Mohammed Ben Sulayem opens up on the ‘complexity’ of FIA presidential role

Thomas Maher
Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc walking with Mohammed Ben Sulayem. Italy September 2022

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc walking with Mohammed Ben Sulayem. Italy September 2022

FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem has spoken about the challenge of his role, a year on from taking over the position.

Ben Sulayem assumed the Presidency of the FIA in December 2021, taking over from Jean Todt after three successive terms, with the Emirati hailing from a background as a rally driver before moving into motorsport administration.

After his first year in the sport, notable changes made by Ben Sulayem included his dealing with the fallout from the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – the controversy from which was F1’s most pressing issue upon his election as President.

Ben Sulayem, together with FIA Deputy President for Sport Robert Reid, set about rectifying the issues identified in the Abu Dhabi report, removing Michael Masi from his role as Race Director, and making changes to how Race Control at a race is administered – including the appointment of Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas in alternating roles as Race Director.

Ben Sulayem has also recently brought about changes of policy when it comes to political statements, with drivers and teams to be prevented from airing political stances from 2023 onward without prior permission. These changes have been formalised through the FIA’s International Sporting Code.

Looking back over his first year as FIA President at the recent FIA Prize-Giving for the 2022 motorsport season, Ben Sulayem spoke of the day-to-day challenges of his role.

“I think people think that ‘OK, you are the President. You have the red carpet.’,” he commented.

“I mean, there is that part of course, but then you really have to handle the issues. You cannot just run away and say OK, someone else’.

“You cannot just be dependent on others and, meanwhile, you cannot micromanage. The more you dig in, the more you can improve it. I think the minute we say ‘OK, we are there’ [that’s] the minute we’ll start losing and we’ll start not delivering what we have to do.”

Ben Sulayem said that it’s the enormity of the sport that falls under the remit of the FIA that external observers can fail to grasp, with the governing body dealing with far more series and disciplines than just Formula 1.

“People don’t understand, sometimes,” he said.

“There are a lot of people behind it, the FIA is complex. Why? Because if you look at another game, like football, look at the regulations there. It is one or two sizes of football, there is one goal size, there is one size of a football, and everybody’s watching.

“But look at the FIA. When you look at karting… imagine the regulations that goes into it. Imagine all the disciplines – forget Formula 1, go to rallying and so on. The challenge is every day is a challenge, but an enjoyable challenge.”

Read More: Zak Brown backs FIA clampdown against unapproved political statements