Ari Vatanen is back in the spotlight after confirming he will stand for president of the FIA in October
After months of controversy over the future of the sport, the former world rally champion says it's time for a change in the FIA.
AUTOSPORT heard from Vatanen on his ideas for the future of the governing body.
Q. Why have you decided to stand for the FIA presidency?
Ari Vatanen: Because I honestly think that I have the credentials for a change that is needed at the FIA.
Q. Why is a change needed?
AV: Any organisation when the time goes on, they need a change. You need a new captain who can restore people's faith in the organisation. The FIA is a fantastic family, and we have to defend everything from the billion automobilists on our planet to the top of the pyramid, which is the great sport of ours.
Q. So you think people have lost faith with the FIA?
AV: Well, members of the FIA, they are frustrated at the moment and we must not now throw dirt on anybody, and not find who was at fault. We must look forward, but it is true that recently there has been too much of a battleground instead of common ground for all of us family members to come together and find solution. Solutions can only be found through dialogue and negotiations, because we are all in the same boat. Otherwise, we are in a destructive mood.
Q. You are using the Obama slogan - yes we can. Do you feel you have a similar campaign, or are you an outside contender?
AV: No, I don't think by any means that I am an outside campaigner. The official candidacy is so fresh, and it was only known yesterday. But it is like anything else in life - you need a kind of lighting conductor, and maybe I can be in this situation a lightning conductor. If people don't know that there is an alternative, then what can they do? People's frustrations, they hopes, they cannot be analysed on anything. Now we will see what kind of movement I can create. It is not for the sake of Ari Vatanen, it is for the sake of the FIA.
Q. Do you expect to be standing against Max Mosley or against Jean Todt?
AV: I am going for the opening which is within the FIA, in order to renew the FIA. Who else is running with me, that remains to be seen. This is not a personal battle between me and somebody else. I haven't got anything to lose, and this is a noble cause.
The FIA as a whole, people don't even realise what the FIA represents. It is much more than 'F1'A. It is for one billion automobilists, and at the other end you have the F1 guys. It is a fantastic family, and the health of that family just in a political decision-making to start with is so important. If this mode of transport is not treated correctly in the political decision-making, then the entire F1 family is not doing well - including the car manufacturers and including our sport. So you have to take care of the entire family, so that is why this cause is noble.
And you need to go for it. You don't count the possible end result whether you win it or don't win it - that does not determine whether you embark on it or not. People who started a fight for any good cause in life, they had an inner conviction and they went for it.
Q. You have to name a cabinet for the election. Is that going to come soon?
AV: Of course that system has been made to protect the incumbent president, and if I got there one day, then that would be the first thing I would change - so people could get rid of me easier than what is possible now. But I am not too worried about it - because once the movement for change, for a new start, for a new deal for the FIA family starts then people will come on board.
Q. How have you found the reception to your news in the paddock?
AV: Well, as expected and as I knew, very positive. But we must not fool yourself - you do not have a vote. You can help the good cause, but the automobile clubs are the ones who are voting. They are the owners of FIA, and we must respect them.
Manufacturers are seeing it as though they are on the other side of the barrier. Who gives us toys to play in rallying or F1, if it is not for the manufacturers. And manufacturers, it says they can come and go which is true, but they only come and go if we as a regulator do not give them a sensible working environment. They are responsible for running their business correctly, and if it cannot be done in the sport - they will use the marketing money somewhere else.
If the daily life within our sport is nothing but battles, as it has been recently, they have better things to do. So we must make sure that they stay in the sport.
Q. As far as the member clubs are concerned, there is a situation at the moment where the AAA have the same number of votes as the Ugandans. Is that something you would change?
AV: It is a comforting fact that AAA and its president Bob Darbelnet is my strongest supporter, starting from there. One of the things is that it would have to be a voting procedure like in the proposed European constitution, that in order to get your decisions done you need to meet two criteria - 50 percent of the number of countries support you and 50 percent of the members support you. So you take both into account - the big member states and the number of countries. Currently it is very biased towards small countries, as under this system I need to go canvassing votes from the small countries.
