Ben Sulayem under mounting pressure from all sides

President of the FIA Mohammed bin Sulayem seen during the WRC launch at the Hangar 7 in Salzburg, Austria on January 15, 2022. // Joerg Mitter / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202201150131 // Usage for editorial use only //

Pressure is mounting on Mohammed Ben Sulayem from all quarters as he upset not only Liberty Media with recent comments but also human rights activists and politicians who are increasingly vocal in their criticism of the FIA President.

Ben Sulayem, in his second year as FIA chief, has navigated a landmine-packed landscape since he took leadership of the F1’s governing body. Enjoying the limelight and always good for a quote, the Emirati is increasingly marginalizing himself.

This week Ben Sulayem upset Formula One Management, with explosive remarks regarding F1 being over-valued while lamenting that F1’s commercial rights were leased, by the FIA at the time, to Bernie Ecclestone at a paltry $300-million for 100 years.

Now, according to a report in The Independent, the latest to slam Ben Sulayem is Liberal Democrat life peer Lord Paul Scriven who has taken issue with the FIA-issued directive to curtail F1 drivers’ making political comments and statements during Grand Prix weekends as fires up and gets going in the Middle East.

Many in the English media saw that as an effort to muzzle activist-in-chief, among the drivers, Lewis Hamilton whose protest actions in recent years have captured headlines.

Scriven also refers to a letter sent by him to the FIA, in March 2022 regarding staging events in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE which he alleges was completely ignored by the organisation and accused Ben Sulayem of being “deeply discourteous and unprofessional.”

Scriven: I still expect to receive a response to our letter

Nasser Al-Attiyah of the Toyota Gazoo Racing with FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem during the Rest Day of the Dakar 2023 in Riyadh, on January 9th, 2023 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia // DPPI / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202301090414 // Usage for editorial use only //

The letter added: “Why do you think you can ignore parliamentarians? Do you think that concerns raised over human rights and the policies of the FIA should be above scrutiny?

“We wrote to you in order to raise concerns that are in the public interest, and we expect openness and transparency from the FIA. For the sake of clarity, I still expect to receive a response to our letter.”

The Independent reports that Scriven, along with 90 more European parliamentarians, called out the FIA ahead of the 2022 F1 season for “facilitating sportswashing” in Gulf countries, insisting “their continued failure to raise abuses committed by these regimes creates a stark double standard.”

He also highlighted the letter sent this week by BIRD (Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy) which also slammed the FIA for what is seen as “suppressing drivers’ freedom of speech” and raising questions about the organisation’s stance on human rights.

BIRD: These calls must be heard and the FIA cannot continue to bury its head in the sand

protest-5305400_1920 Pete Linforth-001

Following Scriven’s revelations, BIRD director Sayed Ahmed Al-Wadaei slammed the FIA chief: “This is a timely and powerful letter from a member of the House of Lords spotlighting the FIA’s continued refusal to engage with lawmakers and human rights groups.

“Ben Sulayem’s insistence upon disengagement is seriously disturbing and we are stunned by their new repressive gagging measure, which is a direct attack upon freedom of expression. It is high time that the FIA and its president accept that they are not above scrutiny and accountability.

“When they choose to race in the most repressive states on Earth, they have a duty to protect human rights rather than silence their drivers and enrich abusers. These calls must be heard and the FIA simply cannot continue to bury its head in the sand,” added Al-Wadaei.

The Independent report adds that an FIA for Ben Sulayem confirmed the latest Lord Scriven’s letter had been received and a response would be sent in due course.

F1 all but sets up base in the Middle East for almost a month, with testing at the Bahrain Grand Prix venue from 23 to 25 February, followed by the Grand Prix at Sakhir on 5 March, and then the Saudi Grand Prix on 19 March before jetting to Australia for round three in April.