Former FIA President hits back at Mohammed Ben Sulayem claims

Thomas Maher
Mohammed Ben Sulayem, FIA President, in the paddock at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Mohammed Ben Sulayem's assertions about the FIA's finances have been addressed by predecessor Jean Todt.

Former FIA President Jean Todt has addressed assertions made by Mohammed Ben Sulayem after taking charge of the governing body.

Todt held the FIA presidency between late 2008 and 2021, with the Frenchman succeeded by Emirati Mohammed Ben Sulayem two years ago this month.

Ben Sulayem has courted controversy on numerous occasions over those two years, and now his predecessor has moved to clear up certain assertions made by Ben Sulayem since taking up his post.

Mohammed Ben Sulayem asserts a large financial deficit at the FIA

This time last year, Ben Sulayem claimed that he had inherited a large financial deficit at the FIA – an immediate issue he had to address after succeeding Jean Todt as the president.

“There was a financial issue that we didn’t know about,” he said, as reported by Motorsport.com at the time.

“We had a deficit, even before the [COVID-19] pandemic, but I’m pleased to have cleared that.

“We never had a CEO for 118 years and if we want to deal with the challenges that’s going on, I cannot go and micromanage.

“When you go to the CEO, you’re talking about policies, you’re talking about managing the structure, you’re talking about the day-to-day running of the FIA, and you’re talking about the finance.

“We all know and I’ll be very honest with you, we had an issue with the finance. We had a deficit this year, which was over $20 million.”

But Todt has responded with his version of events in an extended interview with French publication L’Equipe.

“When I left, there must have been more than €250 million in reserve,” Todt said about Ben Sulayem’s comments.

“I will be clear. Each year, the accounts have been largely profitable, except the last two years, marked by the COVID-19 crisis, which could have taken away the Federation.

“When I arrived in 2009, there were barely €40m, although the FIA had just ceded the commercial rights to F1 for a hundred years a few years earlier.

“I don’t call it a deficit. When I left, the budget had been multiplied by almost three, with many new competitions and sources of income, such as Formula E, the World Endurance Championship, or the Rally Raid Championship.”

Ben Sulayem was also not impressed by the fact that immediately following his ascent into the presidency, he had to worry about a court case after a suit was filed in the United States over a potential patent infringement by the FIA over the Halo cockpit protection system, brought about by Jens H.S. Nygaard.

“Imagine yourself being elected in the role after all these years of trying, everybody having a party on the night of the 17th (December),” Ben Sulayem said. “Then you go to the office on the 18th and 10 a.m., the first thing you meet is your legal people and they say you have a big court case with the halo.

“We cannot talk much about it, but the feeling I had was not good. But you go on, it’s huge but I’m very happy that a month ago (in November 2022) that was cleared.

“It was a big burden on my shoulders because as president, it would have affected us in a very legal, financial way. Now it’s behind us, and the Halo is patented to the FIA, so that’s good.”

Todt’s response to these comments was that Ben Sulayem simply couldn’t have been caught unawares by the case.

“It is true that we left one dispute unfinished when I left, the Halo trial,” he said.

“But it wasn’t swept under the rug. It was well documented and monitored by our services; we presented it to the Senate and the World Council before I left, and the current president attended this presentation.

“This was a lawsuit brought in Texas by an engineer who owned a patent that was only valid in the United States and for a short time. So when I left, there was nothing secret. And only one ongoing case, that one.

“But I wasn’t surprised, I knew who my successor was. I know the character.

“There is no point in launching into allegations especially when they are false.”

 

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But Todt denied that he was being critical of Ben Sulayem, explaining that he felt he was simply explaining the reality of the situation from his perspective.

“No, it doesn’t matter to me. And then it’s smoke,” he said when asked if he was annoyed by Ben Sulayem’s comments.

“I start from the principle that, when one chapter closes, another opens and we do not allow ourselves to attack its predecessor. Whether leaving Peugeot, Ferrari, or the FIA, I never said a bad word. There is no point in launching into allegations, especially when they are false.

“The reality is what I just told you. And I will add something regarding the revenues of the FIA: it was under my presidency that the Hundred Year Agreement and Concorde Agreements between the FIA and F1 were renegotiated before Liberty Media became the owner of the FOM (Formula One Management)

“Without going into detail, I can tell you that the income received by the Federation has very clearly increased compared to before. And its position in the governance of F1 has also been restored. It now has a third of the votes, along with FOM and the teams. It’s night and day with previous agreements.

“You can’t stop someone from criticising or disagreeing. But everything I have done during my presidency has always been approved by the Senate and the World Councils.”

But, having been in position as the FIA’s leader for well over a decade, he said he felt the direction Ben Sulayem has taken the governing body is very different.

“Everything that was put in place during my mandate was turned upside down,” he summed up.

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