FIA chief Ben Sulayem RELINQUISHES hands-on control of Formula One

EXCLUSIVE: FIA chief Mohammed ben Sulayem RELINQUISHES hands-on control of Formula One with the president facing a fight to stay in office amid tensions with officials over ‘grandstanding’ and controversial comments

  • FIA chief Mohammed ben Sulayem has relinquished hands-on control of F1  
  • The president has come under fire over his conduct and controversial remarks 
  • He faces a fight to stay in office with allies taking him to task over his approach 

FIA president Mohammed ben Sulayem has taken the extraordinary step of relinquishing hands-on control of Formula One, Sportsmail can reveal.

The embattled former rally champion from the United Arab Emirates – the most powerful figure in world motorsport – made the unexpected concession in a letter sent to team principals late on Monday afternoon. 

He remains president of the governing body.

However, Sportsmail understands that 61-year-old Ben Sulayem faces a fight to extend his term of office beyond his first four-year tenure, as opposition inside his organisation and Formula One more broadly has mushroomed since he assumed his post in succession to former Ferrari boss Jean Todt in December 2021.

Key allies have taken him to task over what they perceive to be his grandstanding approach, and his apparent acknowledgement of these realities resulted in his letter, seen by Sportsmail, in which he said: ‘My stated objective was to be a non-executive president via the recruitment of a team of professional managers, which has now been largely completed. 

FIA chief Mohammed ben Sulayem has surrendered hands-on control of Formula One 

The 61-year-old will no longer be involved in the day-to-day running of the sport and he will instead focus on strategic matters 

‘Therefore, going forward, your day-to-day contact for all matters on F1 will be with Nikolas (Tombazis, director of single-seater racing) and his team, while I will focus on strategic matters with my leadership team.’

It is entirely true that Ben Sulayem stood for election on the pledge of adopting a detached role at the head of a competent management group designated to undertake front-of-house responsibility for Formula One, the highest profile of the myriad racing series the FIA governs across the world.

But, despite that promise, and the appointment of the FIA’s first ever chief executive, former Volvo executive Natalie Robyn, last September, he was front and centre of F1 affairs last season, regularly handing out awards on the podium and even sitting with the drivers of the grid, to their barely concealed bafflement.

His change of tack comes as several of his electorate – the world’s national sporting authorities, known as ASNs – were worked up into an agitated state by his antics if not quite exercised into open rebellion.

A measure of this widespread disgruntlement was the fact that remarks he made 21 years ago were dug out a week ago last Friday from a now-defunct website once associated with him. 

There, he said he did ‘not like women who think they are cleverer than men’, precipitating a ‘sexism row’. 

The FIA countered that the comments did not reflect Ben Sulayem’s considered views.

Ben Sulayem has come under fire for his ‘grandstanding’ approach and comments where he said he didn’t ‘like women who think they are smarter than men’

He was at the centre of another controversy last month when he described $20billion (£16.2bn) as an ‘inflated price tag being put on F1’. 

Formula One, the sport’s commercial rights holders owned by American conglomerate Liberty Media, hit back, accusing him of having ‘overstepped’ the mark by intruding, as they saw it, into their commercial affairs. 

They warned him he might be held liable for any financial damage caused to their business.

Undeniably, Ben Sulayem has earned a reputation as a loose cannon since taking over the presidency. 

Ben Sulayem has been accused of ‘overstepping the mark’ by bosses at Formula One

While he claimed, as many would see rightly, that the FIA’s significance should be reasserted in the tripartite balance of power in F1 – the FIA, F1 (Liberty) and the teams – he has been held liable for overreaching, not least in the farrago over the ban on jewellery he pioneered in what some considered an ad hominem attack on Lewis Hamilton.

Eyebrows were also raised at the visible level of his personal involvement in negotiations over Red Bull’s cost-cap breach, details of which were leaked, unprecedentedly from FIA insiders it is widely presumed, though vehemently denied, before the matter was resolved by due process.

The FIA said in a statement: ‘The president’s manifesto clearly set out this plan before he was elected – 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 motor sport and mobility, and now that the structural reorganisation in Formula One is complete this is a natural next step.’

The man now in charge of Formula One matters is Cambridge-educated Tombazis, a 54-year-old Greek engineer, who previously worked for Benetton, McLaren and Ferrari.

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