FIA president asserts his position in F1 power struggle: “I represent the head of the house”

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FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem has acknowledged the “friction” between the governing body and the sport’s commercial rights holders.

Since his appointment in December 2021, Ben Sulayem has been involved in a series of controversies. 

Under his leadership, the FIA has found itself at odds with Liberty Media numerous times over various issues—including the potential entry of additional racing teams. 

A recent controversy involved allegations of a “conflict of interest” and a subsequent ethics probe into Toto Wolff, Mercedes team principal and CEO, and wife Susie Wolff, director of the F1 Academy. Mercedes issued a statement rejecting the allegations, while the remaining teams responded by posting coordinated statements in support of the couple, denying that they had lodged any complaints. Notably, FOM also took the Wolffs’ side in the conflict, insisting that the allegations were baseless. 

The FIA quickly dropped the compliance investigation, but the damage was already done, with the governing body taking yet another hit in terms of optics. 

Photo credit: Red Bull Content Pool

In a recent interview with Motorsport Magazin, Ben Sulayem opened up about the strained relationship between the governing body and the commercial arm. 

“I’m just asking for clarity and fairness,” he stressed.

“I am not involved in the stock price or ticket sales. We just need fairness here, that’s my mission.

“We define clarity between ourselves and the FOM, Liberty. That’s good.

“We need to understand who I represent. I represent the head of the house”

“We are not a service provider! No, we are not. I keep saying that and I believe it too.

“But friction is sometimes healthy to bring out the best. It’s like with your body: if you wake up in the morning with pain, then at least you know that something is wrong.”

Ben Sulayem also assured that the FIA is not going anywhere, despite the recent wave of high profile resignations, which include Deborah Mayer, sporting director Steve Nielsen—and, as of this week, leading engineer and technical director Tim Goss.

“We want the best for the sport. I’ll tell you one thing, I’ll say it very humbly and clearly: you won’t wake up tomorrow and the FIA ​​is no longer there. For others it is different.

“Liberty also has the right to sell the lease to another company. Tomorrow it could no longer be with them, but with someone else. Then I have to get along with them. That is the difference between us.

“I respect them, they are here for profit. That’s why they bought it. Why else would they buy the lease? They are smart people and I support them.

“But at the same time I was elected by the members of the FIA ​​to do the best for the FIA. I don’t get paid, I don’t complain about it, I already knew that,” he continued.

“We are a non-profit association. What we get doesn’t go to shareholders or directors. Investments are being made again in equipment and training to develop better stewards and race directors.”

Intriguingly, Ben Sulayem mentioned he knows who has been attacking him in recent weeks and months. But the Emirati did not mention a name.

“At the end of the day I know who is attacking me, and they think I don’t know. Do you really think I would be in this position if I had stupid people around me? Of course my team is very smart.

“The paddock is a very small circle, everyone knows everyone. You know who has leaked something or made something up about me. I know it.

“And what am I doing? I smile at that. I know who is behind it and then I smile at them. Is it counterproductive? No. Is it good for business? No.”