FIA president addresses $20bn Saudi Arabia F1 bid reports

Henry Valantine
Christian Horner talking to FIA president Mohammed ben Sulayem. Silverstone July 2022.

FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem has addressed a rumoured $20billion buyout bid from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund over a possible takeover of Formula 1, calling for “common sense” from potential buyers.

A report from Bloomberg emerged over the weekend claiming the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (PIF), chaired by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, had lodged a bid of $20billion [£16.2bn] to Formula 1 owners Liberty Media to take over the rights to the sport, though this was reportedly rejected.

Liberty, which bought Formula 1 in 2017 for $4.6billion, has rapidly increased the value of the sport through a substantial expansion in its audience, brought about in no small part to the global appeal of Netflix docuseries Drive To Survive, which has brought a new wave of fans to the sport – though FIA president Ben Sulayem believes a $20billion price tag on Formula 1 is “inflated”.

Along with the current growth in key markets such as the United States, the PIF, which is keen to expand its sporting portfolio after the acquisition of Premier League football club Newcastle United, alongside the nation hosting multiple World Championship boxing fights in recent years and Saudi Arabia’s arrival into Formula 1, it was reported that the PIF wants to take on the sport into its ranks.

But the FIA president urged caution when it comes to such moves, believing that the good of motorsport must first be considered before such prices are taken into account.

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He spoke about how such a high valuation would have the possible side-effect of bringing about increased hosting fees for races, which in turn would raise ticket prices for fans, and could end up pricing people out of watching the sport altogether as buyers look for a return on investment.

“As the custodians of motorsport, the FIA, as a non-profit organisation, is cautious about alleged inflated price tags of $20bn being put on F1,” Ben Sulayem wrote on Twitter.

“Any potential buyer is advised to apply common sense, consider the greater good of the sport and come with a clear, sustainable plan – not just a lot of money.

“It is our duty to consider what the future impact will be for promoters in terms of increased hosting fees and other commercial costs, and any adverse impact that it could have on fans.”

Saudi Arabia has faced multiple accusations of “sportswashing” through its use of the PIF to bring sporting events to the country and its purchase of Newcastle United, with the term coined to define an organisation or nation which looks to use sport to paint a favourable image of itself on a global stage, while it is criticised elsewhere over its human rights record.