The FIA which governs Formula One has undergone significant changes since the retirement of its previous president Jean Todt. The ex Ferrari man’s style of leadership was way more ‘hands off’ than that of his successor Mohammed Ben Sulayem. Further, Todt was from a line of Formula One men who came to lead the FIA stretching back to the resignation of Jean-Marie Balestre in 1993.
Balestre was originally a motorsport journalist though he was a founding member of the Federation Franchise du Sport Automobile in 1950 and from their he developed his motorsport administrative career ultimately claiming the presidency of the FIA in 1985.
Balestre was not a Formula One man and was at the centre of a number of controversies in the sport during his tenure as head of the sport’s regulator.
FIA president in Nazi uniform
In the late 1970’s photograph’s began circulating of Jean-Marie wearing a German SS uniform. Balestre’s legal action to suppress the pictures was unsuccessful.
During the early 80’s the Formula One teams were represented by an organisation called FOCA (Formula One Constructors’ Association) and FISA (Federation Internationale de Sport Automobile) governed Formula One. Balestre was elected the head of FISA in 1979 and waged war with FOCA in a political battle over the finances and control of F1.
Ecclestone who at the time represented the teams engaged Enzo Ferrari to broker a deal between the institutions in 1982. Balestre and the teams then signed the first Concorde agreement which saw FOCA granted the commercial rights to F1 and the FIA (vis FISA) retain control of sporting and technical regulations.
Balestre influences word title decision
Jean_Marie was accused of using his power to influence the outcome of the 1989 F1 drivers’ title. Senna and Prost collided at the penultimate round in Suzuka and Autosport alleged Balestre influenced the stewards to disqualify Ayrton so the title would fall in favour of Alain Prost.
Years after leaving the FIA, Baluster admitted his actions in deciding the outcome of the 1989 F1 drivers’ championship.
Max Moseley who had worked with Bernie Ecclestone during his days as team boss of Brabham replaced Balestre and ever since then the FIA has been governed by a president with a grounding in Formula One.
FIA president no longer an F1 man
Ben Sulayem’s election broke this line of succession. Mohammed is from a rally car background winning 14 middle East championships over the years, yet like Baluster be Sulayem took an early interest in the administration of motorsport.
He was elected as president of the Automobile and Touring club of the UAE in 2006 and became the first Arab Vice President of the FIA in 2008.
Since succeeding Jean Todt, Ben Sulayem has been very ‘hands on’ with Formula One. His FIA appointments reflect the electorate who voted him into office and his appointment of F1 delegates has seen a radical shift from previous appointments.
Incompetent FIA appointmentments
F1 now has two race directors, neither of him have previous race control experience of a Formula One event, and there has been wide ranging criticism over this move as consistency appears to be an issue with two interpretations of on track matters rather than the previous one.
Further the FIA has hardly covered itself in glory managing the audit process to police the 2021 spending cost cap. Originally due to report in June 2022 the FIA finally issued its certificates of compliance on Monday 10th October.
This delay now makes it difficult for the FIA to issue 2022 sporting penalties for teams in breach of the cost cap.
Two weeks prior to “certification day” the FIA ‘leaked’ information that Red Bull Racing was in breach. This led to uproar and a war of words particularly between Toto Wolff and Christian Horner where the Mercedes man accused Red Bull of “massively” overspending.
Outrageous behaviour from the FIA
Dutch ex-racer and F1 commentator Allard Kalff argues the leak from the FIA is even more “outrageous” than Red Bull’s “minor overspend”.
The leak led to rampant rumours that Red Bull had blown the budget by $10m or more, though this has later been proven untrue. Despite this, a number of team bosses are demanding the FIA punish Red Bull Racing ‘hard’.
Yesterday TJ13 revealed Mercedes F1 power unit customer, McLaren boss Zak Brown, has petitioned the FIA over the punishment it should apply to the Milton Keynes team.
‘Leaks” damage FIA reputation
Again how this detailed document has found its way into the public domain presumably only the FIA can answer.
“The only thing I find very scandalous is that apparently people knew it was Aston Martin and Red Bull,” Kalff told Racing News.
“Somewhere someone has leaked. I think that is even more outrageous than the fact that there is now a discussion about whether or not too much money has been spent.
“In the sense of: ‘we had a discussion and they may or may not have been punished’, that’s fine, but it shouldn’t be more transparent than that. Who benefits from that? If you already look at what nonsense is being shouted.”
FIA holds confidential information from F1 teams
While neither Max Verstappen’s F1 driver titles are at risk, Ben Sulyem’s FIA administration needs to clean up its act. Officials from the Federation are party to all kinds of confidential information shared with them by the teams that could help their competitors if revealed.
A persistent “leaky” FIA will undermine it entire governance of Formula One and whilst there is unlikely to be a return to the FOCA-FISA war years under Balestre, Mohhamed Ben Sulayem needs to shore up his administration both in terms of improving conpetiance and professionalism.
— Formula 1 (@F1) October 18, 2022