Formula One bosses have accused FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem of “unacceptable” interference in the alleged sale of the sport.
After reports of a $20 billion (£16.3 billion) Saudi Arabian bid to buy F1’s commercial rights, Ben Sulayem raised concerns on Twitter about the potential consequences of an “inflated” takeover such as higher ticket prices for fans if the new owners tried to recoup their investment.
He added that a potential buyer of F1 should “come with a clear, sustainable plan — not just a lot of money.”
Sky Sports News revealed on Monday his remarks angered senior F1’s officials and now legal bosses have written to the FIA warning that Ben Sulayem’s tweets had “interfered with our rights in an unacceptable manner”
In a letter first reported by Sky News, but also seen by Sky Sports News, F1 general counsel, Sacha Woodward Hill, and Renee Wilm, chief legal and administrative officer of Liberty Media Corporation, F1’s controlling shareholder, have accused the FIA — motorsport’s governing body — of straying beyond its remit.
The letter has also been circulated to all 10 F1 teams. Sky Sports News contacted the FIA for a response but has received no comment.
Ben Sulayem’s comments came in response to a report last week by Bloomberg News that Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund had explored a $20 billion takeover bid for the sport in 2022.
Neither F1 nor Saudi’s Public Investment Fund have commented on the report.
The letter, warned the FIA that “Formula 1 has the exclusive right to exploit the commercial rights in the FIA Formula One World Championship” under a 100-year deal.
“Further, 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.”
The response to Ben Sulayem’s comments comes at a time of heightened tensions between F1 and its governing body.
The letter from Woodward Hill and Wilm also said the suggestion, implicit in the FIA president’s remarks, “that any potential purchaser of the Formula 1 business is required to consult with the FIA is wrong.”
It added that Ben Sulayem had “overstep[ped] the bounds of the FIA’s remit,” saying that “any individual or organisation commenting on the value of a listed entity or its subsidiaries, especially claiming or implying possession of inside knowledge while doing so, risks causing substantial damage to the shareholders and investors of that entity, not to mention potential exposure to serious regulatory consequences.”
“To the degree that these comments damage the value of Liberty Media Corporation, the FIA may be liable as a result.”
Contacted by Sky News, an F1 spokesperson declined to comment.
F1 teams question FIA president’s position after latest disagreements
Analysis by Sky Sports News’ Craig Slater…
Ahead of the 2023 season, this is a big conflict at the top of the sport.
Formula 1 is owned by an American company, Liberty Media, and is a listed company. If someone of the standing of the FIA president makes an observation into what the appropriate value potentially is, that could be to the company’s commercial detriments.
This is just one of a number of issues which over the course of Mohammed Ben Sulayem’s tenure has irked not just F1, but some of the teams as well.
I have been in contact with a number of F1 teams, and they’ve had various views on what has gone on this week.
One senior figure has said to me there is a discussion amongst a number of teams about just how long Mohammed Ben Sulayem can continue in this job.
There are questions being asked about his tenure because of what’s becoming an increasingly fractious (relationship) between the governing body and the commercial rights holder, and by extension the teams.
It’s a style of leadership as much as anything else. It all dates back to an unease, which some people in the sport have, of the arrangement by which the FIA (then headed by Max Mosley) over a decade ago sold the lease of the commercial rights for 100 years to an organisation then run by Bernie Ecclestone to exploit the commercial rights.
It was felt at the time that it was leased out far too cheaply, and some people see Mohammed Ben Sulayem publicly signalling that he is uncomfortable with this arrangement.
This runs quite deep, and it is an historic issue that the governing body and commercial rights holder have to wrestle with.
(With inputs from CNBC)