Q. So are you going to go on a trip around the world?
AV: Of course, but you cannot do it alone. You need to do it through your trusted people on various continents. People tend to vote in blocs, but once the wind starts changing then it gather momentum very fast.
Q. What kind of president would you anticipate being, well aware that eight teams are currently frustrated with the current FIA form of governance?
AV: Well, okay it is true that in the past two years we have been much more in a battleground than the common ground. I would say very simply to reconciliate, and the result is to be unified. It is as simple as that. We must not complicate things unnecessarily. It cannot be the state where personal ego trips, or the wins in power battles for glory or whatever, determines the future of our sport.
The parallel F1 circuit is for real, and if that did materialise that would be the end of the FIA as we know - and everybody would lose including those on the parallel circuit. So it is the 11th hour to start applying commonsense, and maybe a bit of humility and forgiveness would not be bad either.
Q. Are you running because you have been frustrated by what you've seen from Max recently?
AV: No, I wouldn't say so. My philosophy in life is I do whatever I can. I am active, which is not the same as being ambitious. The thing is you listen to your heart, you have your convictions and you go for it. You engage yourself and then you will see.
The end result what happens on October 23, we will see. That remains to be seen. All I know is that me and the people with me, and the number is growing, we have a noble cause.
Q. You said in your press statement yesterday that it is time for change. So you must feel something is not right in the FIA at present?
AV: Yes of course that is true. But I will never throw dirt on Max either. I have a very good relationship with him. I totally disagree with many of the things that he has done, and he probably disagrees with me. But that is on another level. As a human being, it is not for man to condemn. If man starts condemning other men, then he gets condemned himself. We must keep this on a professional level, and that is what the FIA needs - unbiased professional management now.
Q. Do you think the fans need to be heard a little bit as well?
AV: Obviously, because you see the frustration among fans everywhere. People must be able to be proud of their family and that is not the case today. But this is not to blame whose fault it is - it is a time to get ourselves together for the sake of our noble family.
Q. Have you spoken to Max since announcing you were standing?
AV: Not today, but for example I sent a text to him yesterday. People somehow too quickly say that if you disagree with somebody that you cannot be with him on a personal level. No. I know how fragile life is - why would I waste my time in life to be on bad terms with somebody. We must be correct and we must be independent. Regardless of who is in the game, as long as you are an independent person then you can fight for a good cause and you can also swim against the current. And in this game you have to swim against the current.
Q. Did Max Mosley reply?
AV: Yeah of course he did. I replied to an earlier message and asked him if he was going to be here, and he said no. I think he was rather relieved not to be here.
Q. Can a president continue to rule the FIA if there is a previous president still involved in the hierarchy of the organisation?
AV: Well that is a hypothetical assumption. I really am an independent person. I would have my own team in place. But that would not exclude the advice of people. You must work on the positive sides of people and not on the negative side. Obviously I would have my own team in place because in order to restore confidence and faith in the FIA, you need new people, you need new teams. That is clear, and that is for the sake of our family - which is far greater than many people will realise.
Q. Have you heard if Jean Todt is going to stand for FIA president?
AV: Well as far as I understand, Jean Todt and I have had a very close life. If Max Mosley is standing then as far as I understand there is no place for Jean Todt to stand. If Max Mosley doesn't stand then maybe Jean will throw his hat in the ring - but that remains to be seen. But I know where I am trying to go, and that is what I am interested in. I don't look left and right.
Q. You have mentioned the AAA is one of your biggest supporters. What about ADAC?
AV: Well, it is not any secret - things have happened in such a short time frame that I have only been able to discuss things on the telephone. Tomorrow morning I will meet Mr. [Peter] Meyer and [Hermann] Tomczyk physically, and I think the signs are positive.
Q. Is there any chance of Jean Todt running in your team?
AV: Well I think that is once again, my personal relationship and professional relationship are two different things. At the moment it doesn't look likely, but we must not put the wagon before the horse. One thing at a time.
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