FIA explained: What does it stand for and how does it govern F1?

Thomas Maher
FIA flag on display at the F1 Dutch Grand Prix. Netherlands, September 2022. Budget cap Red Bull

FIA flag on display at the Dutch Grand Prix. Netherlands, September 2022.

Formula 1 is governed and ‘owned’ by the FIA, a French organisation formed to represent the interests of motoring organisations and car users.

Newcomers to Formula 1 may frequently hear references to a mysterious, seemingly omnipotent, entity called ‘the FIA’, which is responsible for the planning, organisation, and governance of the sport.

While US company Liberty Media own the commercial rights to the sport, a more accurate description would be that Liberty Media lease the commercial rights to the sport from the FIA – the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile retains the rights to the Formula 1 championship name and ruleset.

The FIA are heavily involved in the governance of many motorsports and championships around the globe, with Formula 1 being the jewel in the crown. Here are the key facts behind F1’s governing body:

The FIA explained

The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) is the sole international governing body of motorsport. Established in 1904 as the Association Internationale des Automobile Clubs Reconnus, it began the organisation of Grand Prix racing in 1922 through its sporting delegation, the CSI (Commission Sportive Internationale).

In 1931, the European Drivers’ Championship began under the AIACR and, after World War II had ended, the organisation renamed itself the FIA, with the sporting arm renamed FISA.

Under the FIA, new racing categories were devised for Grand Prix racing, including Formula 2 and Formula 1 and, in 1950, the modern F1 World Championship came into being.

FIA and F1

The FIA’s most prominent sporting role is to licence and sanction Formula 1. The FIA, through the creation of rulebooks and the supply of suitable personnel for adjudication, creates a level playing field for competitors and ensures the sport is as safe as possible and all rules are adhered to.

If disputes arise, the FIA can provide an independent means of arbitration. The FIA along with the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM) also certify land speed record attempts.

About the FIA

The FIA consists of 246 member organisations in 145 countries worldwide and consists of 80 million members. Because of its comprehensive access, the FIA and its clubs can actively educate and encourage members to behave safely and make choices that are environmentally sound.

The FIA has its headquarters at Place de la Concorde in Paris, with additional offices in Geneva and Valleiry. Its current president, as elected towards the end of 2021, is Mohammed Ben Sulayem.

FIA structure

As a huge global organisation, the structure of the FIA is quite complicated and divided across its various remits. A full breakdown of its governance structure can be viewed on the FIA website.

On the sporting side, the FIA have recently made changes to its structure in relation to Formula 1.

Former F1 Sporting Director Steve Nielson has joined the FIA in a similar role, reporting to Nikolas Tombazis as Single-Seater Director – Tombazis is effectively running Formula 1 on a day-to-day managerial basis with President Mohammed Ben Sulayem taking a more hands-off approach.

The FIA work closely with Liberty Media to ensure a comprehensive and fair championship is held over the course of a season, with a key aspect of their role being to identify weaknesses in how the sport is governed and respond appropriately to them.

How the FIA work at a Grand Prix

Top-level sport such as Formula 1 can evoke the strongest reactions in competitors and spectators alike, but this raw emotion must be backed up by calm control – which is where the FIA comes in.

The FIA operates regulating and adjudicating at hundreds of events every year, providing regulatory expertise and an impartial sporting judicial system that can be applied to any sport. The organisation has also embraced the World Anti-Doping Agency code to combat the use of drugs in sport.

At any Grand Prix, the FIA’s vehicles can be seen at the top of the paddock, to signify their position as the authoritative hand of control over all the teams.

The FIA provides technical personnel for enforcing of the technical rulebook (an example being Jo Bauer as Technical Delegate) and Race Control personnel such as the Race Director role (currently held by Niels Wittich) in order to ensure sporting rules are followed during a Grand Prix.

The race stewards are present for the observation and enforcement of the sporting rules throughout the weekend, and media personnel are required to deal with on-site media and ensuring the required drivers and team personnel appear on television and speak to the media.

A world leader for motorsport

A recent example of a successful FIA measure is that of the Halo cockpit protection device. Evaluating ways to improve cockpit safety, then-FIA President Jean Todt ignored the complaints about its appearance (including negative remarks from the drivers) to make the use of the device mandatory five years ago.

Since then, numerous drivers have escaped serious injury or worse in accidents, vindicating its use and the FIA’s steely determination.

A particularly glaring example of this was Romain Grosjean’s crash in Bahrain in 2020, when the French driver’s life was saved by the Halo punching a hole through the Armco barrier and protecting his head from taking the same impact.

Motorsports are incredibly dangerous and the FIA has, throughout its history, worked tirelessly to improve safety at all levels of competition.

In the 1960s, one in every eight Formula 1 events resulted in a driver being fatally wounded, whereas 50 years on, the FIA can be proud that the number of accidents in championships has significantly decreased.

While F1 continues to have an enviable safety record, the FIA continues to be committed to eradicating deaths and serious injury from all forms of motorsport.

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