FIA president reminds F1 bosses: ‘The championship is ours, we have only rented it out’

Michelle Foster
Formula 1

F1 lights

As tensions continue to mount in the on-going war-of-words between the FIA and Formula 1, FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem has reminded F1 bosses “the championship is ours and we have only rented it out.”

The Formula 1 World Championship has, to some degree, two bosses, or to use Otmar Szafnauer’s turn of phrase, “two popes”.

They are the FIA, motorsport’s governing body, and Liberty Media, who own the series’ rights having bought a controlling interest in the Formula One Group in early 2017.

While the FIA’s mandate is to ensure safety and enforce the rules, the Formula One Group is in charge of all commercial affairs.

But right now the two parties are at loggerheads over just about everything to do with the sport.

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Tensions began to climb last season when the F1 team bosses clashed with the FIA over their interference when it came to porpoising, motorsport’s governing body forcing through a rule change for 2023, while the teams also demanded an increase in the budget cap.

It continued at grand prix weekends when the bosses were unimpressed with the FIA’s handling of the Italian Grand Prix and its red-flags while two races later a recovery vehicle on the track at the Japanese Grand Prix brought back memories of Jules Bianchi’s tragic 2014 crash at the very same circuit.

More recently they’ve clashed over the FIA’s desire to bring in an 11th team with Ben Sulayem pushing for Andretti to join the grid, asking “how on earth could we say no to someone like GM” who have joined the Andretti venture.

The teams, and Formula 1 as a whole, aren’t at all keen, wanting to keep the sport down to ten teams.

As the arguments continue to tally up, the latest relates to an article in Bloomberg that suggested Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund had been interested in purchasing F1 from Liberty Media for a $20 billion price tag. The F1 bosses rejected the proposal.

Learning of this Ben Sulayem questioned the “alleged inflated price tags of $20bn being put on F1”, his comments angering F1 chiefs who wrote to him saying he had “overstepped the bounds of his remit”.

However, Ben Sulayem, or at least the FIA, does have a say in whether Liberty Media sell, they can also dictate who the buyer is.

According to Auto Motor und Sport while ‘the FIA is not allowed to interfere in commercial decisions, the matter for Formula 1 management is not as simple as it sounds.

‘If the rights were sold, the so-called “Don King Clause” would come into force. The special clause in the contract was named after a legendary boxing promoter and always gives the FIA a veto right should there be a possible change of ownership.’

Because, simply put, the FIA assigned the right to use “Formula 1” to Bernie Ecclestone back in 2000 in an 100-year deal with the former F1 supremo subsequently selling that to Liberty Media.

Ben Sulayem has made it clear: “The championship is ours, we have only rented it out.

“So far there are only rumours about a possible sale. But the FIA should have a say and be able to offer advice.”

This is a war that will continue to rage…