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F1 and the FIA heading for all-out war?

F1 and the FIA heading for all-out war?

F1 News

F1 and the FIA heading for all-out war?

F1 and the FIA heading for all-out war?

The relationship between F1 and the FIA has struck a nadir under the presidency of Mohammed Ben Sulayem.

That point was reached on Tuesday when the legal heads of F1 and Liberty Media Corporation, which own the commercial rights to the sport, joined forces to send an explosive and legally threatening letter to Ben Sulayem.

The missive was addressed to the FIA Executive and the World Motorsport Council, the sport's legislative arm, and made clear its anger at what it viewed as 'unacceptable interference' from the man at the helm of the governing body.

Not for the first time in recent memory, Ben Sulayem turned to his personal Twitter account - rather than that of the mainstream FIA feed - on this occasion, to voice his opinion on reports of a $20bn bid for F1 that was made last year.

The article was written by the reputable finance news agency Bloomberg, stating Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund had tabled the offer, seemingly respectable given F1's soaring value since Liberty's purchase in early 2017 when the sport was then valued at $8.5bn.

Bizarrely, neither F1, Liberty Media nor the PIF responded to the report, which has, though, raised the eyebrows of other leading figures.

F1 takes issue with FIA "duty"

Ben Sulayem, however, issued a three-tweet stream, initially describing the $20bn valuation as an 'inflated price tag' before urging "any potential buyer...to apply common sense, consider the greater good of the sport and come with a clear, sustainable plan - not just a lot of money".

The 61-year-old signed off by stating it was the FIA's "duty to consider what the future impact will be for promoters in terms of increased hosting fees and other commercial costs, and any adverse impact that it could have on fans".

It took F1 less than 24 hours to respond and to dramatically escalate tensions between the two organisations given the friction that was prevalent between them last season.

The letter, co-authored by Sacha Woodward Hill, F1's general counsel, and Renee Wilm, chief legal and administrative officer of the Liberty Media Corporation, was damning of Ben Sulayem's interference.

At the start of this century, F1 and the FIA struck a 100-year lease agreement whereby the latter would not interfere in the control of the sport's commercial rights, currently in the hands of Liberty.

FIA in hot water

In short, whilst Ben Sulayem has an obvious right to his opinion, on this occasion, it is one he should have kept to himself or within the confines of the FIA's headquarters in Paris, rather than going so public.

Woodward Hill and Wilm pulled no punches in condemning Ben Sulayem for acting "in an unacceptable manner" given the potentially prejudicial nature of his remarks should Liberty Media ultimately one day decide to sell.

Ben Sulayem was further warned his comments 'risked causing substantial damage to the shareholders and investors of' Liberty Media, adding there was also "potential exposure to serious regulatory consequences".

In conclusion, if Ben Sulayem's words were found to damage the value of Liberty Media Corporation, then the FIA "may be liable as a result".

To effectively threaten the president of the FIA with potential legal action after being deemed to cross a line strains the relationship further between both sides.

F1 and the FIA: A strained relationship

Since Ben Sulayem took office 13 months ago, his tenure has been spicy, initiated by the underwhelming report into Michael Masi's handling of the controversial 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, through to banning the drivers' from wearing jewellery and the much-derided underwear clampdown.

F1 and Ben Sulayem notably clashed over his delay to increase the number of sprint races last season as the latter demanded more money to handle the logistical side of such a task.

You then throw in the FIA’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine which was not in accordance with the International Olympic Committee’s guidance of an outright ban on Russian athletes, instead allowing them to continue under a neutral flag.

In contrast, the FIA has told the drivers they now need written consent to make any "political, religious and personal statement or comment" at future F1 races, stymying their freedom of speech.

Most recently, Ben Sulayem again used his personal Twitter account to call for potential new teams to join F1 before then decrying what he perceived as the negative reaction to Andretti joining forces with Cadillac in an effort to strengthen its own bid ambitions.

His latest personal remarks on the alleged Saudi bid for F1 are a step too far for the sport itself which has fired a warning shot you can only hope he now heeds.

If not, you fear the next 'indiscretion' from Ben Sulayem could lead to an all-out war the sport does not need when its popularity has soared to new heights in recent times.

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