The crisis growing between the FIA and Formula One is being likened in some quarters to a ‘civil war.’ Whilst there have been a number of flash points between the parties over the years, it could be argued things have not been as bad since the FISA-FOCA war of the early 1980’s.
At that time FISA was part of the FIA and responsible for Formula One and FOCA was the teams’ union – Formula One Constructors Association – with Bernie Ecclestone as the chief shop steward.
Memories of the FOSA-FOCA war revived
The dispute was over who had the right to do what and turn up when and unsurprisingly how the money should be carved up.
Matters came to a head when the teams associated with FOCA boycotted the 1982 San Marino GP.
Enzo Ferrari brokered a deal between Ecclestone and the then FISA president Jean-Marie Balestre which culminated in the signing of the first Concorde agreement.
Whilst this didn’t resolve all the issues it bound all parties in a legal framework with a methodology to manage further disputes.
Crisis to ‘rock the foundations of F1’
Experienced F1 observers are concerned Formula One and the FIA are heading for a high level showdown that will rock the foundations of the sport.
German media outlet Sport1 today claims there is a plot afoot to oust Mohammed ben Sulayem from his position as president of the FIA. It’s claimed that F1 commercial rights owners Liberty Media are behind the plot and have a successor lined up to take his place.
There have been a number of spats between the two parties over matters such as the FIA unilaterally releasing the 2023 F1 calendar unlike the joint media event it has been for years.
Then there was the initial refusal from Ben Sulayem to countenance the increase from 3 Sprint races to 6.
FOM gon legal on FIA president
However, the hammer blow dealt to the relationship came last week when Ben Sulayem commented on social media rumours that the Saudi private wealth fund had offered $20bn to buy Formula One.
The president of the FIA expressed his concern over what such ‘an inflated price tag’ would do to the price of tickets and TV subscriptions and insisted the FIA had a due diligence role to play in any sale of the commercial rights to F1.
Liberty media issued a legal letter telling Ben Sulayem to cease and desist, suggesting he may be damaging the value of the brand they were building.
The FIA president retorted at the Mote Carlo Rally, “The [F1] championship is ours. We only rent it out.” This of course refers to the two decade old 100 year deal agreed between Bernie Ecclestone and the FIA for just $300m.
Ben Sulayem replacement lined up
Sport1 have named the individual who Liberty Media are promoting to replace Mohammed ben Sulayem. Motorsport UK chairman and Prodrive chief David Richards could take the position. He has an F1 background from his time as team boss with Benetton and British American Racing (BAR).
However, the president of the FIA is elected by the members of 240 national motorsports associations, most of whom play no active role in Formula One. So Liberty Media cannot simply sack him given his authority os derived from many other sources.
The key to the play F1’s commercial rights holders might make is I the legal letter sent to ben Sulayem who suggested $20bn was a hugely inflated valuation for F1.
The hatchet plot strategy
“Any individual or organisation commenting on the value of a listed entity or its subsidiaries, especially claiming or implying possession of inside knowledge while doing so, risks causing substantial damage to the shareholders and investors of that entity, not to mention potential exposure to serious regulatory consequences.
“To the degree that these comments damage the value of Liberty Media Corporation, the FIA may be liable as a result.”
Were Liberty Media to sue the president of the FIA it would be argued his position at the head of the organisation would create conflicts of interest and make it untenable until the matter was resolved.
Dirty tricks ‘sexism’ reveal
Interestingly, a story emerged over the weekend suggesting Mohhaed Ben Sulayem was a sexist. Comments were collected from a defunct website no longer available for access.
He apparently posted online that he did not like women who think they were “smarter than men” as they are “not in truth”.
The FIA were quick to defend their president stating, “The remarks in this archived website from 2001 do not reflect the FIA president’s beliefs.
He has a strong record on promoting women and equality in sport, which he is happy to be judged on.
Ben Sulayem appoints women at top of the FIA
It was a central part of his manifesto and actions taken this year and the many years he served as FIA vice president for sport prove this.”
There is no denial issued from the FIA, though Mohammed Ben Sulayem may be an example of how people change of decades of their lives. There are since his appointment as president a number of women in senior positions at the Place de Concorde.
Yet what is undeniable is the archived website revelations demonstrate there is a serious attempt to discredit Mohammed Ben Sulayem under way, that will resort to whatever dirty tactics are required.
Further, given he is the first to preside over F1 since Jean-Marie Balestre not from a Formula One background, it seems F1’s big boys want to teach him the hard nature of the rules of the game.
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Ultimately, only FIA can replace their president during a term rather than the commercial rights holder. Therefore, he won’t get sacked.