, could kill the sport overnight.
On the other side, change is, as any parent knows, notoriously difficult to achieve but, still, Vatanen had amassed the support of 22 key individuals as required by the constitution, a list which included highly influential players, including the AAA's Bob Darbelnet (who heads a 50 million-strong association - over 50 per cent of the FIA's overall mobility membership), German and Dutch motorsport and motoring chiefs, Jordan's Prince Feisal and a host of African club presidents.
And this is where it becomes difficult to comprehend, for the Finn's vote tally of 49 minus the 22 on his slate equals 27 - or slightly over the commitments he had in hand. All this implies that every individual on his 'slate' was able to persuade just 1.25 voters to support Vatanen, which given the status and influence of the clubs backing him, raises questions about their commitment to the election on an overall basis, and, further, about their overall commitment to the FIA.
Saliently, the elections threw up the strange situation whereby neither candidate for the post of elected president of a worldwide umbrella organisation serving the full spectrum of motor clubs was nominated as an officer of a club, nor have the candidates served on FIA councils in their own right. Yes, Todt served on the WMSC, but as Ferrari's representative, and was replaced by Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo on the council the moment he, Todt, departed Ferrari.
Then, the protocol of the elections requires that a candidate nominate his/her (the gender issue is visited below) 'slate' of deputy and vice presidents plus senate members, meaning that those defeated along with the losing presidential candidate have no chance of holding higher office in the winner's councils regardless of their abilities and competencies.
Thus the situation exists where the extremely capable Herman Tomczyk and his club, Germany's Deutsche Motorsport Bund, hold no office in the World Motor Sport Council despite the country's considerable contributions to motoring and motorsport. In any other system Vatanen's nomination for Deputy President Sport would have been accommodated in a 'shadow' role.
While Vatanen, speaking exclusively to this column after the elections, admitted he seriously underestimated his opposition's (and the governing body's) resistance to a new order, the fact remains that he did have powerful allies, and with these now having no or only muted voices on both the FIA's councils, a sense of dissatisfaction could very well surface sooner rather than later.
There is talk that the likes of AAA, Germany's ADAC and Japan's JAF will break away from the FIA and go their own way via a mobility alliance - a sort of motorists' FOTA. From a motorsport perspective - and this is a motorsport column - this holds both positive and negative implications.
While a breakaway will not directly affect international motorsport - if anything it would allow the FIA to concentrate on its primary mandate, namely to administer motorsport and its own world championships - such a move could seriously weaken the FIA's clout as a motorists' lobbying and umbrella organisation, to the ultimate detriment of the FIA's standing when it comes to anti-motorsport legislation, as is bound to occur years down the line.
That is not the only challenge facing Todt's presidency - and a split within the organisation is the last thing any president wishes for on his watch, particularly when his predecessor worked so hard to unite the FIA and FISA, its then-sporting wing - for, in addition to the litigious challenges outlined here last week, there is the matter of the make-up of the FIA's two world councils.
Given the FIA's well-publicised 'Every Race' campaign, it would be good for one of its councils to feature an ethnic African. Yes, the World Motorsport Council does feature a Tanzanian representative, who is, though, of Asian extraction, and for reasons best known to Surinder Thatti, he does not represent his home country of Kenya. So, the global motoring and motorsport body includes an entire continent without ethnic representation - and, just to be totally clear, we're not talking Antarctica here...
Given that women successfully compete in all branches of motorsport, they should surely enjoy representation on the World Motor Sport Council, yet all portfolios are filled by males. Yes, Sweden's Maria Spetz has been elected to the 26-member Mobility council, but, given that females undertake around 40 per cent of the world's motoring activities, surely they are deserving of better representation than one-tenth that?
Ironically, during the very weekend that saw Great Britain's Graham Stoker confirmed as Deputy President for Sport - and thus the single-most powerful figure in motorsport - Bernie Ecclestone, a member of the WMSC on account of his status as commercial rights' holder, opined that Stoker's home country did not need a grand prix when asked about progress in talks with Silverstone in the wake of the Donington debacle. The silence from the WMSC in this regard has been deafening.
Max Mosley and Jean Todt
In his election manifesto Todt alluded to the appointment of commissioners for the FIA's various world championships - all of which have suffered severely of late, what with the FIA/FOTA war at mid-season; a dearth of entries and manufacturers in the World Rally Championship, coupled with a thin calendar on account of the contentious rota system; and a World Touring Car Championship in which two major manufacturers are dithering over petrol/diesel equivalence factors which this year were seemingly changed on a whim.
None of this should, though, affect Formula 1, for Schedule 9 of the Concorde Agreement, which provides the guidelines for the governance of the premier category, is said to be bullet-proof. Certainly, when asked about the effects of a Todt presidency, various team principals unanimously indicated their confidence that the constant rule changes which blighted Formula 1 in the past have stayed right there - in the past.
In fact, in this respect Todt has allies in unlikely places. That the former Ferrari team boss made life extremely uncomfortable for McLaren's senior management during the 2007 espionage affair is a matter of record, yet the British team's principal Martin Whitmarsh was optimistic that the Todt's widespread experience would lead to constructive dialogue between the governing body and FOTA.
In the Abu Dhabi paddock the sport's full spectrum - from team bosses through drivers to sponsors and the media - made no bones about the fact that F1 faced a new dawn, one where managerial and current motorsport experience, and not politics and polarisation, set the agenda. In fact, the overwhelming sentiment is that he is precisely the sort of president the governing body as it faces a new ear. 'Cometh the hour, cometh the man,' said one.
Still, challenges, challenges and yet more challenges for Todt. When first he assumed control of Ferrari in 1993, the Scuderia was in total disarray. It took eight years and the combined skills of Michael Schumacher and technical wizards Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne to turn the team into the record-setting fighting machine it became in the 21st century. Todt's tenure as FIA president is four years, with a maximum of four years thereafter...
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South African-born Dieter trained as industrial engineer before holding down a variety of senior motor industry marketing and manufacturing positions. At the age of 40 he decided to follow his passion, and became the first and only South African journalist to cover Formula 1 regularly. Dieter joined AtlasF1 at the beginning of 2004 – a year prior to its merger with Autosport – and his regular column offers an intriguing analysis of F1’s politicking and commercial chicanery. Although now also proudly Belgian, he gives his domicile as "Wherever F1 duplicity lurks".@RacingLines More features by Dieter Rencken