Ben Sulayem took over as motorsport’s governing body late last year, just weeks after the controversial finish of the 2021 F1 world title fight in Abu Dhabi.
Since then, the governing body has been in the firing line over a number of issues, including the report on the events in Abu Dhabi, the consistency of race stewards’ decisions, F1’s jewelery ban, plus the handling of the safety car at Monza and the presence of a crane on the circuit in Japan.
The issues have led to a widely accepted view that relations between Formula One Management and Ben Sulayem are strained – with matters reaching a critical point earlier this year when the FIA stopped approving plans for six sprint races in 2023.
But Ben Sulayem has dismissed such talk, saying he and F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali are working well together.
When asked about suggestions for friction, Ben Sulayem said: “It’s a bit difficult for me to understand: where is this coming from?
“I will tell you, my relationship with FOM. First of all I speak to Stefano I think every two days. If I don’t [call him] he calls, and this is the way. Even before every meeting or before every decision. It’s a marriage. This marriage will last, and strong.”
Stefano Domenicali, CEO, Formula 1, with Mohammed bin Sulayem, President, FIA, Markus Duesmann, Chairman of the Board of Management of Audi AG, Oliver Hoffmann, Head of Technical Development at Audi Sport GmbH
Photo by: Sam Bloxham/Motorsport Images
Ben Sulayem thinks the delay in the sprint race, which led to accusations of ‘greed’ from the FIA to earn more money for hosting the events, was the catalyst for the idea of trouble between him and FOM.
But he is adamant there was nothing malicious behind the delay, other than wanting to check that FIA staff on track had the capabilities to successfully control additional sprints.
“People assumed that when I said about the [extra] three sprint races, that there is a split,” he said.
“I was not surprised, but I did laugh about it, because we are talking about a breakup. I don’t see a split.
“That’s where it started, on April 25, in the F1 Commission, when suddenly they said ‘Okay, we need three’. [extra] races’. I said, ‘fine, but then I have to go back to my team and see if there’s an extra load or something.’
“Suddenly everyone said [there was] a split and I had about six calls saying, ‘Okay, what’s going on?’
“But we approved it. We studied it and went back. I’ve checked with my whole team in the field because sometimes people don’t understand the pressure that’s on FIA staff and officials.”
He added: “I have a very good relationship, in a professional and personal relationship. It could not be better. Okay, if we improve it, it will be. But I can’t complain now. I see it is 100%.”
Ben Sulayem did not deny that there were times when things weren’t perfect between him and Domenicali, but he believed there was no underlying problem.
“You can have a problem if you have body parts that aren’t going well, but that doesn’t mean we have a bad relationship,” he said.
“There are questions. There are questions, but the relationship has certainly never been better. Why? Because my interest in the sport is great.
“I listen to him, he listens to me, and we both know that this marriage just needs to last and move on. And frankly, it is [going] from strength to strength. It is very clear.”