FIA Presidential hopeful Ari Vatanen has likened his election campaign to that of new US President Barack Obama against Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Party nomination race last year, as he prepares to do battle with Jean Todt for the honour of being voted into the most influential post in international motor racing later this month.
Last week, outgoing president Max Mosley – who, like F1 commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone and a number of other high-profile figures within the top flight, has publicly backed controversial former Ferrari team principal Todt for the role – launched a stinging attack on Vatanen in a letter to HRH Prince Feisal Al Hussein of Jordan in which he warned the 1981 World Rally Champion that he 'will lose the election and lose badly' for having made powerful enemies in spreading 'insults' and 'untruths' and choosing to 'denigrate the FIA and those currently in office' [see separate story – click here
Vatanen has since hit back, describing Mosley's outburst as 'another sad episode' and one all-too typical of the current regime of autocracy and fear that he claims will only be perpetuated should his rival Todt be chosen to replace the long-serving present incumbent, who has held the position for 16 years [see separate story – click here
A number of observers have questioned just how fair, credible and democratic the election is likely to be in the light of the latest development, with the letter – in which Vatanen supporters were threatened with marginalisation in the event of a Todt victory – regarded as an effort to convince them to switch their allegiance. The Finn, however – whose primary mantra is that of change and a fresh start – remains confident it will be he who has the last laugh when the new president's identity is revealed in Paris on 23 October.
“It happens in smaller elections too,” he told British newspaper The Guardian
, “and this is a Barack Obama thing happening – we believe we have more than half of the votes already, and there is a tendency the tide has turned. The [Todt] camp has been very faithful to tactics [Mosley has] employed over the years. He has said from the word go that it's a foregone conclusion – but you cannot control people's minds when a fair election is possible.
“I know what the situation is, and I am at peace with myself. We're giving people hope and they are grabbing it. The letter implies what is at stake in this election. It is not just two men; it's a question of two worlds. [Todt's is] a legacy of a culture and the continuity of that, but with Max's letter I have a new slogan – 'If you don't want change, then don't vote for me'.”
Indeed, it is believed that far from canvassing extra support for Todt, Mosley's letter – and in particular its tone, given that it was addressed to a senior member of a ruling royal family – has in actual fact backfired in turning the Arab nations away from the Frenchman and galvanising their belief that Vatanen is the man for the job. According to Mishaal Al-Sudairy, chairman of the Saudi Arabia Motor Federation, the 57-year-old can now count upon 80 per cent of Arabic votes – and a letter has subsequently been sent to Mosley calling for an outside body to be brought in to oversee the vote to ensure that there is no manipulation of it.
“In the interests of democracy, transparency and integrity, we must be sure that this election is held in a fair and open environment through a secret ballot, and under close third-party supervision,” underlined key Vatanen supporter Price Faisal.
“The way in which I was pressurised was inappropriate,” added fellow campaign team member Jack Wavamunno, president of the Ugandan motor sport federation. “I support Ari because I truly believe he is the best candidate for Uganda and Africa, but I was very saddened with the way that his opposition tried to convince me otherwise through threats and by other means.”