FIA president takes backseat approach to running F1
By Ian Parkes
Wednesday 8th February, 2023 - 11:26pm
FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem has formally handed over his day-to-day stewardship of Formula 1.
Ben Sulayem has confirmed the move in a letter written to all 10 team principals, effectively drawing a line under a transitional year at the helm of motorsport’s world governing body.
The 61-year-old will now take a more backseat approach to F1 following the recent appointments of Natalie Robyn as CEO, and more importantly, Nikolas Tombazis as single-seater director.
The team principals have been informed Tombazis will now be their direct line of contact.
The letter, seen by Speedcafe.com, reads: “My stated objective in the election was to be a non-executive president via the recruitment of a team of professional managers which has now been largely completed.
“Therefore, going forward, your day-to-day contact for all matters on F1 will be with Nikolas and his team while I will focus on strategic matters with my leadership team.”
Ben Sulayem added: “We enter the 2023 season with the sport in its strongest position ever. The FIA team will work with you, FOM, and all other stakeholders to ensure this growth continues.”
Ben Sulayem’s reign has so far been controversial
In a further communication, the FIA confirmed to Speedcafe.com that Ben Sulayem’s move on the matter had long been in the pipeline.
“The president’s manifesto clearly set out this plan before he was elected,” said a spokesperson.
“It pledged ‘the appointment of an FIA CEO to provide an integrated and aligned operation’, as well as to ‘introduce a revised governance framework’ under “a leadership team focused on transparency, democracy, and growth.
“These goals, as well as the announcement of the new structure of the single-seater department, have been planned since the beginning of this presidency.
“The FIA president has a wide remit that covers the breadth of global motorsport and mobility, and now that the structural reorganisation in Formula 1 is complete this is a natural next step.”
Since succeeding Jean Todt as FIA president in December 2021, Ben Sulayem’s time in charge has sparked controversy.
The 14-time Middle Eastern Rally champion was thrown in at the deep end following his appointment given the furore that unfolded given former race director Michael Masi’s handling of the contentious final race of that year in Abu Dhabi.
Although Masi eventually departed, the report into the matter was underwhelming.
Ben Sulayem then enforced a ban on drivers wearing jewellery, and clamped down on the regulation regarding the required underwear for drivers whilst on track.
He was also not in line with International Olympic Committee guidance with regard to banning Russian athletes following the invasion of Ukraine.
FIA v F1 tension
The continual clashes with F1 have additionally spiced up his reign, initially with the delay in increasing the number of sprint races, and being at odds with the teams as he pushed for the prospect of Andretti Autosport joining the grid.
Ben Sulayem was notably chastised by F1 when he criticised reports of a $ 20 billion Saudi buy-out as “an inflated price tag”, whilst there was further tension when misogynistic comments from a now-defunct website from over 20 years ago recently surfaced.
The latest tumult follows an amendment in December to the International Sporting Code in which drivers now have to seek written permission from the FIA to make religious, political, or personal statements.
In response, F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali has stated his organisation would “never gag anyone”.
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