Jean Todt was elected president of motor racing’s governing body FIA on Friday, defeating Finnish candidate Ari Vatanen.
Todt was the heavy favorite after receiving the backing of outgoing FIA president Max Mosley and Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone.
The 63-year-old Frenchman was elected to a four-year term, topping Vatanen 135-49 in the voting at FIA’s annual general meeting in Paris. The FIA said 12 votes were ruled as invalid or abstentions.
“I am relieved, because it was a very trying experience,” Todt said. “I am very happy to see that so many countries around the world supported my candidature.”
He pledged to appoint a commissioner to help with daily running of the organization, and an independent disciplinary panel.
“The success in my career has been to find the right people in the right place and build a strong team,” he said.
Todt is a former Ferrari team principal who revived the fortunes of the flagging Italian team and led it during seven-time champion Michael Schumacher’s era. He also worked on FIA’s World Motor Sport Council.
“It’s positive, very positive,” said Schumacher, who had openly backed Todt, when leaving the meeting after the vote.
Todt will seek to restore stability to a body that has been rocked by a number of controversies in F1 and a sex scandal involving Mosley.
The 57-year-old Vatanen, a former world rally and Paris-Dakar champion, had pledged to rid F1 of its scandals and bring transparency to the FIA.
He said after the vote that he feared the FIA was in for more of the same after electing Todt.
“I really doubt he will be able to give a new start to the FIA, but let’s hope I’m wrong,” Vatanen said. “Jean Todt has a lot of qualities but, if he wants to leave his footprints on the FIA, he has got to renew it. And if he doesn’t get rid of the ancient guard and all the people who worked with Mosley, he won’t succeed.”
The Formula One Teams Association congratulated Todt on his victory, with its chairman Luca di Montezemolo urging him to “restore a climate open to dialogue and constructive collaboration” with the teams.
FOTA clashed with Mosley this season over a proposed budget cap, and threatened to create a breakaway series next year.
“Formula One is about to embark on a new phase,” di Montezemolo said in a statement. “All the stakeholders must work together with an eye to the future, to increase the credibility and interest generated by this sport.”
Mosley is stepping down after 16 years in charge of the FIA.
“I am happy with the outcome of the vote because the FIA is in very good hands, and Jean Todt is very capable of handling the job,” Mosley told The Associated Press. “He is a very honest and direct man. We couldn’t have had someone better than him.”