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Background | Ben Sulayem puts relations with F1 on edge

Background | Ben Sulayem puts relations with F1 on edge

09-10-2023 19:51 Last update: 21:52
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Ludo van Denderen

With an explosive interview, Mohammed Ben Sulayem has further strained relations between the FIA and Liberty Media, Formula One Management (and thereby the F1 teams). The point of contention remains the potential entry of Andretti-Cadillac. It remains to be seen how the chairman's words will fall on Liberty Media, FOM and the teams.

First of all, a little lesson in PR and spokesmanship: if a company, agency or a prominent person has an important message to proclaim, a (friendly) journalist is regularly invited to sit down for an exclusive interview. The journalist usually comes willingly, especially if he or she gets to talk to a very important person or party. He or she then lovingly writes down the interviewee's words, while the latter in turn is just happy with the podium given to him.

Ben Sulayem is done with the Andretti discussion

Chances are this is how the conversation between Mohammed Ben Sulayem and Reuters news agency in Qatar came about. After all, the FIA president had a clear message to say: he does, in fact, seem quite fed up with Formula 1's backlash over allowing Andretti-Cadillac, and with a high-profile interview, he wanted to indicate once and for all that he and his union - no one else - make the real decisions. That Liberty Media, FOM and the F1 teams are not convinced of the need for an eleventh team on the grid, Ben Sulayem seems done with it. And the whole world now knows it.

What did the FIA boss say to Reuters about the ongoing debate surrounding whether or not to allow the American team into Formula 1? "We are not a service provider. We own the championship. We leased it, we are the landlord. So that has to be respected also," Ben Sulayam told the news agency. So in other words, if, according to the FIA, Andretti-Cadillac meets all the criteria for participation in Formula 1, the team will get a spot.

'Cornered'

In the interview, Ben Sulayem contradicts that there is a power struggle going on between the FIA on the one hand and FOM and Liberty Media on the other. He also says: "My intention was never to embarrass or to put someone in a corner, Liberty or FOM. I am here for the spirit of the sport." Yet with his statements, that is exactly what Ben Sulayem is doing: Liberty Media, FOM and therefore the F1 teams have little choice but to give in to the FIA and welcome Andretti-Cadillac. Because otherwise... what else?

Ben Sulayem confirms that it is theoretically possible that Andretti-Cadillac will run Grands Prix, but not co-finance from the prize pool or generate other income from FOM and Liberty Media - leaving aside whether the Americans would want to race in F1 that way at all. "We hope not. But it could happen. It can happen," the chairman said of that possibility. He is no doubt curious to know what the reaction of Liberty Media and FOM will be. Chances are their PR people are now throwing out some lines to the media...