FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem has described the feeling of walking into the storm that was F1’s Abu Dhabi 2021 fallout as he reflected on the steps taken since.
The 2021 campaign goes down as one of the most thrilling in F1 history, with the dominance of Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes challenged by Max Verstappen and Red Bull.
That battle was decided in a highly controversial manner though, then race director Michael Masi making the call to clear only lapped cars between the two title contenders for a last-lap showdown, leaving Hamilton a sitting duck against Verstappen on fresh tyres.
Mohammed Ben Sulayem uncomfortable with ‘reactive’ approach
Ben Sulayem was elected FIA president, replacing Jean Todt, in the days following that Abu Dhabi controversy, giving the new chief a huge first assignment.
Masi left his role as race director, with various additional measures having been put in place since, such as the establishment of a VAR-style remote race control operation, while Niels Wittich now serves as F1 race director.
Ben Sulayem is clear that the FIA has now created a “better structure that will cause fewer problems” as he reflected on the chaotic start to his FIA presidency.
Asked how much of the restructuring came down to Abu Dhabi ’21 reaction, versus what was already planned, Ben Sulayem told Motorsport-Magazin.com: “There are always changes to improve. I will never say that everything is good in this race.
“I always look at areas that need to be improved. Like with my car as a racing driver: I wanted to improve every race. You will always find improvements, no matter where. Abu Dhabi overshadowed everything. A week later, I was elected president and the first question was what I was going to do with it.
“I thought to myself: wait a minute, let me see what’s going on first. I’ve just won the election, let me enjoy it first! My journey to the presidency has taken over 12 years!
“But then we looked at it. I’ll be honest: I hate being reactive. I always say: failing to plan is a plan to fail. Have a plan for everything. I’ve been bombarded with problems. I was wondering what the hell was going on?”
Since his maiden World Championship crown secured at the 2021 Abu Dhabi GP, Verstappen has since become the dominant force of Formula 1, winning his third title in 2023 with 19 grand prix wins out of 22.