F1 embroiled in another FIA row as Ben Sulayem puts foot down

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F1 bosses look set to clash with FIA president Mohammed ben Sulayem as a war of words emerges over the sport’s future. Ben Sulayem has now turned his sights on securing the lucrative TV rights after an incendiary letter from F1 bosses.

He has warned F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali that the FIA owns the championship and was just leasing it to organisers. This is technically true after the FIA agreed a 100-year rent for the series to ex-F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone.

Ben Sulayem explained: “The championship is ours. We have only rented it out. So far there are only rumours about a possible sale. But the FIA should have a say and be able to offer advice.”

F1 organisers were angry at Ben Sulayem over his handling of a possible Saudi Arabian takeover bid.

A possible sale to the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (PIF) could be worth a staggering £16.4billion ($20bn). Ben Sulayem said it was the FIA’s duty to consider “the future impact” of the bid but warned against the “inflated” nature of the price tag.

Previous estimations have put the value of the championship at closer to £12.4bn ($15bn). F1 bosses accused Ben Sulayem of interfering with F1’s privilege to the commercial rights, which are mostly made up of TV money.

The letter read: “Formula One has the exclusive right to exploit the commercial rights in the FIA Formula One World Championship under a 100-year deal. Further, the FIA has given unequivocal undertakings that it will not do anything to prejudice the ownership, management and/or exploitation of those rights.

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“We consider that those comments, made from the FIA president’s official social media account, interfere with those rights in an unacceptable manner.” F1’s letter was drafted by the sport’s chief legal officer Sacha Woodeard-Hill and Liberty media legal expert Renee Wilm.

It was addressed to the FIA executive team and the World Motorsports Council for consideration. The letter also states that Ben Sulayem and the FIA may be held accountable for any losses as a result of his remarks.

It added: “Commenting on the value of a listed entity, especially claiming or implying possession of inside knowledge while doing so, risks causing substantial damage to the shareholders and investors of that entity, not to mention potential exposure to serious regulatory consequences. To the degree that these comments damage the value of Liberty Media Corporation, the FIA may be liable as a result.”

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