Formula 1 bosses have accused FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem of “unacceptable” interference in the alleged sale of the sport.
Following reports of a $20bn Saudi Arabian bid to buy F1’s commercial rights, Ben Sulayem took to Twitter to express concern over the potential consequences of a “bloated” takeover, such as higher ticket prices for fans if the new owners tried to to earn back. their investment.
He added that a potential buyer of F1 “needs to come up with a clear, sustainable plan – not just a lot of money.”
Sky Sports news revealed on Monday his comments angered senior F1 officials and now legal bosses have written to the FIA warning that Ben Sulayem’s tweets had “violated our rights in an unacceptable way”
In a letter first reported by sky news, but also seen by sky sports news, F1 General Counsel, Sacha Woodward Hill, and Renee Wilm, Chief Legal and Administrative Officer of Liberty Media Corporationthe controlling shareholder of F1, have accused the FIA, motorsport’s governing body, of stepping outside its purview.
The letter has also been distributed to all 10 F1 teams. Sky Sports news contacted the FIA for comment but has not received comment.
Ben Sulayem’s comments came in response to a report from last week Bloomberg News that Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund had explored a $20 billion takeover bid for the sport in 2022.
Neither F1 nor the Saudi public investment fund have commented on the report.
The letter warned the FIA that “Formula One has the exclusive right to exploit the commercial rights in the FIA Formula One World Championship” under a 100-year agreement.
“Furthermore, the FIA has made unequivocal commitments that it will not do anything to harm the ownership, management and/or exploitation of those rights.
“We believe that those comments, made from the FIA president’s official social media account, infringe those rights in an unacceptable manner.”
The reaction to Ben Sulayem’s comments comes at a time of heightened tensions between F1 and the governing body.
Woodward Hill and Wilm’s letter also said the suggestion, implicit in the FIA president’s comments, “that any potential buyer of the Formula 1 business is required to consult the FIA is wrong.”
It added that Ben Sulayem “exceeded[ped] the limits of the FIA’s mandate’, saying that ‘any person or organization commenting on the value of a listed entity or its subsidiaries, in particular alleging or implying insider information therein, risks causing substantial harm to the shareholders and investors of that entity, not to mention potential exposure to serious regulatory consequences.”
“To the extent that these comments damage the value of Liberty Media Corporation, the FIA could be held liable by them.”
Contacted by sky news, an F1 spokesperson declined to comment.
F1 teams are questioning the FIA president’s position after the latest disagreements
Analysis by Craig Slater of Sky Sports News…
Ahead of the 2023 season, this is a major conflict at the top of the sport.
Formula 1 is owned by the American company Liberty Media and is listed on the stock exchange. If someone of FIA president status makes a comment about what the right value potential is, it could be to the commercial disadvantage of the company.
This is just one of many problems that have vexed not only F1 but some teams during Mohammed Ben Sulayem’s tenure.
I have been in contact with a number of F1 teams and they have had different opinions about what happened this week.
A senior official told me that there is a discussion between some teams about how long Mohammed Ben Sulayem can keep this job.
Questions are being asked about his tenure because of the increasingly difficult (relationship) between the governing body and the commercial rights holder, and by extension the teams.
It is as much a style of leadership as anything else. It all goes back to an unease, some people in the sport have, about the arrangement by which the FIA (then led by Max Mosley) sold the lease of the commercial rights for 100 years to an organization more than a decade ago then it was led by Bernie Ecclestone to exploit the commercial rights.
It was felt at the time that it had been rented out far too cheaply, and some people see Mohammed Ben Sulayem state publicly that he is not comfortable with this arrangement.
This is quite deep and it is a historic issue that the governing body and the commercial rights holder must grapple with.