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FIA boss Ben Sulayem is taking on Formula 1

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FIA boss Ben Sulayem is taking on Formula 1

The President of the Automobile Association, Mohammed Ben Sulayem, is taking on the management of the premier class. The battle for supremacy in motorsport is heating up.

Always influences Formula 1: FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem (right), here in conversation with Max Verstappen.

Imago

The longest season in Formula 1 history, which begins on Saturday in the Kingdom of Bahrain, had an equally rich run-up to it. In what is usually a rather quiet racing winter, the following things have already happened: the expulsion of the popular team boss Günther Steiner, the announced move of Lewis Hamilton to Ferrari and the investigations against Red Bull boss Christian Horner. Above all, behind the scenes of top motorsport, there is a power struggle between the International Automobile Federation (FIA) and Formula 1 Management (FOM), which in extreme cases could lead to a spin-off of the racing series.

The FIA ​​President calls in his compliance department

At the beginning of the Christmas season there was a dubious accusation against Mercedes co-owner Toto Wolff and his wife Susie, who runs the new women’s racing series F1 Academy. The two exchanged information in their different functions and passed it on to the Formula 1 rights holder Liberty Media. The respected Wolffs as double agents? The insinuation of an industry newspaper was made public by the FIA’s Whatsapp distribution list. Its president, Mohammed Ben Sulayem, immediately called in his compliance department.

Just two days later, the bubble burst and the FIA ​​embarrassingly had to backtrack after all nine other racing teams assured in an unprecedented written expression of solidarity that they had not lodged any complaints about a possible conflict of interest. And so the anonymous official that Ben Sulayem had referred to remained ominous. The FIA ​​meekly announced that the investigation had been discontinued – but not without the moral self-promotion that the association was reaffirming its commitment to integrity and fairness.

That was one collision too many for Formula 1. There have already been several unwelcome crash tests with the President of the United Arab Emirates, who was appointed to office two years ago. The 62-year-old sees himself as a classic ruler; respect and recognition are particularly important to him; The separation of powers in Grand Prix racing is apparently not so much. It says that the FIA ​​takes care of the rules and the FOM takes care of the business on behalf of owner Liberty Media.

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For Ben Sulayem, this is obviously an option, but not a must. Once he commented on the market value of Formula 1 as being too inflated, then he knew about a takeover offer from Saudi for $20 million. This had consequences on the stock markets, and the Formula 1 management lawyers made it clear that Ben Sulayem had to stay out of it.

However, his announced withdrawal from day-to-day business was only half-hearted; Ben Sulayem liked to point out that Liberty Media, conversely, also held back on questions of rules. His comments ranged from a gag order for racing drivers to political, religious and personal comments. But the teams and racers who had repeatedly publicly supported actions on diversity and human rights did not let themselves be kept quiet.

Judiciary and executive power are particularly difficult to separate in the closely interlinked racing business and are part of a complicated and fragile basic law called the “Concorde Agreement”. The mutual deal must be renegotiated for 2026; The current upheavals are already an overture for renegotiations. It’s about egos, power and influence. What is piquant is that the FIA ​​lives from Formula 1 and its fees and subsidies. It’s no surprise that the maximum fine was set at one million euros. Ben Sulayem’s core message is that of independence: “We are here to preserve motorsport. We don’t look at market share.” Ben Sulayem thus embodies an owner attitude, although he is de facto more of a service provider.

The fact that the FIA ​​President had campaigned for the Andretti racing team to be approved as the eleventh team was promptly overturned by Formula 1 boss Stefano Domenicali. So the cat and mouse game goes on and on. This raises concerns that both top motorsport and the Formula 1 brand could suffer damage in the long term.

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Respected greats are leaving the FIA ​​– will Formula 1 spin off now?

Going it alone externally is not the only problem for the successor to Jean Todt, who is also heavily involved in Formula 1 politics. Like Ben Sulayem, he came from rally racing, but the Frenchman reacted with more political fortune in the premier class.

The FIA ​​has also been significantly weakened internally in recent months. There was an exodus at the highest level, with respected figures such as sports director Steve Nielsen and technical director Tim Goss leaving the association. The fact that former Sauber technician Jan Monchaux was recently recruited to replace Goss did not appease Formula 1 critics.

After all the differences and controversies, the alliance of teams and the FOM is toying with a radical step. According to the BBC, the owners of Liberty Media have lost patience and are considering splitting Formula 1 from the FIA ​​if the FIA’s leading figures continue to behave in a “detrimental manner”.

There were already initial plans for a spin-off after arguments in the 2022 season. The discussions about Formula 1 going it alone are now entering a new, perhaps decisive round. Even the “Gulf News” from Bahrain is predicting more fighting this season. The crucial question is still: Who needs whom more?

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