Born in Pierrefort, France on February 26, 1946, Todt's motorsport career began when he took his father's Mini (car) Cooper S for a ride with a friend. Thence he moved to various driving roles in rally series, but decided his strength was as a co-driver; he continued as such with the Peugeot Talbot Sport rally team until his retirement from competition in 1981.
The team moved Todt into a management-oriented position, charging him to organize the design and construction of the 205 Turbo 16 for the 1982 World Rally Championship season. After a slow start, the 205 won the world title in 1985 and 1986; other Todt-managed models continued to dominate, winning rally championships, hill climbs, and Le Mans into the 1990s. Peugeot, despite Todt's continual urging, refused to enter the Formula One Championship, and when a position opened at the recovering Ferrari F1 team, Todt took the opportunity. He has managed the Scuderia since; he was responsible for hiring Michael Schumacher in 1996, with whom came brilliant strategist Ross Brawn, and the fortunate combination produced a nearly unbeatable team. Todt and Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo have since been considered responsible for turning Ferrari from a has-been team, helpless without founder Enzo Ferrari, into the powerhouse it is today.
Following much speculation as to FIA President Max Mosley's impending retirement, rumors arose in 2004 to the effect that Todt would run for the office. Mosley commented that though Todt would made an excellent president, he was quite happy at Ferrari; however, it has long been assumed that when Michael Schumacher retires from F1, Todt will leave his job. In an apparent bid to maintain Todt's loyalty, Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo announced in May 2004 that his responsibility within the company would presently increase. Todt himself has made no comment on the subject.
The French government has made Todt a Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur.