Mohammed Ben Sulayem played down suggestions that there was a growing rift between him and Formula One Management (FOM), headed by Stefano Domenicali, but “I can’t see any division” declared the FIA President.
In the year since he succeeded Jean Todt as FIA chief, Ben Sulayem’s tenure has been peppered with big decisions, starting with the Michael Masi saga, which coincided with the week of his election. Thereafter rebuilding the role of F1 Race Director, vacated by Masi, proved a challenge, first opting to run two in the form of Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas.
In October, Wittich was made solo-F1 Race Director, followed by strange Race Stewards’ decisions (Monza and Suzuka spring to mind) and then the jewelry ban and, in the background, apparent friction about the addition of Sprint Races to the calendar; the list goes on.
And these were just the top-flight racing issues that have occurred under Ben Sulayem’s first year at the helm of the FIA; add to that the myriad of other sports the organisation oversees, and of course, the mammoth role the global automotive authority has beyond motorsport.
In other words, their plate is rather full, and decisions made are not always the most popular, hence friction between the Chiefs would be inevitable.
However, during an interview with Formel1, when asked if there were tensions at the top, Ben Sulayem replied: “It’s difficult for me to understand where these rumors are coming from.”
[Editor’s Note: Not really difficult to understand, Chief, social media’s #DigitalMaggots ensure that the flames of hate and abuse are stoked to create divisions and latched on by media eager for contentious content, in this age of clicks.]
Ben Sulayem: It’s like a marriage; this marriage will last, and it will last
Ben Sulayem then shed insight into his working relationship with Domenicali: “Firstly, I talk to Stefano, I think every two days. If I don’t call him, he calls me. Even before every meeting or before every decision. It’s like a marriage; this marriage will last, and it will last.
“People assumed there was a split when it came to the three extra Sprint Races,” ventured Ben Sulayem. “I wasn’t surprised but I did laugh about it. Because there was also talk of division, I don’t see a division.
“That’s how it started, on April 25, in the Formula 1 committee meeting, when they suddenly said: Okay, we need three extra Sprints. And I said: Fine, but then I have to go to my team and see if there’s an extra burden and suddenly everyone’s talking about a split. I had about six calls asking: Okay, what’s going on?
“But we approved it. We checked it. I spoke to my whole team on the ground because sometimes people don’t understand the pressure that FIA staff and officials are under,” explained Ben Sulayem.
And added that he personally enjoys “a very good relationship” with FOM and Domenicali. “I can’t complain, it’s at 100 percent. You can have a problem if certain wheels in the system don’t work, but that does not mean the relationship is bad.
“There are questions, there are requests, but the relationship has definitely never been as good as it is today. And why? Because my interest in this sport is very high. I listen to him, he listens to me and we both know that this marriage has to be strong. And frankly, it’s just getting better. That’s very clear,” concluded Ben Sulayem.
Domenicali: The most important thing is to stay united and have a common vision of Formula 1
With regards to the non-existent ‘smoke behind the division story’ that emerged, Domenicali stated: “Formula 1 and FIA relations are the backbone of success. We have the obligation to maximise the commercial side, they are responsible for the sporting choices from the point of view of regulations, which now also concern financial controls.
“The new president took office in January, he is building his team. We talk to each other almost every day, the relationship must continue to be that while respecting each other’s responsibilities. The most important thing is to stay united and have a common vision of Formula 1,” added Domenicali.
How lie things in the land of FIA right now? It’s hard to tell at this stage because no one will speak on the record, but without doubt, it has been a year of major upheaval within the organisation, throughout the ranks.
A decade of Jean Todt’s leadership led to the perfect storm of chaos (Abu Dhabi 2021) which exposed the organization’s biggest shortcomings, on the highest stage of motorsport. If they could not manage a motor race, what else were they messing up? A lot appears to be the answer to the glaring question.
The rot really surfaced just as Ben Sulayem took over the FIA, around this time last year. Thus it’s fair to assume the current President is putting out fires started before he took over the helm, and rebooting the place from the ground up.
It’s a massive and unpopular task, but it is one that has to be accomplished for F1’s governing body to earn the respect it needs to progress.