Saturday, February 20, 2010

A few words with Jean Todt in Singapore

Motorsports' chief says he wants the sport to once again emphasise drivers' skill

Barring injury or some other huge misfortune, Michael Schumacher will be flying past City Hall in a Mercedes GP car in the third Formula 1 SingTel Singapore Grand Prix.There is little doubt motorsports fever has hit Singapore, and new FIA president Jean Todt believes the man he brought to Ferrari in 1996 will light up Singapore streets.

Speaking to MediaCorp, Todt said: "Singapore has been very brave to make something nobody expected, a Formula 1 Grand Prix on the street at night. "Michael's return will push a lot more people to come watch the race. His return has already brought more interest, sales for the Australian Grand Prix has increased by 25 per cent since it was announced."

Todt was in Singapore last week, the first stop on his Asian tour from Feb 12-22. The Frenchman, who turns 64 next Thursday, took time off to speak with local media at Changi Airport's CIP terminal while waiting for a flight to Malaysia, where he was due to spend the Lunar New Year weekend with his partner, Malaysian action star Michelle Yeoh, and her family.A permanent race track just off Changi Coast Road will be ready in 2012 and Singaporeans will then have the prospect of watching a round of MotoGP and other car races. There is talk of Singapore becoming a motorsports hub in the region, and Todt said: "It takes time. The Singapore GP was a big challenge, and now Singapore wants to create another facility in a little country to demonstrate its interest in racing.
"The (Singapore) Government has shown great support to facilitate (the organisation of the Singapore GP) and I'm respectful of the ambitious programmes that are going to happen.

Todt succeeded Max Mosley as chief of FIA, motor sports' world governing body, last October.
Safety is big on his agenda, considering he mentioned it a few times last week."Singapore is a high-tech country with a lot of innovation and Singaporeans are more educated than average. I think it can send a strong message to the world on how to implement excellence in road safety," he pointed out.
Like little Singapore, the slightly-built Todt has big plans for motorsports' crown jewel, the Formula 1 World Championship. "F1 is one of the greatest sports shows ever, and we are aiming for improvement ... moving towards a bigger focus on driver skill and less on engineering," he claimed. Some rule changes have already been implemented for the 2010 season, and a few are in accordance with Todt's aims.
A ban on refuelling during races, as well as the requirement for drivers who participate in Q3 (the top 10 positions on the grid) to start the race on the same tyres used to set grid time, will put less emphasis on team strategy and more on driver ability.
Said Todt: "F1 is definitely a rich sport, there is no doubt, but it costs too much money and the teams understand that there needs to be a change and that is among my top priorities, to reduce cost. "We could face a situation where there are not enough competitors otherwise." There are four new teams this season, taking the total number to 13 from 10 in 2009.
But the new FIA president is aware that Formula 1 has been tarnished by Spy-gate, Lie-gate and Crash-gate."Formula 1 has to remain a sport even if it has a lot of commercial and marketing impact. I will do all I can to make sure that the sport is transparent and healthy," vowed Todt.
"The sport cannot allow (actions that) put drivers, marshals and spectators at risk and in danger."He is not just serious about his job, Todt actually enjoys it. En route for reunion dinner in Ipoh with his partner, he said: "I've always had to work a lot, but if you like what you do, you don't need a holiday."

by Shamir Osman

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