Column

War in F1: has Mohammed Ben Sulayem overplayed his hand?

War in F1: has Mohammed Ben Sulayem overplayed his hand?

24 January - 18:25
3 Comments

GPblog.com

Tensions between Formula 1 and the FIA continue to rise. With Formula 1 and owner Liberty Media's letter addressed to the international motorsport federation, containing rock-hard reproaches, there seems to be a small war between the parties. How did it get this far?

Exactly one day ago, this site wrote that FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem had no doubt thought things through before sending out a series of controversial Tweets indicating that Formula 1 was for sale. Indeed, Ben Sulayem's Tweets were in response to an alleged bid for Formula 1 by Saudi Arabia through a sovereign wealth fund. Between the lines, it was clear that F1 would not change hands for next to nothing, but that a sale had not been ruled out. At least, so Ben Sulayem seemed to want to say.


Keeping quiet

Just under 24 hours later, it seems that Ben Sulayem had not thought things through so well after all before he went on social media. Indeed, Formula 1 and Liberty Media appear furious about the FIA boss's Tweets. An official letter has even been sent to the FIA - a letter that has obviously been leaked to the media on all sides - in which Formula 1 clearly states that the motorsport federation should keep its mouth shut about all commercial matters affecting the world's premier racing class.

The tone of the letter is downright explosive, showing just how disturbed the relationship between the parties now is. At the centre of all the controversy is Mohammed Ben Sulayem. The Emirati - unlike his beloved predecessor Jean Todt - is someone who likes to air his views, preferably via Twitter. A few weeks ago, he caused a stir by announcing that Formula 1 was opening the door to new teams.

This led to a huge outcry in the paddock, although no one spoke out loud. Indeed, the consensus among F1 teams was precisely (with the exception of Alpine) that ten teams is enough at the moment, and then the most important pawn within FIA sends a completely different message into the world.


With Andretti next controversy

Immediately after Ben Sulayem's Tweets, one party after another announced that they were very keen to join Formula 1, with the most prominent candidate being Michael Andretti. The American saw the FIA boss's words as confirmation that he could be on the grid with his men very soon. Shortly afterwards, Andretti even presented General Motors (with the Cadillac brand) as a new partner and, according to the team owner, Formula 1 really couldn't ignore him because of this. From the teams, it remained virtually silent, apart from an occasional cautiously positive message from Toto Wolff or Zak Brown, for example.

The F1 teams were therefore surprised when Ben Sulayem vented his disgust on Twitter about the negative reception Andretti and Cadillac allegedly received from the teams. Once again, the teams did not respond in the media to the FIA president's words, although they were boiling inside. Not Ben Sulayem, but they were about the access policy to the F1 grid. Moreover, the teams also saw that General Motors was effectively nothing more than a sponsor rather than a manufacturer that wanted to take the sport to the next level.


Done with Sulayem

After the latest series of Tweets, Formula 1 seems to be done with Ben Sulayem's tweeting for a while. In no uncertain terms, he has been told to stop interfering in matters that do not concern him. For example, the teams were also annoyed by how Ben Sulayem initially refused to agree to more sprint races. In short, the Arab has shown easy irritation in the 12-plus months of his tenure. So there is a real chance that tensions in the paddock will reach a boiling point again. It will undoubtedly be an interesting season. Not just on the track, but certainly off it too.

Video player

More videos