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Todt On The Future Of The FIA WEC

The FIA's President talks cost control, manufacturer interest, future technology and a World Championship for DTM/Super GT

On race day for the WEC at Spa-Francorchanps earlier this month, DSC was invited to a media round table discussion with the FIA President Jean Todt. There he was asked a variety of questions, most about the future regulations for the FIA WEC’s top class, and what the focus will be for the FIA WEC going forward to secure its future and drive manufacturer interest.

Here’s the full transcript of the round table, with the answers he gave to all the key questions, in full:

How would you describe the relationship between the ACO and FIA these days?

“Very good. I mean, the ACO is the commercial rights holder for the World Endurance Championship.

“I’ve known the people since before I was elected President of the FIA, and one of the first things I did, was establish a contact, because in the FIA championship panel, endurance was missing, and for me the ACO was a natural partner with the most iconic endurance race.

“And at the time it was with Jean-Claude Plassart and Pierre Fillon, and we rapidly came to an agreement.

“So far it’s been a very happy wedding. With every marriage there’s always problems, endurance championships have always been difficult to host.”

Toyota is the last manufacturer to compete with hybrid technology, and they will leave one day. Isn’t it a pity if they leave? Isn’t it better to show this technology here rather than in Formula One races?

“I was just saying that it’s a difficult championship to host. Probably the increase of cost has made some manufacturers disappear. We are in an emergency situation. Being in an emergency situation, means we have to find some innovative solutions to prepare for the future and that’s where we are.

“I’m quite pleased, we are working constructively, and in harmony together. We’ve found good solutions for the ‘Super’ championship. And for the start of the 2020/2021 season, we are quite optimistic to have very good solutions.”

Cost, you mentioned the aspect of cost which caused the decline of the current LMP1 generation. How will you keep that under control in the future?

We’ve found good solutions for the ‘Super’ championship. And for the start of the 2020/2021 season, we are quite optimistic to have very good solutions

“People are working, and we have some very good ideas about drastically reducing the costs of participating at the highest level of endurance championships that would be very attractive to manufacturers. It’s not specific to endurance championships. Any category in the FIA. Look at Germany, championships are struggling, globally it’s something which needs to be addressed, because the risk is to lose the manufacturers and eventually to lose championships.

Is a cost-cap a tool which should be utilised?

“I will not get into the detail, how we can achieve it. But clearly we want to find ways of drastically decreasing the cost and making it more attractive to manufacturers and private competitors.”

Along these lines, you mention 2020/2021, which is also key for Formula One. Can you see there being a rationalisation between the two technologies to becoming any closer to reality?

“Ideally that would be good. But practically it’s not always easy. You have things you could implement which would make some sense. But when you get into the details, I’ve discussed it.

“The example, you speak about Formula One, and at the moment we are talking about the number of engine manufacturers involved. I think it’s outstanding to have four at the moment, you know, so we want also make sure they will stay and encourage new ones. But it’s very difficult to encourage engine suppliers to invest to supply two or one team.

“So of course if you have the oppourtunity of selling or giving the engines to other categories in motorsport it would make sense. But then you have other problems that appear, it’s not easy. Clearly it’s amongst possibilities to reduce costs. You have standardisations with common parts and to try to have regulations which would allow this to exchange.

“In principal we want it, but in reality it’s not so easy.”

How many manufacturers would you consider to be a success to have involved in the new regulations for LMP1?

To start considering doing something you need to have a minumum of three manufacturers

“The reason I was a few minutes late is because this is something I’ve been discussing. I will say, I mean, to start considering – it’s not a success – but to start considering doing something you need to have a minumum of three manufacturers. Being a success, you have 10. We have a lot of categories in motorsport where we have 10 manufacturers involved.”

Overall or just in LMP1?

“In endurance we have a lot of manufacturers. Look in GT. The top category of the championship, taking into account what needs to be taken into account, I could forsee without being overly optimistic, five to seven manufacturers. Not in LMP1, in the top category of endurance.”

You mean in the WEC?

“LMP1, it’s easy to change the number. But at the moment LMP1 is the top category. In the future we will still have a top category, but it’s not a given that it will remain the same.”

