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Thursday April 25, 2024

F1 tensions with FIA surface over ‘inflated price tag’ row

By AFP
January 31, 2023

PARIS: Formula One is never more than a chicane away from an unseemly spat as last week’s surfacing of tensions between the sport’s custodians the FIA and its owners Liberty Media demonstrated

F1 is basking in a resurgence of popularity, fuelled by the exploits of its leading actors Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, adrenaline-sapping wheel-to-wheel racing, and an expanding fanbase driven in part by the success of Netflix’s fly-on-the-pitlane-wall series “Drive To Survive”.

Yet purported Saudi interest in adding F1 to its growing sport-portfolio beyond LIV Golf and the Premier League has triggered a row that threatens to act as a damaging backdrop to the 2023 season just weeks away from the opening race in Bahrain.

It was a tweet from FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem on Monday that ignited Liberty Media’s indignation. Ben Sulayem described as “an inflated price tag being put on F1” a report in Bloomberg that Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) had tried and failed to buy F1 for $20 billion.

Despite respected F1 media outlet motorsport.com suggesting a Saudi bid was “wide of the mark” Ben Sulayem’s intervention sparked an angry response from Liberty Media. The Colorado-based company, which took over the sports’ commercial rights holder for $4.4 billion in 2017, called Ben Sulayem’s comments “unacceptable”.

A letter seen by various media to the FIA said the remarks “overstep the bounds of both the FIA’s remit and its contractual rights”. It came with a threat - that the FIA “may be liable” for any damage to Liberty’s value.

One senior paddock source quoted by motorsport.com suggested the letter spelt “open warfare” between the sport’s rulers and its commercial rights holder.

In his Twitter posts Ben Sulayem, a former rally driver who succeeded Jean Todt as president of the FIA in 2021, wrote that “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”.

He added: “It is our duty to consider what the future impact will be for promoters in terms of increased hosting fees and other commercial costs (in the event of any such sale).” Liberty hit back in what the BBC called “a dramatic escalation in the strained relationship between F1 and the FIA that has been evident during Ben Sulayem’s 13-month presidency”. In blunt terms Liberty told him to stop meddling in affairs which did not concern him.