20 February 2019

A hard-nosed individual. Fascinating F1 Facts: 83

The FIA President Jean Todt has run teams which have won pretty much everything there is to win in international motorsport. He was a co-driver with Jean-Pierre Beltoise when they won the 1970 Tour de France in a Matra (the first two stages having been driven by Patrick Depailler because Beltoise was away racing F1 cars in Canada). He then became Jean-Pierre Nicolas's co-driver with Alpine and co-drove with many of the great rally drivers of the era, notably Rauno Aaltonen, Ove Andersson, Achim Warmbold, Hannu Mikkola and Guy Frequelin. He then retired and set up a new competition department for Peugeot, which went on to win the World Rally Championship twice with Peugeot 205 Turbo 16. Then he turned Peugeot to rally-raids and won four Paris-Dakar victories with the 205 and its successor the 405. The cars also enjoyed success on the famous American hillclimb at Pike's Peak. Todt was always very efficiency and not much bothered by the romantic idea of sportsmanship. Winning was all that mattered. This hard-nosed attitude was highlighted on the 1989 Paris-Dakar.

There was never much doubt when the cars left Paris on Christmas Day 1988 that Peugeot would win the event. When the rally reached Africa, the cars began to pull away from the rest of the field. When they reached Agadez Peugeot stars Jacky Ickx and Ari Vatenen were two hours ahead of the nearest challenger, but separated by just a few minutes. From Agadez to Tahoua and on to Gao Vatanen was untouchable, but on the last stage before Gao he rolled his 405 ...but he still won the stage by five minutes.

Ickx was still a couple of minutes ahead but as evening fell that day in Gao Todt called his drivers together and explained that the race had to stop. There were six days still to go. He decided to settle the victory with the toss of a 10 franc piece: heads would mean victory for Vatanen; tails would give the win to Ickx. Neither driver was happy but Todt was the boss. Vatanen won the toss. The media following the event were outraged but Todt was unrepentant. He was there, he explained, to win and this was the best way to do it. He didn't seem to understand why people were outraged. Success was all that mattered. The bosses at Peugeot would be happy. They did not care whether the Finn or the Belgian was ahead. A 1-2 was a 1-2. Such is business. Things were not easy, however, because on the penultimate day, Vatanen managed to get lost and accidentally handed Ickx a 20 second lead. Ickx was determined to make a point and drove hard on the last day, but he stopped short of the finish line on both sections, waiting to allow Vatanen to turn up and cross the line first. Perhaps he hoped that Vatanen had crashed again and Todt would instruct him to win if a rival challenger was threatening the victory.

Perhaps it is this kind of uncompromising approach that made Todt so successful. After the Dakar he took Peugeot to win the World Sportscar Championship and the Le Mans 24 Hours. He wanted to create a Peugeot Formula 1 team but the board baulked at the costs. Todt's uncompromising nature ment that he decided to move on, having received an offer to join Ferrari. Peugeot did eventually enter F1 as an engine supplier, but it did not work out very well. Todt went to Ferrari and cherry-picked a number of Peugeot engineers to join him. He then recruited Michael Schumacher and members of the Benetton team which had been highly controversial in 1994 when Schumacher won the title by nerfing Damon Hill off the track. Together they built a tem capable of dominating the sport and winning Schumacher five World Championships between 2000 and 2004. Todt's approach remained uncompromising. Schumacher's team-mates were expected to what they were told to do, which caused problems on occasion but it was the most efficient way.

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