Vatanen lightning rod for F1 change

MADRID: With FIA president Max Mosley bowing out, aspiring candidate Ari Vatanen doesn't believe preferred successor Jean Todt can represent a clean break with the past for Formula One's governing body.

The 57-year-old Finn, a former world rally champion, so far is the only official candidate to replace Mosley, who announced on Wednesday that he will not seek a fifth term in October.

But to take over FIA, Mosley backed close friend and former Ferrari team principal Todt, who Vatanen does not believe will bring needed change to a series on the verge of splitting partly due to decisions taken by Mosley.

"They are very close friends and worked very closely together when Jean was at Ferrari and Max at the FIA. But that can also turn out to be a handicap," Vatanen told the Associated Press in an interview on Wednesday. "You need a new star, you need an independent person who represents change." Vatanen raced for Todt at Peugeot in the 1980s.

"The fact that he has FIA support may somewhat distort the situation, but I'm not worried. When the wind starts changing, it does change," the Tuupovaara native said. "I'm not dethroning Jean - there's an opening. If I can resume my campaign in one way, something that Jean successfully applied to various disciplines and teams: If you want to win, take a Finn." Vatanen has labeled himself as a lightning rod for change, an independent candidate who can rally the manufacturers and the member federations around his own record as a 10-year member of the European Parliament.

That could be needed after Mosley's bid to cut costs left the leading teams ready to abandon the 60-year-old series to start up a breakaway series.

Vatanen counts himself as a close friend of Mosley's, but believed it was time for the 69-year-old Englishman to step aside after 16 years at the helm.

"We are all very vulnerable to that trap that you think the world revolves around yourself. Any leader in the world, when you are very much long in power you overestimate your own possibilities and anyone who criticizes you is seen as a threat," Vatanen said from the Spanish capital.

"During the entire campaign I wanted to be constructive, no mudslinging, no dirt-throwing. We have to look now forward. What a poor picture we have given of ourselves to the rest of the world.

FIA simply needs to recuperate its dignity and integrity. We need a new start." Mosley called and won a confidence vote last year after a British tabloid published details of a sex orgy involving him and five prostitutes.

"I would have stepped down," Vatanen said. "When you are the head of the federation, the federation does not belong to you, you are the servant of the federation.

"I have no illusions about power. It might sound pretentious, but this is really for nobleness." For Vatanen, part of what made Mosley exceptional - and also hurt him - was his extraordinary life story, which made Wednesday's announcement far from surprising.

Mosley, who lost his son to a drug overdose in May, is the son of British Union of Fascists party founder Oswald Mosley.

"If you wrote the book it would be hardly credible," he said.

"We must have a lot of sympathy for Max on a private front. No way that he would have liked to have been remembered as a man, as the president who contributed to the break of F1 and consequently of FIA." Now, Vatanen knows he has to convince the 175-plus member federations, who each have a vote in the matter.

"It's like a house. Inside you think everything's OK when you're a part of it but someone comes from outside and you realise immediately you need to open the windows," Vatanen said. "People are expecting it."