The race to be the next president of the FIA will come to a head this month, with voting set to take place on December 17 at the FIA’s General Assembly in Paris.
Running against Mohammed Ben Sulayem and his ‘FIA for Members’ campaign is current Deputy President for Sport Graham Stoker. The Englishman has served alongside Jean Todt since 2009, and wants to continue the work that the existing leadership team has been doing and guide motorsport out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think we’ve achieved a lot and I don’t want to lose that,” Stoker tells RACER. “There’s talk amongst the election from others of ‘We want to change it all’. I don’t agree with that. I also don’t think that’s what the membership want. I don’t think it’s good for the FIA. What I think we need to do is build on what we’ve got, continuity going forward, but do lots of other things.
“Of course, not being the president, I’ve not been in a position where I can simply press a button; I’ve got to persuade Jean and the other leadership.
“I would like to seriously ratchet up sport development. I see nothing wrong with saying anyone around the world with talent should have a go at our sport. What’s wrong with that? I mean, if you can’t say that about an international federation, I think there’s something wrong with it.
“It’s those type of things I’d like to get my teeth into, along with we’ve got a whole lot of challenges coming our way that I’d like to convert into opportunities, or certainly ameliorate the impact, and I think I’ve got the skills and the experience to do that.”
Stoker’s campaign is titled ‘FIA for All’, and his point about participation is a central one. Despite seeing COVID, climate change and a number of social responsibility issues as key challenges facing motorsport in the near future, he wants to tackle those while at the same time reinvesting in the sport as a whole.
“I would like to move to a situation where for instance we use 10 percent of our turnover as a commitment to growing the sport, which is a general benchmark among the federations,” he says. “We’re not there at the moment, we’re at probably five or six percent. We can afford it, we’re a big international federation. And I think that would make profound differences.
With the FIA being based in Paris, and with one candidate from Europe and another from the Middle East, it could be easy for U.S. fans to dismiss the relevance of the election, or feel detached from it. But Stoker sees North America as a place where the FIA relationship has been strengthened in recent years, and where a mutually beneficial partnership can be established.
“The U.S. is a very big, successful, powerful motorsport market,” Stoker says. “We just did an Ernst and Young study on economic impact of the most sport industry, arriving at quite remarkable figures of direct value of $60 billion internationally. When you look at spinoff you’re well over $100bn, into $130bn.
“That’s quite remarkable, and a huge player in that is the U.S. And the U.S. have done things in their particular way, which frankly I respect. If you want to know where I’m coming from, two of my sons have got American passports. I’ve been traveling the U.S. since the ‘70s, ‘80s. I know it very well.
“I think they do a great job. They’ve got some very powerful clubs, they’ve got some very big events – I love going to Indy, I’ve been invited to the Daytona 500 – I think the crowds in NASCAR and IndyCar and the access with the crowd, the access for the fans, to the sport is great. I love the razzmatazz. I love the whole thing about it.
“So when you’ve got an international federation dealing with the U.S., it’s not a case of influence actually, it’s case of kind of making a partnership where you respect them, the way they do it, you respect their territory, but you offer the partnership in order to help them.
“And we have got a lot to do by way of helping them on a whole range of different issues if we work that way. So that’s really where I’m coming from. I understand, and I think probably in the past there was a concern about it ‘What are these people in Paris up to?!’, but I don’t think that’s the case now.”
While F1 specifically might have been trying to focus on the American market, Stoker believes the FIA as a whole has had its eyes opened to what it can learn from the U.S. in a way that will see the connection grow moving forward.
“The other thing I think is fascinating – we’re all kind of scratching our heads thinking, is it the Netflix series? – but we do seem to be building this huge new fanbase in Formula 1 in the U.S. We have the Miami Grand Prix coming, COTA was great with that crowd of 140,000, and I just would like to see us all again – it’s nothing to do with turf wars – we’re all getting together, building the sport, working together, feeling that we’re trying to make it stronger.