Can you imagine a real fight between a constructor and a private team in the current championship?

“Yes. In the present time? In LMP1?”

Yes.

“Honestly I’m not familiar enough, I can’t answer you. From what I am told, it is possible.”

Continuing on the same theme of 2020/2021 and the new regulations. Is it a requirement that you would like to see privateers battle with the manufacturers?

“Of course. Ideally that’s the most attractive situation. Whether it’s possible or not is a different matter. Clearly, even if we want to drop the budgets, it’s a significant amount of money to find. So, it’s not easy, to find money it’s not easy, whether you’re a manufacturer or not. It’s not easy to find sponsors. It’s not easy but it’s possible.”

Do you think you can maintain for these years coming up numbers in GTE and LMP2 in the WEC or not?

“I do. I think in a way it’s a good distribution to have a top category which will be clearly different and have an intermediate category which today is called LMP2. We have a lot of teams competing with an affordable budget. And to have a lot of GT cars competing it’s good. What I would prefer, is to have less gap. Sometimes it’s scary, at Le Mans you see after the first lap you have a group of cars arriving which at the moment is LMP1, then a few seconds behind, another group, then a third. I would like a closer gap.”

Will we see no clash in the future for Le Mans and F1 races?

“Ideally if you can avoid clashes it’s good. But you know you must be realistic. You take each single FIA championship and if you add them you’ll have more than 52 race weekends, and we have only 52 weeks.

“Most of the chamnpionshiops are starting from week 10 until week 47-48, so it makes around 37 weeks, and miracles can’t exist. It’s easy to criticise, to say it’s no good and that it shouldnt happen. In reality there’s no choice sometimes, and you have to accept it.”

One of the recurring themes is always cost and budget caps for each of the categories. You said that sponsors aren’t easy to find, yet they’re all over rugby, football, sailing, arts, culture, whatever. Is motorsport doing enough to market itself to try and attract sponsors and reduce the cost?

“I think you should never be satisfied. The day you think you’ve achieved everything you can go and retire. It’s important to be ambitious and to be as attractive as possible. We are in a competitive world. Every year with the new opportunities of communicating, with new developments and interest.

“There’s clearly new interests and we feel that the average age of fans in motor racing has increased. I speak often with people, when I was young I dreamt of getting my driving licence. Now young people have different interests, I speak very often with young people. They are very passionate at 23, 24, but they never considered to get a driving licence. You have so many different ways of transport. Times are changing, so the interests of sponsors are changing as well.”

Going back to the 2020/2021 regulations, I know there’s been a big push from the ACO to have the same style of regulations to IMSA, to have a global platform on two championships. Is that important to you as well?

“To rationalise it it’s always good. As President of the FIA, my major interest is to make sure we have the best FIA championships.”

As President of the FIA, my major interest is to make sure we have the best FIA championships

How do you see the WEC in world motorsports’ hierarchy? And how high can it go in terms of relevancy from 2020/2021 onwards?

“We must be ambitious for every category of motorsport, starting from karting. We are very well equipped now, with a karting championship, drifting, rallying, single-seaters, endurance, Formula E, touring cars. We need to make sure all of them are at their best. Where I see the endurance championship, is that it’s unique, because it’s around endurance.”

There’s discussion about Super GT, DTM and the Class 1 regulations, having the same technical regulations. Both top managements told us they’d like to have a world championship in the future. Do the governing bodies talk with you about it?

“Ideally, that would be a good achievement. Practically I’m not sure it can happen. If it could happen with some clear guidance of what is an FIA World Championship, I would be happy to consider it. We have been considering that, but I will not accept compromise. If it has to accept compromise, then it will not happen.”

Back to technology, we have different tech for different categories. In the future what’s the tech for endurance racing? Hydrogen?

“Hydrogen is very interesting technology. At the moment for reasons I don’t understand completely, it’s not yet ready, even on road cars. But for us it is absolutely essential. We will monitor it carefully, any type of new technology, which could be available. And we are looking carefully at hydrogen and other technology.”