Mohammed Ben Sulayem is back in the spotlight, but for the wrong reasons as a report in The Telegraph emerged today in which the FIA president is accused of sexism and bullying.
The past few months have been tough for FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem as he has been the subject of several controversies, as soon as one dies down, another emerges.
Ben Sulayem took over Formula 1’s governing body in a tumultuous time, with the first fire he had to put out being the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix controversy, after Max Verstappen won the Title from Lewis Hamilton following a questionable Safety Car administration by former Race Director Michael Masi, who was ultimately axed as a consequence, with the FIA announcing changes to avoid the recurrence of such mistakes.
One issue after the other
After that, Ben Sulayem had a stand-off with seven-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton when he re-activated an FIA rule banning drivers from wearing jewelry – of which Hamilton has plenty – when in the F1 car. That was also sorted out with some kind of settlement reached.
Later on, the Red Bull cost cap breach came along, with leaks about the FIA’s assessment process making the rounds all over the F1 paddock some accusing former Interim Secretary General for Motorsport Shaila-Ann Rao, a former assistant of Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, of being the source of the leak, but Ben Sulayem leapt to her defense insisting on his full faith in her credibility.
At the start of the 2023 season, the FIA decided to prohibit drivers from expressing political opinions, Ben Sulayem insisting drivers should stick to what they do best, driving. That caused controversy within the sport and human rights activists.
Then came on the debate following Ben Sulayem’s support for Andretti-Cadillac’s bid to enter F1 as an 11th team and launching an FIA process to accept bid of potential teams, which Formula 1 management and the teams did not really support, not to mention the President’s downplaying of the sport’s value following reports that the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund was planning to pay Liberty Media $20-Billion to buy it, something Liberty considered as meddling in F1’s commercial side prompting them to send a legal letter to the FIA in that regard.
Ben Sulayem was soon in the center of another controversy, when his old archived website was dug out of nowhere, with statements labeled as offensive to women saying he “does not like women who think they are smarter than men”.
The FIA issued a statement insisting those comments do not reflect their President’s beliefs, after which Ben Sulayem announced he will be stepping back from day to day intervention in F1 leaving that role to Nikolas Tombazis.
A new controversy
A new report emerged in The Telegraph claimed that Shaila-Ann Rao, while left the FIA back in November has written a letter to Ben Sulayem and Carmelo Sanz de Barros, the president of the FIA Senate, alleging the former has displayed sexist behavior towards her on several occasions.
The claims were never investigated by the FIA’s Ethics Committee that, according to the FIA statutes, should investigate any such claims and send a report to the President. In case the President is the subject of the complaints, the Senate would look into it.
Rao was approached by The Telegraph for clarification, but she refused to comment according to the publication, while an FIA spokesperson said: “Shaila-Ann Rao was a temporary director at the FIA from June 1 2022 and then became interim secretary general for motor sport.
“In Nov 2022 it was decided by both parties that she would leave that position. Mutual privacy terms have been agreed as is commonplace in business. Neither party has made a reference to the FIA Ethics Committee,” the spokesperson added.
The report also revealed several claims from “dozens of current and former FIA staff, including elected officials, World Motor Sport Council members and stewards” regarding “erratic and bullying behavior” from Ben Sulayem behind the scenes.
When Rao was announced to be leaving the FIA Ben Sulayem said: “On behalf of everyone at the FIA, I would like to thank Shaila-Ann for her invaluable contribution in her role as Interim Secretary General for Motor Sport during an important transitional phase for the organisation. In particular, Shaila-Ann has provided me with great support in respect to Formula 1, always acting with professionalism and integrity.”