F1: Controversial Mohammed ben Sulayem steps back from the firing line (2nd Update)

Sky Sports News’ Craig Slater explains why FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem has decided to step back from the day-to-day running of Formula 1.


February 8, 2023 

(GMM) In the heat of obvious tension with the teams and Liberty Media, FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem has confirmed he is taking a step back, likely to save his job.

In recent days and weeks, the new-in-2022 president of Formula 1’s governing body has clashed with Liberty, the teams and drivers on a number of contentious issues.

But it seems one of the biggest issues was, in fact, the Dubai-born former rally driver’s personality.

“At the FIA prize gala, he started talking on stage about when he was driving rallies and you could see Christian Horner and Max Verstappen thinking ‘What the hell’,” former F1 driver Christijan Albers told De Telegraaf.

“I especially had to laugh at Stefano Domenicali. His face spoke volumes.”

Now, in a letter to the ten F1 teams, 61-year-old Ben Sulayem announced he is taking a step back into a less hands-on “non-executive president” role.

“Going forward, your day-to-day contact for all matters on F1 will be with Nikolas (Tombazis) and his team,” he wrote, referring to the FIA’s new single seater chief.

“I will focus on strategic matters with my leadership team,” Ben Sulayem added.

When asked about the development by the German newspaper Bild, an FIA spokesperson said: “This plan was clearly set out in the president’s manifesto before he was elected.

“The FIA president has a wide range of responsibilities that span the breadth of global motorsport and mobility and now that the structural reorganization of Formula 1 is complete this is a natural next step.”

February 8, 2023 

Facing a fight to stay in office amid tensions with Liberty Media and the teams, FIA chief Mohammed ben Sulayem has relinquished hands-on control of Formula One according to the Daily Mail newspaper.

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

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 for now.

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 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.

“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.”

Tombazis, a 54-year-old Greek engineer, previously worked for Benetton, McLaren and Ferrari.

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 reorganization in Formula One is complete, this is a natural next step.”

Discussing the tensions, Sky Sports pundit Karun Chandhok described it as “open war”.

“I think certainly the relationship is on the edge at the moment between the FIA and Formula 1,” he told the British broadcaster.

“I think publicly last year they were playing nice, although we all know from within the paddock and behind the scenes it was all getting a bit fractious, but from the letters that have been fired across it’s clear now it’s open war.

“I think the President of the FIA put some very strong tweets out which the owners of Formula 1 and Formula 1 boss Stefano Domenicali didn’t take that well.

“It seems a degree of confusion as to Mohammed Ben Sulayem, implying that the FIA somehow should have control over the value of F1 and who it was sold to, but actually the 100-year agreement that was signed famously between Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley, awarded effectively a lease to Formula One Management and that runs till 2110.”