FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem was one of many special guests at last weekend’s gala dinner on the eve of Rally Portugal, hosted by WRC Promoter to commemorate 50 years of the World Rally Championship.
But it’s what he said, rather than his presence, that was rather more intriguing.
Speaking to a select group of media, including DirtFish, Ben Sulayem suggested that WRC co-drivers could be good candidates for future race directors in Formula 1.
“My deputy [Robert Reid] is a rally man. I come from that also, and my advisors are also from there so when we thought about it, what do you need in a race director?” he said.
“Honestly we have a challenge of having more race directors, so what do we do? We can’t just go and buy them or rent them, no. We have to make sure that we at least promote bringing them, recruiting them and then training them so we then have more than three people, or keeping it at three.
“What I mean is we should have a rotation. But when I looked at how efficient and structured co-drivers are, I remember that they take care of the service, they take care of the planning for the service, they take care of the organization, the route, the fuel, the whole thing is there.
“So we thought of bringing people from there, going through a process looking at the training and then seeing if that will fit. But to me, I believe and I’m confident we will find them, proper co-drivers, and this will be coming soon. We are pushing it with the team but I am confident.”
Ben Sulayem confirmed he doesn’t have any name in mind yet, but we might be able to help him out there.
Which WRC co-drivers would make good F1 race directors? Here are our writers’ views:
It’s sometimes easy to forget that Prodrive’s David Richards spent eight years as a WRC co-driver, given the successful and varied career he’s gone on to have after competing.
But while it’s entirely unlikely it would ever come to fruition, in my opinion he is probably the best qualified co-driver to become an F1 race director.
Putting his rallying achievements to one side for a second, he also beholds a vast amount of experience in the wider world of motosport, including F1.
He was BAR’s team principal in the mid 2000s and it was his expertise and guidance that helped the team finish runner-up in the constructors’ standings in 2004 before he stepped down from his role.
He’s been there and done it. He knows how the F1 circus operates and fully appreciates all of the politics at play. It’s poacher turned gamekeeper all over again.
Yes, it’s true that Richards hasn’t been actively involved in F1 for many years now, but does it really matter? What co-driver has had as much F1 experience as him?
He’s level headed, fully understands all of the headaches that would come from being a race director, and would no doubt bring consistency to the application of regulations.
I’m not saying co-drivers should become F1 race directors. To be honest, I’m not sure I really follow the logic there at all. But if it were to become a thing, then I don’t see a better candidate than Richards no matter how likely it would actually be.
There’s never been a co-driver with as rigorous an approach to their craft as Julien Ingrassia. Give him any kind of organization task and he’ll thrive.
I’m with Rob in that as much as I can understand where the FIA president is coming from with WRC co-drivers boasting exceptional organizational skills, problem solving ability and an ability to work under extreme pressure, I’m not convinced they’re the absolute best solution for future Formula 1 race directors. Perhaps that role should go to ex racing drivers who understand the nuances of competing in that precise environment?
But if WRC co-drivers were to become the solution, I can’t imagine anybody – past or present – that would apply themselves as well as Ingrassia. And that’s not to talk down the professionalism or ability of others, but simply to highlight how focused and regimented the eight-time champion is.
Ingrassia wouldn’t be my favorite for the role though, even if he would do the best job in my view. Instead, I’d absolutely love to see Daniel Elena at the helm.
Elena has become something of an internet sensation in recent years, and that laissez-faire attitude to life in one of global motorsport’s most important positions would be absolutely fascinating to watch. Something tells me you and I both have a better chance of becoming lottery winners than that coming to fruition however…
I’ve never met Eduardo Freitas – one of two Formula 1 race directors employed by the FIA this season – but the thinking is that he’s straight down the line and no-nonsense.
He might well be.
But he’s not as straight down the line and no-nonsense as Ian Grindrod. Blackburn-born, the Lancastrian would have the measure of Max in no time. Grinny’s got the lot: mechanical insight from an engineering apprenticeship at Mullards (home of the 2300 Car Club) and a good schooling in politics after sharing a team with Jean Todt in 1979.
Few people in motorsport have travelled further and have a better understanding of the wide variety of cultures a 23-round calendar brings. And he brings a genuine driver’s eye as well, having tackled a couple of road rallies behind the wheel of his own motor early in his career.
Admittedly, it would have seemed a long road from the navigator’s seat of Cyril Bolton’s Group 1 Mini in the 1977 British championship to the race director’s chair, but Ian is precisely what Formula 1 needs.
In fact, Formula 1 wouldn’t know what had hit it, such is his natural ability for forthright common sense. And rarely would Mull have stood a better chance of landing a street race through Tobermory.
And this one’s not as much of a stretch as you’re thinking. Grindrod and FIA president are already well acquainted in a competitive environment. Ian and Jimmy McRae finished second to Ben Sulayem on the 1986 Oman International Rally.
See, we’re halfway there already.
Who do you think would be a good fit for the role? Leave your suggests in the comments section below.