What started as a mere rumour with no quotes or formal sources, the alleged bid to buy Formula One for $20bn is becoming big news. Further, considering Bernie Ecclestone and his first ‘consortium’ paid just $300m for the 100 lease on the commercial rights to the sport 20 years ago, someone in the FIA’s accounting office is crying into their much time red wine and frogs legs.
The speculative piece about the Saudi offer in Bloomberg started. Chain of events which may yet see the president of the FIA ousted by F1’s bosses at Liberty Media.
$20bn F1 valuation “inflated price tag”
Responding on social media to the $20bn valuations, Mohammed Ben Sulayem rubbished the figure, calling it an “inflated price tag.”
“As the custodians of motorsport, the FIA, as a non-profit organisation, is cautious about alleged inflated price tags of $20bn being put on F1,” said Ben Sulayem on Twitter.
“Any potential buyer is advised to apply common sense, consider the greater good of the sport and come with a clear, sustainable plan – not just a lot of money.
“It is our duty to consider what the future impact will be for promoters in terms of increased hosting fees and other commercial costs, and any adverse impact that it could have on fans.”
Furious F1 bosses response
This apparently innocent observation from the head of the body that regulates Formula One received the most vociferous response imaginable.
In response a letter was composed by F1’s General Counsel, Sacha Woodward Hill, and Renee Wilm, chief legal and administrative officer of Liberty Media. It warned the FIA that “Formula 1 has the exclusive right to exploit the commercial rights in the FIA Formula One World Championship” as part of a pre-existing 100-year lease.
“Further, the FIA has given unequivocal undertakings that it will not do anything to prejudice the ownership, management and/or exploitation of those rights,” it continues.
“We consider that those comments, made from the FIA President’s official social media account, interfere with those rights in an unacceptable manner.”
FIA threatened with legal action
The letter adds: “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.”
In that final sentence lies the threat that could be used to unseat Mohammed Ben Sulayem from his role as the head of global motorsport.
As TJ13 reported yesterday, there are alleged moves underfoot to begin this process to replace the FIA president with a man who has a solid Formula One background and understanding.
Helmut Marko says Saudi’s too “culturally different”
Given the continued momentum the Formula One sale story is building, now is the time when other parties will be dragged into the debate and never one to be backward in coming forward, Helmut Marko of Red Bull has weighed in with his two penneth worth.
Speaking to RTL, Helmut Marko suggested such a bid was a good sign for the sport but was cautious about the Saudi Arabian interest.
“I think it wouldn’t be so good if it went to a country that is culturally different from where most of the races take place,” he said.
“And generally it’s a commercial thing, and that’s more likely to happen with someone who meets normal corporate standards, if you want to put it that way.”
Saudi Arabian fund has ‘dodgy corportate standards’
Given the backlash from Formula One in general to the decisions being made by the first Arab president of the FIA, it could be argued that Helmut Marko has a point.
Yet in reality Marko’s comments are a racist slur and suggest Suad Arabia in some way is ‘dodgy’ and fails to meet “corporate standards” of western organisations.
To be fair to Helmut Marko he has criticised the FIA for banning F1 drivers from commenting on their personal political views. When the announcement was made, Marko said, “This decision is clearly wrong. [Drivers] are responsible citizens who are in the global public eye and know how, and what, they have to say.
“In general, we are in a democratic society and everyone can express their opinion.”
READ MORE: Liberty media plans to replace FIA president revealed
What happens when you hand an #F1 show car over to a world-renowned graffiti artist?
Meet BOOGIE and discover how the 'Art Car' came to life at an iconic Swiss mountain location.#GetCloser pic.twitter.com/5Ci9aRWCyN
— Alfa Romeo F1 Team Stake (@alfaromeoorlen) January 31, 2023