F1 angered by FIA president’s tweets but is he right?

Well, it always seems to happen Right after we talk about an issue, something happens the very next day. So it was with last night’s podcast where we discussed the FIA president’s comments about a reported offer to F1 in the neighborhood or $16-20 billion.

You’ll recall the Mohammend Ben Sulayem (MBS) tweeted:

“As the custodians of motorsport, the FIA, as a non-profit organisation, is cautious about alleged inflated price tags of $20bn being put on F1,” he wrote.

“Any potential buyer is advised to apply common sense, consider the greater good of the sport and come with a clear, sustainable plan – not just a lot of money.

“It is our duty to consider what the future impact will be for promoters in terms of increased hosting fees and other commercial costs, and any adverse impact that it could have on fans.”

It seems that F1 didn’t like those comments and sent a terse letter to the FIA complaining of MBS’s tweets. I was reading an article over at Motorsport about it by Jonathan Noble and he quoted F1 as saying:

“The FIA has given unequivocal undertakings that it will not do anything to prejudice the ownership, management and/or exploitation of those rights.

“We consider that those comments, made from the FIA President’s official social media account, interfere with those rights in an unacceptable manner.”

Jonathan summarizes the commercial rights agreement the FIA made with FOM (Formula One Management) for a lease of the commercial rights for 100 years saying:

“As part of an original deal agreed by former FIA president Max Mosley in 2000 to lease the rights out to F1 for more than 100 years, the governing body agreed not to get involved in any commercial matters – and would instead be involved only in regulatory issues.”

Now, I’m not trying to split hairs here but the FIA do have a legal position as it refers to the series. When former FOM owner, Bernie Ecclestone, created individual contracts for each team instead of a tripartite Concorde Agreement, the FIA demanded to see those contracts. Ecclestone tried very hard to keep them from the FIA.

The FIA is tied very closely with EU law regarding its role as a regulatory oversight body of all international motorsport. The break-away series threats in the early 00’s was fanciful because if they wanted to race in Europe, they’d have to be regulated by the FIA.

The FIA also built in a veto over it’s 100-year lease that says it has veto controls over the sport, in particular the right to ensure sporting fairness and minimum safety standards as well as media access by the public.

Referring back to Ecclestone’s desire to not show the individual contracts he had made with each team, the FIA used their legal position regarding the right to ensure sporting fairness in order to assess that no teams were being taken advantage of and that each contract was equitable and fair to all other contracts.

While MBS’s comments could be construed as potentially damaging of the sport’s valuation, his meddling in their financial business may have a precedent in that the FIA has to ensure sporting fairness. This could be expanded to the financial burden such a valuation would have on teams, race promoters and the fans ultimately.

You see, the FIA has already fought the European Commission on its position as the international governing body of motorsport. In fact, the FIA could have used what Max Mosley called the nuclear option and treated the EU as one country and reduced their purview over the FIA rendering it no different than Russia or another member state of the FIA.

In the end, the FIA has been lambasted for its 100-year lease for $300M but if you look deeper, you’ll see that locking Bernie Ecclestone in for 100 years would make it difficult for him or he and the teams to leave and start their own series. Not that they couldn’t but if they did, it would be under FIA regulatory control.

They are thin words to parse about sporting fairness and equitable contracts but Mohammed Ben Sulayem has been in a power struggle with F1 since he became FIA president and he may be leaning more on Max Mosley’s playbook than his predecessor, Jean Todt. MBS is irascible, a media hound and likes to be in the spotlight. He, in my opinion, is swimming in a pool of sharks and he may have shown up without water wings or a safety vest if I’m honest.

All that said, while MBS may be slightly junior league compared to his two predecessors, the organization he leads has very powerful positions in and around F1. Liberty Media may know that but to jettison the FIA would be a legal battle of Herculean proportions. They’d be fighting the EU as well. It would be easier to work up an organized vote of no confidence in MBS at the grassroots level and find another, more pliable president.

On one hand with F1, you follow the money, on the other hand with MBS, you follow the power…or at least the power he is trying to re-establish. My hunch is that F1 and the teams are not too crazy about MBS. They should have gotten Ross Brawn or Stefano Domenicali or another lawyer from F1.

This letter from F1 will be interesting and it’s impact, if any, might be equally interesting. MBS doesn’t seem like a guy who will take this public scolding lightly. It’s humiliating to a guy like MBS. Pop some popcorn folks.

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The Captain

While Mohammend Ben Sulayem (MBS) may be right in his criticism of the F1 evaluation, I think there’s an elephant in the room here that’s he’s really only doing this to help the Saudis purchase F1. Fundamentally I don’t think you can separate high-profile individuals that come from an autocratic societies from those autocrats. Is that fair to MBS, no, but the UAE is not a free country and has very very close ties to Saudi Arabia among both countries royalty.  MBS reminds me a lot of Dmitry Rogozin, another bombastic, attention seeking official from an autocratic regime who injected… Read more »

Xean Drury

I have to agree that MBS seems laser focused on the Middle East areas. I think the first three races AND testing being held at such venues speaks to that (I do miss Australia as the season opener). ~X8