From Karting to F1, this manager drives careers.
Manager Nicolas Todt does not fall far from the F1 tree. His father, Jean, a driver turned-Director of Racing at Peugeot then Ferrari, has twice been re-elected to his current position of President of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA). “Having a Dad like this for sure helped me to enter this industry because I was able to follow motorsport closely from a young age and develop a very good network,” says Todt, 41.
In 2003, Todt founded All Road Management with a long-term vision of the driver’s career in mind. “You can be a great manager but if you aren’t working with the right driver you will never make it. You can’t turn a donkey into a race horse!” Todt started working with Felipe Massa in 2004 after he was released by Sauber. “I think he had reached F1 too early. In F1 you rarely get a second chance, which is why he came to see me. He got me started in driver management really. I hadn’t considered or planned that I would do this job, so it’s thanks to him.” Fifteen years later, they are still together. “We trust each other and in business that is the most important thing.”
The management job is diverse, from funding karting drivers—like Charles Leclerc, Jules Bianchi and Caio Collet—to plotting career paths through the junior series and, eventually, finding an F1 team where drivers can enter the academy. If they turn pro, like Leclerc, Todt maps out the commercial side: finding and servicing sponsors, taking care of their communications, as well as the logistics of their promotional appearances and general movements.
As co-owner of Birel ART, one of the largest manufacturers and racing teams in karting, Todt can follow young drivers. “I look for the best talents and need to sign them young because it’s a competitive landscape, to say the least. If they’re already in F2 and winning races they’ll already be in discussions with F1 teams and it won’t make sense to sign with someone like me. So, I try to follow karting very closely because that’s the grassroots, where 99% of the best drivers start.
He’s just signed a 13-year-old Italian driver, Gabriele Mini, who “looks very promising.” It’s a huge responsibility for Todt, because it’s a significant investment for many years without any initial return. A karting season could run him between €50,000 up to €200,000, while Formula 2 costs approximately €2 million per year.
Currently he’s also advising 20-year-old Mick Schumacher and knows the expectations are high because the name is as big as it gets. “It would be fantastic if Mick could reach F1 in the future. So, it’s our job to protect him, to give him the time to develop. Mick must do a good job on the track but also cope with huge pressure from the media. I tell him to keep it simple. It’s not about reaching F1 as soon as possible, the goal is to stay in F1 for many years and I hope he’ll be able to achieve that.”
For Todt, the potential and personality of any driver he signs plays a huge part because the relationship becomes like a second family. “I consider Felipe Massa and Jules Bianca like younger brothers. It can be a very strong relationship.”
Yet, as a manamanager, he always tries to be extremely objective and not judge his drivers based on closeness. “So, if they’re not doing a good job, I need to think with my head rather than with my heart.”
The death of Jules Bianchi following his accident in the 2014 Japan GP was particularly devastating. “It was very tough and I have to admit that at one stage I did ask myself if I wanted to continue in this job. I didn’t just say that ‘life goes on’ but you know that you have to turn the page and move forwards, but without ever forgetting what happened. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
Todt met Charles Leclerc as a 13-year-old kart racer because his older brother was Jules Bianchi’s best friend and Jules spoke highly about him. “He was clearly talented, but what marked him out was his huge ambition. He always wants to win and sets high targets for himself.
“Perhaps the most notable thing is that he has worked hard on the psychological side and is now very strong mentally, as fans can see for themselves. He handles pressure extremely well now. He’s self critical and works honestly on addressing his perceived weaknesses.”
Leclerc was only 15 when Todt took him under his management in 2012. “He had no funding to progress and I paid for his next season.” As long as Leclerc performed, Todt would keep going and now, seven years later, “here he is with Ferrari and considered to be one of the best drivers in the world. So that’s rewarding for me as well,” Todt admits.
There will be extra pressure on the Monegasque in May, but Todt is confident. “Leclerc was always competitive in Monaco in the junior series. He was on pole for the F2 race in 2017 before a suspension issue in the race. The competition is very tough and it will depend how the Ferrari performs on this unique circuit.”
As the past has proven, it’s not always the best car that wins in Monaco. “It’s one of the races where a good driver on the day can make the difference. The 2019 edition will probably be won by a driver from Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull.
“But of course, I hope that Charles will do it!”