Jean Todt, Ferrari’s boss during their glorious days in F1 and the present president of Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) on his relationship with Michael Schumacher, thrills of motorsports and passion for making roads safer in a chat with Mitrajit Bhattacharya during his visit to Hyderabad on the occasion of Travel with Style the Old Fashioned Way with Cartier
Take us back to your special relationship with Michael Schumacher and what it meant for Ferrari over the years.
With Michael it started as a working relationship and then it moved to very friendly and intimate nature as we shared some success in racing and some common passions. And among them has been the passion of watches.
What did you discussed with Michael on watches?
We discussed many things very often including specification of watches. Particularly the ones made for us as limited edition pieces by the respective brands we endorse/d.
Among the current lot of F1 drivers, who do you think has the same ethics and passion of Michael?
Each person is different. Each one has his own way of thinking. But they have some common traits. These people are very focused, very talented, very motivated, very passionate, very engaged, and that’s the only way to have success in a competitive sport like F1.
How do you see the evolution of F1 after Bernie’s tenure as a long-standing boss?
It’s another chapter in the history of F1. The chapter with Bernie as the Commercial Rights Holder of F1 had been a very long and successful chapter. And now it will be a new commercial leadership and we are going to work together, between FIA and the new group under the authority of Chase Carey to take F1 to the next level.
Are you confident of the new leadership?
I am confident, very confident.
How have the evolution of hybrid engines and constant tinkering of rules at F1 helped the sport’s popularity?
I would say motor racing is a unique sport. It’s not like tennis or football because here it’s a combination of a man and a machine. And of course the machine has to follow the evolution of time. Here we are surrounded by fascinating classic cars but now in modern cars you speak about hybrid technology, electric technology, fuel cell, connected cars. So clearly motor racing has to be a laboratory for that. And that’s why in different championships- in Formula 1 you have hybrid technology; in Formula E you have electric technology; in rallying you have different technology. So as I said it’s the evolution of time.
Do you attribute your legendary success at the world’s fastest sport to your quick thinking abilities and number crunching capabilities as a mental math genius?
All of us have our pluses and minuses and probably among my pluses, I have quite a well-organized brain. I have a good relationship with numbers and that has helped me a lot.
Any major trends or forecast for the upcoming season of F1?
We will have introduction of new regulations with wider cars, wider tyres, pointier noses, lower rear wings, more down force among others. It would be interesting to see how it works out but until the first race in Melbourne, it’s always a question mark. So we are very much waiting to see how it will be with those new cars, with teams, some of them with different drivers this year. I think that’s what makes this sport so interesting when you don’t know what it is going to happen.
Coming to classic cars and why we are here today, how has been your relationship with Cartier Travel with Style?
With Cartier I have been friends since long. They are passionate about elegance, culture, and are very much involved with us at all the levels through their Foundation where they very often host great events on contemporary art and images. They make a unique Concours d’Elegance and it’s a great heritage. Coming to India, you have the culture of history on architecture, on cars. It’s very exciting to see cars we have never seen before and witness the passion of the owners. Sometimes they rebuild them with very high levels of maintenance. Also it is a huge responsibility because it’s part of the motor industry culture.
Do you like classic cars because you work with fast cars?
I love old cars. When I was a teenager I used to dream of them. In fact, I still dream of them. Now I have a different approach towards cars because I think of them as modes of mobility. A car can be dangerous. With so many cars, bicycles and motorbikes on the road you need to be very cautious.
I will come to the safety issues later. Did you like any special cars here; something that have stolen your heart?
My heart goes with cars of the 60s to 90s, even the present-day ones. I am not so attracted to very old cars. My attraction towards cars began with the introduction of disc brakes.
Moving onto the safety on our roads, you have done some work as a UNSG representative. So how has been your experience of working in India?
India is one of the two biggest countries in the world in terms of population together with China. In India over 200,000 people die on the road every year. You have millions of people who are severely injured. It’s a big concern and I really encourage and urge the government to put road safety on top of the list. We have the prescriptions. Not enough has been done with regard to education, law enforcement, road infrastructure, vehicles, post-crash care etc. Since I came last now I see wearing seat belt has become more common. Passengers in rear seats hardly put their safety belts. Motorbike passengers don’t have helmets too. There is still a lot to be done. Issues like over-speeding, drunk-driving, driving with hand-phones need to be urgently addressed.
So how is the government responding to your suggestions?
They know about it and I really hope that they will make some emergency plans. I know that the Transport Minister has very high ambitions on decreasing the number of victims on the road. But ambition isn’t enough. You need actions.
Would you like to tell me about the UN Safety Fund and its precise role?
Last April the member states declared the UN Road Safety Fund. It has combined contribution from public and private sectors. We are working on that to make it happen. Billions of dollars are spent to keep the world safe from deadly diseases like HIV AIDS, Malaria, Tuberculosis, Ebola, Zika etc and rightly so but very little has been allocated to road safety. We plan to initiate very strong program on road safety around the world.
What is your view of Hyderabad as a city where we are having the Travel with Style this year?
I love the Indian culture, its people, its heritage and I am very happy to be here. I am concerned about air pollution which needs to be addressed.
How many days in a month are you on a plane?
Not so many. I have an office in Paris, another in Geneva. I travel about 50 percent of my time.