Stefano Domenicali downplays the storm that was brewing between F1 and the FIA

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

Stefano Domenicali is not crowing after Formula 1 won the war against Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the FIA president stepping back from day-to-day F1 dealings after angering the sport’s bosses.

After the honeymoon period post-Abu Dhabi 2021, Ben Sulayem launching an investigation into the controversy and following that up with changes to the regulations, cracks began to appear in his relationship with Domenicali and the F1 team bosses.

The first outward signs were back in September when the FIA broke tradition by unilaterally releasing the 2023 calendar and then taking credit for it by proclaiming the “addition of new venues and the retention of traditional events underlines the FIA’s sound stewardship of the sport”.

It was, claimed Motorsport.com, a ‘spite that has not gone unnoticed’.

Tensions continued to mount as Ben Sulayem pushed for Formula 1 to include an 11th team on the grid, the existing outfits opposed to the idea as they aren’t in favour of diluting the prize pot.

That he declared “the championship is ours, we have only rented it out” didn’t help the situation, while the final straw seems to have been his comment about a reported $20 billion bid for Formula 1 being an “inflated price tag”.

Both the teams and Liberty Media, who owns the rights to Formula 1, were incensed and wrote a harshly-worded letter to the FIA president, who subsequently announced he’d step back from his hands-on role with Formula 1.

It brought an end to what was, at least from the outside, a deteriorating situation between the FIA and the F1 bosses.

However, F1 chief Domenicali has downplayed it all, telling Sky Sports’ Martin Brundle that it was “important to clarify the role of each of us.

“And I think that there’s no other things to comment because I think we need to stay focused on what we believe is right for the growth of the sport.

“We believe that even if it was news that was not news, if I may say, the value of a sport is growing, we should all be happy because that means that we all are doing a great job.”

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Asked specifically about Ben Sulayem handing over the day-to-day control, the former Ferrari team boss explained: “I think we discussed with Mohammed that respect.

“Of course he is the president of the FIA. It’s a big role as he has many championships, he has a big role with the mobility, and I think that his action will be to stay connected on a strategic level as it should be.

“There will be people running the day-by-day, as we have in our organisation, so I’m expecting as always to be in touch with him in order to discuss the future.”

The Italian downplayed the storm that had been brewing between Formula 1 and Ben Sulayem, saying he understand that everyone involved had their own job to do.

“With Mohamed Ben Sulayem coming as a new president last year it was clear that, as normal when there is a new president coming into the place, there is a manifesto that he has to respect,” he said.

“That was his proposition in front of the members that have voted him and there is the need and the time to adjust to have the right team to assess the right role within the FIA with regard to what is the role in the F1 championship.

“And there’s no secret to say that the key of success of sport is to have everyone doing his own job and making sure that we do it in the right way for the benefit of the growth of the sport.

“Any kind of personalism, any kind of thing that is not helpful for that, doesn’t make any need to comment because, as I said, we have all the interest to make sure that our sport is growing.

“We have to do a better job as a commercial rights holder, the team and the driver has to do their own job to make that in the right way.

“The same is for the FIA that has one year to develop, to grow, to work on a new team and they have to deliver the job because everyone put his credibility in the hands of the other. We are all united on that. If someone is not doing the right job it will be a problem.”