FIA v F1 described as an ‘open war’ with relationship ‘on the edge’

Sam Cooper
FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem and F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali. Spa, Belgium. August, 2022

Mohammed Ben Sulayem speaking with Stefano Domenicali. Spa, Belgium. August, 2022

The FIA and Formula 1 have been described as being in an “open war” as both sides have disagreements with the other party.

The relationship between the sport’s two most powerful groups has somewhat soured of late, mostly stemming from the FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem’s tweets against the Formula One Management.

Firstly, Ben Sulayem criticised a perceived adverse reaction to Andretti’s partnership with General Motors, but the 61-year-old Emirati really drew the ire of Formula 1 bosses when he openly questioned its value.

Following a reported Saudi Arabian takeover bid of FOM worth $20 billion, Ben Sulayem again took to Twitter to suggest that the figure was “inflated.”

This caused a reaction from the FOM owners Liberty Media, who reportedly sent the FIA president a letter suggesting he had made a serious overstep.

That was the latest incident with Ben Sulayem seemingly taking a step back from the Twitter call outs but it is a storyline that could continue on into the season.

Discussing the tensions, Sky Sports pundit Karun Chandhok described it as “open war”.

“I think certainly the relationship is on the edge at the moment between the FIA and Formula 1,” he told the British broadcaster.

“I think publicly last year they were playing nice, although we all know from within the paddock and behind the scenes it was all getting a bit fractious, but from the letters that have been fired across it’s clear now it’s open war.

“I think the President of the FIA put some very strong tweets out which the owners of Formula 1 and Formula 1 boss Stefano Domenicali didn’t take that well.

“It seems a degree of confusion as to Mohammed Ben Sulayem, implying that the FIA somehow should have control over the value of F1 and who it was sold to, but actually the 100-year agreement that was signed famously between Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley, awarded effectively a lease to Formula One Management and that runs till 2110.”

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Martin Brundle also referenced the Ecclestone-Mosley partnership and said it was a lot more comfortable between the FIA and F1 back then.

“I think it’s a big story,” he analysed. “You look back when it was Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley, it was quite a comfortable set-up with Mosley at the FIA and Bernie, of course, was the commercial rights holder on behalf of the teams.

“It worked extremely well, in many respects, for that period of time when they were building F1. Then you had Jean Todt next and he was very passive, he very much let Liberty get on with it, and didn’t get involved in the commercial aspect of it.

“Now, Mohammed Ben Sulayem has come in and he’s very much stating the case that, ‘hey, I’m in charge around here, the FIA calls the shots, we’ll decide who’s coming on the grid and who’s not.’ And that seems to me to be quite a crossover into the commercial realms.

“If I understand the paperwork and the EU paperwork that was in place in 2001 [that] prohibited that from happening, so we’ve got a standoff.”

Brundle praised the work done by Liberty Media to improve the sport’s popularity and said it seemed like it was a battle between Domenicali and Ben Sulayem to decide who calls the shots.

“Because of the incredible work I must say Liberty have done in increasing the value of Formula 1 and the fortunes of those 10 Formula 1 teams, now they want a shedload more [for an entry fee of another competitor] because they think their teams have put up to a billion, so it’s quite an interesting time,” said Brundle.

“I can see more and more of this briefing off record and the head to head while Stefano at Formula 1 and Ben Sulayem at the FIA decide who’s calling the shots.”

Sky’s pitlane reporter Ted Kravitz said that it was in fact the tweet about the sport’s value that “really, really annoyed” Formula 1 bosses.

“I think the Ben Sulayem tweet, when he was talking about the value of Formula 1, that was what really, really annoyed Formula 1,” he suggested.

“He was talking about the inflated value of Formula 1. I think that’s what the teams felt was overstepping his mark.”