F1 rocked as Mohammed Ben Sulayem quits – The battle in Formula One between the head of the sport’s governing body and the commercial rights holder together with the teams is set to subside. FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem has come under fire for a number of issues since he was elected to his current role just 14 months ago.
The first battle was with Lewis Hamilton for failing to attend the mandated FIA end of season gala following his failure to claim an 8th world title at the 2021 Abu Dhabi GP. Hamilton was fined for not attending by the FIA.
F1 Jewellery wars
Next up was the issue of Jewellery. For over a decade the FIA regulations state that drivers’ use not wear jewellery whilst driving the car. Lewis Hamilton, known to some as bling bling, clearly was from and centre of the issue which dragged on throughout the season without any satisfactory or long term conclusion.
Another battle Ben Sulayem chose to fight was failing to approve the wishes of F1 to extend the number of sprint races from 3 to 6. The FIA’s position was they would require more funds to marshal the incremental tasks required. A resolution was found around 6 months after the initial skirmishes.
In the Autumn, the FIA unilaterally announced the 2023 F1 calendar which upset Liberty Media is this has traditionally been a joint publicity event.
Two F1 race directors criticised
Throughout the 2022 season, the decision by Ben Sulayem to deploy 2 F1 race directors came under criticism from all quarters. A lack of consistent and proper application of the regulations was the most repeated complaint. However, in Japan when on a live track a tractor was dangerously deployed resulted in one of the race directors benched for the rest of the season.
Since the turn of the year there have been two huge issues raging between Ben Sulayem and F1. Firstly he has apparently sided with the likes of Andretti and General Motors in wishing to approve additional F1 entries above the current number of 10. The teams are concerned their value and prize money will become diluted.
FIA president backs Andretti bid to join F1
This has led to a recently announced FIA process that will review applications and make announcements on new entries by June 30th 2023.
The final straw which broke the camel’s back appears to have been a war of words between the FIA and F1. Ben Sulayem commented on a speculative story that suggested Formula one could be sold to a Saudi wealth fund for $20bn, suggesting this was ridiculously overvalued.
Further Ben Sulayem suggested the FIA could intervene in the interest of the fans to precent such a sale occurring.
F1 legal letter to FIA president
This solicited a legal response from F1 which instructed the FIA president to “cease and desist” from commenting on commercial matters which were outside his remit. Inherent was the threat that any loss of commercial value would result in legal action against Ben Sulayem and the FIA.
Well today, the president of the FIA is apparently quitting his hands on day to day role of running Formula One. In a letter to team bosses the Daily Mail has revealed that the FIA head of single seaters, Nikolas Tombazis, will assume responsibility for the day to day Formula One matters.
Ben Sulayem steps down from running F1
Mohammed ben Sulayem will remain as head of the FIA, however this is no retreat from the FIA president who defiantly restates his original objective when elected.
“My stated objective was to be a non-executive president via the recruitment of a team of professional managers, which has now been largely completed.
“Therefore, going forward, your day-to-day contact for all matters on F1 will be with Nikolas [Tombazis, director of single-seater racing] and his team, while I will focus on strategic matters with my leadership team.”
Timing of FIA announcement co-incidental?
The timing of this announcement may appear co-incidental for two reasons. Firstly, there is a meeting of the F1 commission slated three days before pre-season testing takes place in Abu Dhabi. Given ben Sulayem’s position on various topics this would no doubt have been an occasion where the sparks flew. Ben Sulayem may now not even attend the gathering merely sending Tombazis to represent the FIA.
Secondly, there were two reports last week, one in the German media and one form the BBC that a significant number of team and F1 bosses were seeking to remove Ben Sulayem from his current role and have him replaced by Dave Richards the head of UK motorsports and owner of of Pro-Drive.
Whilst the initial reaction from many in Formula One may be of relief, then letter does not indicate the agenda of the FIA will change.
The F1 “game is afoot”
Ben Sulayem this season toughened the rules on drivers making political or personal statements on any topic. This must now be cleared by the FIA before such comments are made. There’s no indication Tombazis will have will or even the authority to overturn this rule.
Further, it is at the strategic level where much of the disagreement will continue.
Its a strategic decision as to whether new F1 team entries are allowed. It would be a strategic decision to block any sale or partial sale of Formula One. The change of an F1 weekend to deliver competitive on track action on each of the three days, would be a strategic decision.
In some ways Ben Sulayem has merely played, “hide the fox”. While the power remains with him, the day to day interaction with the various Formula One representatives will now be delegated to Tombazis.
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