Former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has leapt to the defence of under-fire FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem, claiming he does not warrant his “bad reputation.”
Ben Sulayem has become a controversial figure since succeeding former Ferrari team principal Jean Todt in December 2021, with the 62-year-old embroiled in a public row with his predecessor over the federation’s finances.
The president was also at the centre of allegations of sexism last year, with last month’s controversy surrounding Mercedes boss Toto Wolff and his wife Susie also reflecting poorly on the FIA as all 10 teams issued a joint statement distancing themselves from the saga.
The events of recent weeks have further crystallised suspicions that all is not well inside F1’s governing body as Steve Nielsen and Tim Goss exited the FIA in quick succession.
Ecclestone is no stranger to controversy himself, having orchestrated F1’s growth over four decades – working in tandem with FIA president Max Mosley – before leaving his role as chief executive following Liberty Media’s takeover in 2017.
Speaking to German publication BILD, Ecclestone admitted that he would approach the job differently to the way Ben Sulayem has done it – but argued the FIA president has good intentions and has learned the hard way how F1 really works.
He said: “He does things differently than I would do them.
“But in my eyes, he is a straightforward man who tries to do the best for the sport. His bad reputation comes from people not understanding him.
“He’s just learning that the people who lead a team in this sport are different to what he thought they were.”
Ecclestone’s comments come just weeks after Ben Sulayem insisted that he is “the head of the house” amid mounting claims of tension between the FIA and F1’s commercial rights holders Liberty.
He told Germany’s Motorsport Magazin: “I’m just asking for clarity and fairness. I am not involved in the stock price or ticket sales. We just need fairness here, that’s my mission.
“We define clarity between ourselves and FOM, Liberty. That’s good. We need to understand who I represent. I represent the head of the house. We are not a service provider! No, we are not. I keep saying that and I believe it too.
“But friction is sometimes healthy to bring out the best. It’s like with your body: if you wake up in the morning with pain, then at least you know that something is wrong.
“We want the best for the sport. I’ll tell you one thing, I’ll say it very humbly and clearly: you won’t wake up tomorrow and the FIA is no longer there. For others it is different.
“Liberty also has the right to sell the lease to another company. Tomorrow it could no longer be with them, but with someone else. Then I have to get along with them. That is the difference between us.
“I respect them, they are here for profit. That’s why they bought it. Why else would they buy the lease? They are smart people and I support them.
“But at the same time I was elected by the members of the FIA to do the best for the FIA. I don’t get paid, I don’t complain about it, I already knew that.
“We are a non-profit association. What we get doesn’t go to shareholders or directors. Investments are being made again in equipment and training to develop better stewards and race directors.”