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BEN SULAYEM Mohammed (uae), President of the FIA, portrait during the Formula 1 Grand Prix de Monaco 2023, 6th round of the 2023 Formula One World Championship from May 26 to 28, 2023 on the Circuit de Monaco, in Monaco - Photo Florent Gooden / DPPI

Ben Sulayem in no rush to sign new Concorde Agreement

BEN SULAYEM Mohammed (uae), President of the FIA, portrait during the Formula 1 Grand Prix de Monaco 2023, 6th round of the 2023 Formula One World Championship from May 26 to 28, 2023 on the Circuit de Monaco, in Monaco - Photo Florent Gooden / DPPI

FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem says the motorsports governing body has no interest in signing an early renewal of the Concorde Agreement with Liberty Media and the current ten Formula 1 teams, keen on sweetening the deal while the series is basking in global popularity.

The eighth and current Concorde Agreement — which sets the rules and regulations for F1 as well as how television revenue and prize money is distributed — began in 2021 and runs through the 2025 season. In a May conference call with Wall Street analysts, the CEO of Liberty Media, which holds the commercial rights to F1, indicated a desire for a new agreement much sooner than that.

“There’s a consensus among the teams and the FIA and ourselves that now might be a good time to try and strike while the iron is hot and renew and extend the Concorde Agreement,” the CEO, Greg Maffei, said on the call. “I hope we have a more positive relationship, and everybody sees the benefit of going early and providing certainty for all involved.”

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But in a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press this week, FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem said he sees no reason to renegotiate now: “The Concorde is something that we have to address, but it has to fit all sides.

“You have the stakeholders, the partners, you have the FIA, you have Liberty Media, and you have the 10 teams, and we have on top of that 18 months. So our house is not on fire. We need to talk to each other and get the best for all of us.”

“If you want a strong FIA, we have to work together and we have to empower the FIA because FIA is the regulator, they are the owners of the championships. They are the judges,” added Ben Sulayem cautioning against any manoeuvres that could potentially weaken the FIA’s governance of F1

Ben Sulayem: We have the time, we will not be rushing it because we have 18 months

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 26: Stefano Domenicali, CEO of the Formula One Group, Mohammed ben Sulayem, FIA President, and Markus Duesmann, Audi CEO, walk in the Paddock prior to practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 26, 2022 in Spa, Belgium. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images) FIA ben sulayem

The FIA chief continued: “When you go to the United States, speaking for example, you can speak to the big OEMs and the reason we can is because it is an FIA championship. If it’s not an FIA championship, it will end up like the WWF (World Wrestling Federation) with no regulator, no governing body. You need a governing body.”

Ben Sulayem raised the question: “You really think that these multinational corporations are going to waste their money on something that they don’t trust? We have the time, and will not be rushing it because we have 18 months and want a better overall agreement for FIA, for Liberty and for the teams. We’re on the right track, but it is a marathon.”

Ben Sulayem, a former rally racer, was elected to his four-year term as president less than a week after the controversial 2021 season finale in Abu Dhabi. That race ended with an unprecedented procedural change following a late caution that allowed Max Verstappen to win his first world championship in a race that had been dominated by Lewis Hamilton, who was seeking a record eighth title. Ben Sulayem replaced Jean Todt and is the first Arab president of the FIA.

Among the topics he discussed with AP was the firestorm he inherited. Not only did he have to spearhead the investigation into the Abu Dhabi race, but he said he was blindsided to learn the FIA and F1 were embroiled in a patent lawsuit over use of the halo device that protects the driver cockpit.

“I knew nothing,  didn’t know about some of the financials. Honestly, I didn’t know anything,” he revealed.

Heading the FIA for a year and a half has not been without hurdles for the President

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Ben Sulayem immediately went to work. But there have been bumps — a silly spat with Hamilton last season over the star driver’s wish to wear jewelry while competing — and earlier this season there seemed to be a target on Ben Sulayem throughout the paddock after he publicly cautioned on Twitter against overvaluing the financial worth of F1.

His tweets led Formula 1 and Liberty Media’s lawyers to send a warning letter to the FIA World Motor Sport Council that the president had overstepped and “interfered with our (commercial) rights in an unacceptable manner.”

Ben Sulayem also expressed support for a bid to join F1 from Andretti Global, expansion most F1 teams oppose. He wondered to AP about his acceptance as FIA president, and shared a cautionary tale told to him by former F1 head Bernie Ecclestone.

“Bernie Ecclestone said it’s amazing how the president, it’s like a ball being thrown to the Italians, and the French and back to the British,” said Ben Sulayem, an Emirati. “And that’s the presidency, it was not allowed to leave that certain area. And you come with my background, and my skin color, it took me 12 years, going nonstop to get here.”

He took umbrage with the secretive politics of F1 and said “any of the top management could have picked up the phone. I’m accessible. Did anyone do that? No. They went on attack,’ he told AP.

“I like dignity, and respect and values has to be in any deal. I believe all of this was just unnecessarily counterproductive,” he said. “Was anything achieved by all this? Did it change anything? No. I tell you what I became: stronger.” (Report by Jenna Fryer)