Anxious F1 waits for president Todt to show colours
The election of Jean Todt as the new president of motorsport's governing body is a chance for a new beginning for the administration of Formula 1.
The leadership of the previous FIA president, Max Mosley, had become identified with a period of bitter conflict, so Todt's election is a chance for everyone involved to start afresh. Given how unpleasant things got earlier this year, that is no bad thing.
In fact, it is a consequence of the depths to which the relationship between the FIA and the F1 teams sank that Mosley's 16-year tenure as president has come to an end.
Earlier this year, Mosley's agreement not to seek another term was critical to the resolution that ended the threat of eight of the sport's 10 teams to break away and set up a rival championship.
Had he refused to stand down, and ploughed on with his plans to introduce a budget cap into F1, the sport would now be on the edge of a precipice, with next weekend's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix the final race for F1 as the world knows it.
All the leading teams and drivers would be preparing to go off and race elsewhere, leaving one historically successful team - Williams - to race against a bunch of nobodies with second-rate drivers.
That is how bad things had got under Mosley, who the F1 teams believed was governing in an increasingly autocratic and arbitrary style. Happily, compromise was reached, and F1 will continue next year, bruised but otherwise unharmed.
The same cannot be said for Mosley's reputation.
Funny to think now that, when he was elected back in 1993 - having already spent two years running FISA, the now defunct, separate sporting arm of the FIA - Mosley stood on a platform of non-intervention in F1.
The reality has been quite different. Mosley seemed to like nothing more than to meddle in the sport in which, with F1 tsar Bernie Ecclestone, he has been a central figure in one way or another for 40 years.
But while his legacy will always be one of divisiveness and conflict, Mosley has undoubtedly had a profoundly beneficial effect on F1 in at least one way - safety.
Some of his proposals - such as the now-abandoned grooved tyres - have been a failure. But most in F1 would agree that, in the wake of Ayrton Senna's death in 1994, Mosley was instrumental in ensuring the sport's survival.
Mosley was instrumental in insulating F1 from calls for it to be banned following Senna's death
It's difficult to imagine now, but in the wake of the cataclysmic weekend at Imola, during which Senna and Austrian novice Roland Ratzenberger were killed, there were calls for the sport to be banned.
I well remember the shocked atmosphere at the next race at Monaco, where - in the very first on-track session following Senna's death - the Austrian Sauber driver Karl Wendlinger crashed horribly and ended up in a coma.
The next morning, the headline on the influential French sports newspaper L'Equipe said simply: "Stop this". And F1 came under scrutiny from politicians all over Europe.
Mosley acted rapidly and decisively. The very next day he announced a series of rule changes aimed at improving safety, some to be introduced immediately, others over the succeeding weeks and months.
It did the trick. The politicians backed off, and F1 breathed a sigh of relief. And Mosley, and other key lieutenants, have to be applauded for never letting up in the quest for further safety improvements ever since.
F1 as a sport is immeasurably safer now than it was then, and it gets safer every year - and for that the sport is in Mosley's debt.
The same is true of every person who drives a car on the roads of Europe today.
Probably Mosley's greatest achievement as FIA president has nothing to do with F1 - he was responsible for the introduction of the now-mandatory Euro NCAP crash tests which all road cars have to pass before they go on sale.
It would be nice to think that the new FIA president will continue the good work where Mosley left off and set about trying to repair the damage of the bad.
Whether he will remains an open question.
People tend to be in two camps when it comes to their assessment of Todt, and they are easily split into people who have worked with him and those who have been his competition.
As Ferrari team boss for 15 years, the Frenchman was an incredibly divisive figure in the F1 paddock, ruthlessly pursuing his team's aims with no regard for what effect it was having on the wider sport.
Todt is inextricably bound to the controversies and questionable ethics of the Michael Schumacher era at Ferrari. He is notorious for his bulldozing manner and ruthlessness, and his marshalling of a team renowned for bending the rules to breaking point and beyond.
A perfect example of this was Ferrari's fixing of the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix, when in only the sixth race of a season the team were clearly going to go on to dominate, Todt ordered Rubens Barrichello to hand victory to Schumacher on the final lap.
The decision - and the manner in which the positions were changed - caused uproar, and it was clear in the aftermath that Todt simply did not understand - or did not want to - what the fuss was about.
It is little surprise that people have questioned his fitness to act as the ultimate authority in an organisation that, to maintain credibility, must be seen to be acting objectively in the interests of fairness for all.
Probably the final example of Todt's antagonistic stance before leaving Ferrari was at the Canadian Grand Prix in 2008, when the teams wanted to sign a letter indicating their lack of confidence in Mosley in the wake of his sex scandal, only for Todt to refuse to do so.
That decision may well have been critical in Mosley being able to hold on to his position - and it takes on a new light following the events of this FIA presidential campaign, which has seen Mosley back Todt and aggressively try to undermine his rival Ari Vatanen.
But listen to those who have worked with Todt - whether it be at Ferrari or, before that at Peugeot, where he led successful campaigns in the world rally championship and in sportscars - and a different picture emerges.
They speak of his superb management skills, his willingness to delegate successfully, his loyalty, integrity and - incredibly to those on the outside - his warmth and understanding.
The question is, what kind of FIA president will Todt be? Will he see the F1 teams as he did his employees and act in a supportive and conciliatory manner - or will he act as he did to his rival team bosses and be antagonistic and disruptive.
An FIA president could operate successfully in either manner. Todt has talked about himself as the candidate of "consensus not conflict". F1 will be waiting anxiously to see whether he is true to his word.