AUTO #30 - The greatest challenge | Federation Internationale de l'Automobile

AUTO #30 - The greatest challenge

  • gb
04.05.20

From the tragic effects of the global health crisis to the enormous social and economic challenges being faced around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic is touching every aspect of life. The FIA is no exception, but for President Jean Todt, it is in the face of such tests that the strength of the Federation shines through.

Within a little over 100 days the world has been utterly transformed. On December 1, 2019 the World Health Organization was alerted to the presence of a mystery illness in China, though just a handful of people had then fallen ill as a result of infection. Four months later and following the swift spread of the novel coronavirus outbreak, the world is suffering through a pandemic the like of which has not been seen in a century, with over approximately 1.6 million cases and more than 100,000 deaths recorded worldwide.
The escalation of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, characterised as such by the WHO on March 12, has had enormous repercussions, not just in terms of the loss of life but socially and economically as lockdowns and travel restrictions force the closure of borders, the confinement of vast swathes of the global population, the shutdown of businesses and the furloughing of workers worldwide.
No aspect of activity has been untouched by the pandemic, and that includes the worlds of sport and mobility. Motor sport competitions globally have been postponed or cancelled and calendars for almost every sporting championship are being revised. In mobility, meanwhile, bans on all but essential travel and workplace closures have hit motoring organisations hard. As the regulator of motor sport worldwide and the representative of motoring and motor sport club members in 146 countries, the FIA has in turn been deeply affected by the pandemic.
For FIA President Jean Todt the crisis represents an unprecedented challenge, on a global scale and closer to home.

“The crisis that we are living through is unprecedented, and the consequences are being felt all around the world,” he says.

“COVID-19 is causing an unparalleled upheaval of the world as we know it. Priorities will change. Economies have come to a standstill, and so havecities. This pandemic has shaken those beliefs that  we thought were unshakeable. This is not only a health crisis, but also a financial, social, political and human one. Together, we must face and resolve this immense challenge.”
The FIA has been swift to respond to the rapidly-evolving crisis and President Todt points to the launch of the Race Against COVID initiative in partnership with motor sport promoters and championships as a key component of the support being offered by the Federation.

“The strength of the FIA lies in our incredible network,” he explains. “We have 242 Member Clubs worldwide in 146 countries. That adds up to an enormous amount of capability within our family of motor sport and mobility members, and we are ready to harness that power to help in the fight against this terrible pandemic.
“As part of this new initiative, we are mobilising our network of 150 doctors and 290 federation approved hospitals across five continents to co-ordinate the provision of emergency medical equipment in the areas that are most in need of it."

The FIA President also paid tribute to the support initiatives already taking place across the FIA club network.
“The response by our members has been incredible and I’m very proud of the amazing work being done by clubs. Every day brings in more news of efforts to help in a wide variety of ways. From free roadside assistance programmes, to PPE provision and distribution, to local community efforts to help the most vulnerable in our society, FIA Member Clubs are making a real difference.

“The motor sport industry, too, has been swift to turn its skills to the task of providing medical equipment,” he adds. “Once again, I have been impressed by motor sport’s ability to rapidly design, prototype and develop products, such as the ventilators produced by the Formula One teams involved in the Project Pitlane initiative. What is being achieved thanks to the engineering talent that exists within our industry is remarkable.”