“I’m not sure it needs working out, but I think there’s something underlying the history of it, that there was a feeling, you know, that ‘What’s Paris up to? Let’s put up a kind of (barrier),’ but on the other hand, I can understand that.
“By way of example we got into looking at safety, and I was blown away by when I started drilling into some of the details of some the safety teams working, for instance, in IndyCar, in sense of how sophisticated they are. I mean, when you see the way they operate, they go out onto the track to deal with an incident, it’s state of the art stuff.
“The same when we got involved in doping actually, with memberships and WADA. And when we looked at it, we found that the anti-doping process in the U.S. was probably more sophisticated than WADA. So I think these questions are kind of breaking down the lack of communication and just explaining things to each other and, and working in partnership.
“The other thing I love about the U.S. is the way to kind of break the mold on certain events. Baja with the super trucks, and the way they do something very different. The whole kind of roots of dragsters – I love their involvement in land speed records.
“I love the huge fan commitment to something like Indy, where I’m told that families leave tickets in the stands to future generations. So you get each generation buying seats. That’s great. We should be learning from that.”
But one area where IndyCar and the FIA don’t seem to mix so well is when it comes to the Super License required to race in Formula 1. While the IndyCar champion automatically scores the required 40 points to qualify, from third place down the weighting is the same as FIA Formula 3, and Stoker believes the whole system needs revisiting to ensure talented drivers can reach the top in their chosen category.
“I think it needs a good old look at, actually,” Stoker says. “If I’m elected I’d set up a working group to have a look at it. If you’re going to have a global Super License, it’s got to be an absolute fair playing field. It’s not just the U.S., frankly, we should be looking at Asia and what’s going on there, looking at Australia and their events with Australian Supercars…
“I have to say it’s very difficult – don’t ever underestimate the complexities of Super License points – and I know the people who look at it do a great job. But what I actually would do is set up a group and just try and work out all the inconsistencies to try and make it better. And I think we could improve it, because whenever you get a grumble and a pushback, there’s something there.
“But at the end of the day, what you’re trying to do is, frankly, you’re trying to make it fair so that the talent can come up to the elite level. So I’d try and make it better.
“I’ve been involved (with the FIA ladder) right from when we wrote the first manifesto in 2009, I’d put ‘elite pathway’ into it because all the other sports had it and we didn’t, we had total confusion.
“What you shouldn’t do though, is having set it up think ‘Alright, so that’s what I’ve got, I’m going to prioritize that by points or something compared to other regions around the world’. That’s wrong. Especially because you go to other countries and they do it in perhaps a different way or regions do it in a different way. So I think the acid test is are those people coming to the top?
“There was a stage, wasn’t there – (Ayrton) Senna and all those people have to come across to do F3 in the UK. That can’t be right. We’ve got to have a global fair system where the talent comes up. Not necessarily to Formula 1, for goodness sake. It might be IndyCar, it might be Le Mans, it might be WRC – Ken Block’s great, get more Americans into that. So it’s making that whole thing fair, so the talent comes through.”
Stoker has a long list of projects he’d like to get stuck into if handed the reins later this month, as he wants to shake off the tag that the FIA is solely a regulator and continue to make a positive difference to global mobility as well as motorsport. But due to his own personal passion – having funded the new hybrid rally car through the FIA’s Innovation Fund – he has another idea for the US.
“I’d love to get rallies more into the States. I did an interview and I said the Two Mittens in Navajo County, put a rally stage through it! Something like that. We’ve got this incredible country in the U.S. and I would like to see more rallies there. I think it’s an untapped market.
“And Canada again, wonderful country, but there’s no history of rallies. Cross-country and things like Baja as well. But the thing about rallies nowadays – especially with drone shots – is it showcases a country. You get tourists money, draw people in, and it’s exciting.”
If he’s successful in the coming weeks, you might hear a lot more from Graham Stoker when it comes to motorsport in North America.