Mohammed ben Sulayem denies friction in the ‘marriage’ between FIA and F1

Michelle Foster
Flavio Briatore between Mohammed ben Sulayem and Stefano Domenicali. Red Bull Ring July 2022.

FIA president Mohammed ben Sulayem finds it a “bit difficult to understand” where rumours of tension between Formula 1 and the FIA began, adamant there are no issues.

Earlier this year it was speculated that all was not well between the FIA and Formula 1 bosses, motorsport governing body’s decision to unilaterally release the 2023 calendar whereas in years gone by it has been a joint press release.

That Ben Sulayem’s side did so without getting the approval of the teams for a late-season triple-header – USA, Mexico, Brazil – added fuel to the fire.

But the final straw, it was said, was Ben Sulayem’s side taking credit for a calendar that was negotiated and put together by F1 boss Stefano Domenicali’s team.

In his statement he said the “addition of new venues and the retention of traditional events underlines the FIA’s sound stewardship of the sport”.

It was, according to the Italian edition of Motorsport.com, a ‘spite that has not gone unnoticed’.

That the calendar controversy came in the wake of F1’s annoyance at the FIA having been left waiting hours for the final grid at Spa and again at Monza, coupled with a Safety Car finish at the Italian Grand Prix, tensions were reportedly mounting.

Ben Sulayem has denied this, adamant there is no friction between the FIA and F1 nor himself and Domenicali.

“It’s a bit difficult for me to understand: where does this come from?” he told Motorsport.com.

“I’ll tell you: my relationship with FOM. First of all, I speak to Stefano I think every two days. If I don’t [call him] he calls, and this is the way. Even before any meeting or before any decisions.

“It’s a marriage. This marriage is going to last, and strongly.”

He did, however, acknowledge that he and Domenicali do have their moments, as with any marriage.

“You can have a problem when you have parts of your body that go wrong, but it doesn’t mean we are in a bad relationship,” he added.

“Questions are there. Inquiries are there, but definitely, the relationship has never been better. Why? Because my interest in the sport is strong.

“I listen to him, he listens to me, and we both know that this marriage has to be only sustainable and go further. And honestly, it’s [going] from strength to strength. It’s very clear.”

He also addressed the issue of the sprint races for 2023 with the word “greed” bandied about.

According to Sky Sports’ Craig Slater, initially there would only be three sprint races next season because of “unjustifiable financial requests” with motorsport’s governing body said to be wanting more money for the extra races.

“The word ‘greed’ was actually used to me,” Slater added.

“And a couple of teams said in their view, the FIA do not incur significant extra costs by replacing a practice session with a sprint event. They are shocked the FIA have taken this position.”

The FIA president addressed this, explaining: “People assumed that when I said about the [extra] three sprint races, that there is a split.

“I was not surprised, but I laughed at it because we are talking about a split. I can’t see a split.

“That’s where it started, on the 25th of April, in the F1 Commission, when suddenly they said: ‘okay, we need three [extra] races’. I said: ‘fine, but then I have to go back to my team and see if there is an extra load or something.’

“Suddenly everybody said [there was] a split and I had about six phone calls saying: ‘okay, what’s going on?’

“But we approved it. We studied it and went back. I checked with all of my team in the field, because people don’t understand sometimes the pressure that goes into the staff and officials of the FIA.”

He added: “I am in a very good relationship, in a professional and personal relationship. It can’t be better. Okay if we improve it, it will be. But I can’t complain now. I can see it’s 100 percent.”

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