Beyond the immediate health crisis, thepandemic is having a severe impact on the wider areas of normal life and the effects stretch deep into the FIA’s sporting and mobility activity. In the world of motor sport, the impact of the crisis was first felt in a global way with the news on February 12 that the F1 Chinese Grand Prix was to be postponed from its April date. Following the China announcement disruption spread rapidly, with the first nine rounds of the 2020 F1 championship either cancelled or postponed, the FIA World Rally Championship paused until July, Season 6 of FIA Formula E suspended and the final rounds of the Season 8 FIA World Endurance Championship pushed back to the last third of the year.
“We hope to be able to reschedule as many races as possible before the end of the year, but there are still too many unknowns to make any announcements yet, and the safety of our drivers, teams and fans is our top priority.
“In F1, the World Motor Sport Council has decided the replacement of the August break by a spring one, which is already underway and now extends to 35 days, and the postponement of the implementation of the new F1 regulations from 2021 to 2022. In Formula E, we have also introduced significant measures to reduce costs, chiefly the deferral of the launch of the Gen2 EVO car to season 2021/22.
“These are just two examples of the steps we are taking across motor sport to try to alleviate pressure points and we will undoubtedly take more as the situation develops. In that regard, the WMSC has granted a delegation of authority to the FIA President to take any decisions in connection with the organisation of international competitions for the 2020 season, which may be required as a matter of urgency. Of course, any such decisions will be made in consultation with the Deputy President for Sport, the Secretary General for Sport and the President of the relevant Sporting Commission, if needed.”

THE WAY FORWARD

One of the most complex calendar’s to re-organise is that of Formula One, which this year was set to embark on its longest ever season of 22 races. However, despite the cancellations and postponements so far, President Todt feels that a sizeable F1 schedule is still possible, even if races don’t start until the latter part of the summer.

“Once we know we can start, I think we could really see two to three Grands Prix a month,” he says. “If we start in July/August and go to December, we have from five to six months, multiplied by three.”

He admits, however, that motor sport in general could face a tough re-start owing to the economic system shocks caused by the pandemic.

“I don’t think that the priority now for a manufacturer is to secure continuity in motor racing,” he says. “I’m sure some teams, suppliers and manufacturers may have to review their programmes. They might be constrained to stop. I hope team owners and sponsors will keep the motivation. We must encourage them to feel they still like it and need it. On that, we have a responsibility. That’s why we should listen to everybody. We must be humble; even if we love motor sport, it is not essential for society. So we have to ensure that we make proper choices and wise decisions. “In fact, what’s needed is a complete rethink of how we go motor racing. We could talk of a ‘New Deal’ approach, like America had after the Great Depression”.

The world of Mobility, too, is being greatly impacted by the crisis. Major motor manufacturers have suspended production around the world, automotive industry workforces have been furloughed and business activity has contracted massively. As with their counterparts at national sporting organisations (ASNs), the FIA’s Mobility Clubs are facing extremely tough trading conditions, as President Todt acknowledges.
“It is abundantly clear how much the FIA family has been aected by what the world is going through right now. Every one of our members is a victim, both due to the cancellation of events and the repercussions on their various activities, revenue sources and incomes, without taking into account the complexities involved in setting up home working for those whose jobs require them to be in the field. We are fully aware of the di£culties that you are encountering and are ready to help you.
“It is for this reason that, after consulting with the Leadership Team and FIA senior management, we have decided to defer the due date for all FIA membership subscription payments until the end of September. We understand that for many Member Clubs cash flow is a key concern.”
A number of support mechanisms have already been put in place to aid clubs during the fallow period and the FIA President says more are to come. “The FIA can also provide a useful service, helping its members to stay in touch and to share experiences in response to the crisis that we all face. I am pleased to say that we have been able to respond quickly, launching the free-of- charge Stay Tuned initiative, providing an online forum for learning and exchange open to all FIA members.
“This is just one of a number of steps we are taking and, in the coming weeks and months, we will look to support our Member Clubs in a number of ways, through increased online programmes, revisions to grant application procedures and greater levels of mentoring. I also wish to evoke the strengthening of our partnership with the International Federation of the Red Cross for which our Member Clubs are called upon to play an important part.”
The FIA President concludes by admitting that the mid- and long-term future will not be easy, but he insistent that better times are to follow.

“We are living through unprecedented times in terms of the all-encompassing nature of the obstacles we face – as nations, cities, communities, as neighbours and as families. It is at a diffcult moments such as this that the strength of our family at the FIA is revealed and it is my hope that we will all play a part in helping to overcome this challenge and, as we emerge from the crisis, in creating a better future for us all.”