Todt elected president of FIA, beating Vatanen

Former Ferrari team chief Jean Todt was elected by an overwhelming margin Friday to replace Max Mosley as president of motor racing’s governing body, but the Frenchman said he has no plans to make radical changes.

The 63-year-old Todt beat Finnish candidate Ari Vatanen 135-49 in the voting thanks to strong backing from his close friend Mosley and Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone.

Todt was elected to a four-year term. The FIA said 12 votes were ruled as invalid or abstentions.

Todt appears unlikely to make a clean break from Mosley’s leadership, saying he wants time to work out his top priorities for Formula One and other issues.

“I am against the idea of changing everything,” he said. “Have a look, understand, try to understand exactly how the FIA works and its ramifications. We will have to work with all the clubs to unify the FIA.”

Todt does hope to see the French Grand Prix return to the race calendar as quickly as possible.

“That will be part of the dossiers I will look at,” he said. “I wish France to have a Formula One Grand Prix.”

Todt takes over a body that has been rocked by a number of scandals in F1 and a highly publicized sex scandal involving Mosley.

Todt responded to questions about how he would clean up the sport’s image by saying people must learn from their own mistakes.

“I hope all the controversies have opened the eyes of a lot of people in this business,” Todt said.

The 57-year-old Vatanen, a former world rally and Paris-Dakar champion, had pledged to rid F1 of its scandals and bring more transparency to the FIA.

The Finn 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.”

Todt’s margin of victory was even larger than expected, and underlined just how much he retained his popularity despite a bitter battle with Vatanen in the weeks leading up to the election.

“I can only thank Max Mosley, who after 16 years in charge considered me the best candidate,” Todt said. “I didn’t ask him to, unlike the other candidate (Vatanen).”

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.”

Todt 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.

Todt said the German was “like a son” to him, and that he would be happy to work alongside him, although he did not say in what capacity.

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 even 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.”