Todt defends FIA reign against criticism from Ben Sulayem

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Former FIA president Jean Todt has broken his silence on Mohammed Ben Sulayem's criticisms of his leadership, dismissing them as baseless while expressing disappointment in the portrayal of his legacy.

A year ago, Ben Sulayem, who succeeded Todt at the close of 2021, revealed that his first order of business upon taking office at the FIA was to deal with a $20 million cash deficit and with an unexpected legal case involving a patent dispute over the Halo cockpit protection device.

At the time, Todt remained silent on his successor’s allegations, but in a recent interview with French daily L'Equipe, the Frenchman publicly addressed the claims – and is anything but happy with how his tenure at the helm of the FIA has been portrayed by Bel Sulayem.

Todt attributing the deficit to the economic impact of the Covid crisis but emphasized the strenuous efforts he had undertaken during the pandemic to ensure the survival of both the FIA and Formula 1.

He refuted the negative portrayal of the financial state of the FIA during his tenure, asserting that the organization's overall finances were considerably stronger at the end of his presidency than they were at the beginning.

“When I left, there must have been more than 250 million Euros in reserves,” Todt told L'Equipe.

“When I arrived in 2009, there were barely 40m [Euro], although the FIA had just ceded the commercial rights to F1 for a hundred years a few years earlier.

“I don't call it a deficit. When I left, the budget had been multiplied by almost three, with many new competitions and sources of income, such as Formula E, the World Endurance Championship or the Rally Raid Championship.”

Todt admitted that the patent dispute involving the Halo, a crucial safety element developped and imposed under his tenure, was an open case when he left the FIA.

“It is true that we left one dispute unfinished when I left, the Halo trial,” he added.

“But it wasn't swept under the rug. It was well documented and monitored by our services; we presented it to the senate and the world council before I left, and the current president attended this presentation.

“This was a lawsuit brought in Texas by an engineer who owned a patent that was only valid in the United States and for a short time. So when I left, there was nothing secret. And only one ongoing case, that one.

"But I wasn't surprised, I knew who my successor was. I know the character.”

In response to whether he felt bothered by Ben Sulayem voicing criticisms of his leadership, Todt remarked: “No, it doesn't matter to me. And then it's smoke,” he said.

“I start from the principle that when one chapter closes, another opens and we do not allow ourselves to attack its predecessor. Whether leaving Peugeot, Ferrari or the FIA, I never said a bad word. There is no point in launching into allegations, especially when they are false.

“The reality is what I just told you. And I will add something regarding the revenues of the FIA: it was under my presidency that the Hundred Year Agreement and Concorde Agreements between the FIA and F1 were renegotiated before Liberty Media became the owner of FOM [Formula One Management].

“Without going into detail, I can tell you that the income received by the Federation has very clearly increased compared to before. And its position in the governance of F1 has also been restored. It now has a third of the votes, along with FOM and the teams. It's night and day with previous agreements.

“You can't stop someone from criticising or disagreeing. But everything I have done during my presidency has always been approved by the senate and the world councils.”

Todt believes that the present FIA administration has taken a markedly different path under Ben Sulayem's leadership, which has led to criticism from various quarters within Formula 1 of the Emirati’s management and style.

“Everything that was put in place during my mandate was turned upside down,” Todt said.

"First of all, I was an ‘operational’ president, meaning I would spend 350 days a year between the Geneva and Paris offices and travelling.

"I’d attend a few Grands Prix but would travel around the world visiting the clubs. I think the only country I never visited was Eritrea."

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