Meet the candidates for FIA president – Mohammed Ben Sulayem

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The FIA membership goes to the polls on Friday to elect a new president to replace Jean Todt, who is stepping down after his third four-year mandate. Britain’s Graham Stoker and Emirati Mohammed Ben Sulayem are the two candidates to succeed him.

The election process and potential impact of the two candidates have been covered here previously. Stoker was profiled in a previous feature – today is Ben Sulayem’s turn.

The election will take place in Paris tomorrow.

Who is Mohammed Ben Sulayem?

Born into a wealthy Dubai family – his brother Sultan Ahmed is chairman of Dubai Port World and real estate developer – Ben Sulayem is a 14-time Middle East rally champion and WRC campaigner, including with works Toyota drives. He was elected to the FIA World Motor Sport Council from 2008-13 and also served a term as a sport vice-president.

Sulayem with Alonso at last week’s Abu Dhabi GP
After retiring from active motorsport he turned to club administration, presiding over the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE since 2005, and is also the Emirati representative for FIVA, the classic car governing body. From 2013-17 Ben Sulayem served as FIA vice-president for mobility and tourism. Thus, he has experience across motorsport, mobility and classic motoring activities.

Ben Sulayem has long harboured world motoring’s top job, having initially thrown his hat into the election ring in 2013, but later withdrew. Whether he cut a deal with incumbent Todt at the time is unknown, but Ben Sulayem was thereafter nominated to the mobility and tourism office, which he told associates would equip him for the presidency. He did not stand against Todt in 2017, keeping his powder dry.

Ben Sulayem resides in the UAE but told RaceFans during an exclusive interview last week that he has no plans to relocate the FIA offices to Dubai. “I love Paris,” he said. “I have a private jet and will commute.” How this squares with FIA sustainability pledges is up to voters to decide but, to be fair, Todt flew private on occasion. As an aside, Ben Sulayem has a delectable collection of classic cars, including 21 Mercedes 600s.

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What does Ben Sulayem stand for?

He is campaigning under the banner ‘FIA for Members’, saying he is “Focused on delivering what the members want and need.” The main pledges contained within his manifesto are to:

  • Double motorsport participation worldwide
  • Strengthen diversity and inclusion
  • Be a leading opinion-former on sustainable mobility

“We set out to be a member-led team, and this manifesto is based on the actual, real needs as expressed by our members,” he said. “This is the members’ manifesto for the future of the FIA, and it is our commitment to implement it if elected.”

As part of his campaign, he commissioned a diversity and inclusion study which has three main pedestals, namely talent identification and support, promotion of STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in key target areas and the establishment of a legacy fund underwritten by a percentage of income from event promoters to enable fans to evolve from spectators to participants.

Ben Sulayem is hoping to attract widespread support from emerging and developing countries, many of whom believe the time is ripe to break with tradition and elect a non-European president for the first time in the FIA’s 117-year history. That is a powerful election card, particularly given that Europe constitutes around 45% of the FIA’s voting membership. Thus over half are now situated outside the founding territory.

There is another factor: The Gulf, fuelled by booming energy prices, is flexing its muscles in various sphere and disciplines: Dubai boasts the world’s tallest building; Saudi Arabia the world’s largest company, while the region boasts more grands prix per capita than any other. Qatar hosts next year’s FIFA World Cup, so why should an Emirati not preside over the world’s motoring clubs?

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Who is in his team?

Sulayem is linked to ex-F1 boss Ecclestone
The FIA statutes demand that candidates nominate a ‘slate’ consisting of president, one each deputy president for sport and mobility, president of the senate plus a supporting cast of vice-presidents for the various regions.

Ben Sulayem’s nominated team consists of 55-year-old Robert Reid, who was world champion co-driver to Richard Burns – a politically astute and seasoned motorsport administrator – as candidate for the office of deputy president for sport, with Tim Shearman, CEO of the Canadian Automobile Association and CEO of the CAA and FIA Senate member slated for the equivalent mobility role.

Carmelo Sanz de Barros, who administered Spain’s historic Jarama F1 circuit and is president of RACE, the Spanish automobile club, is nominated as president of the FIA senate, the body’s ethics and financial watchdog.

Candidate vice-presidents include long-serving motorsport administrators Abdulla Al Khalifa (Bahrain) and Anna Nordkvist (Sweden), while Brazilian-born Fabiana Ecclestone – wife of Bernie, and formerly head of marketing for the Brazilian Grand Prix – has been nominated to represent South America. Thus, there is a mix of experience and new blood on Ben Sulayem’s list.


The choice, as we outlined from the very beginning of the electioneering lies between continuity (Stoker) and change (Ben Sulayem). Is the FIA membership ready for the latter?

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28 comments on “Meet the candidates for FIA president – Mohammed Ben Sulayem”

  1. Only one question: what is his stance on Race Directors misinterpreting/bending the rules to decide a championship?

    1. You try too much…

    2. I think that’s a really important question. Rephrased a bit, what would he do to get the sport back to following a consistent set of rules. For example, track limits or dive-bombing driver tactics?

  2. How on earth can you lead the discussion about sustainability when you are clearly among the top polluters in the world and think that commuting through continents by private jet is a good idea.

    Doesn’t sound like change at all, but the same corporate lack of responsibility or care that brought the world to this point in the first place.

  3. Not sure that a person who thinks commuting by private jet is OK is the right person to lead the FIA into the future!

    1. A bit of a conflict with the sustainability, right @dang, also I have to wonder about the level of diversity and inclusion he envisions a bit.

      Then again, I guess we cannot be too optimistic about either of those points with Stoker either, since Todt has been saying the right things, but it also feels like window dressing so far.

      1. Making the fia about sustainability is a bit like trying to make a healthy cheesecake. It’s a decadent organization that runs decadent competitions for the rich and famous. The extravagance–which will always be tied to waste–is part of the charm. I support to whatever extent they try to make their series ecologically friendly, but I doubt they’ll ever be able to make this more than a PR talking point.

        1. They won’t make sustainability any more than a PR talking point if they elect someone like Mohammed Ben Sulayem.

    2. I’m sure he’ll be doing fine with the occasional annoucement of sustainability breakthroughs such as “trackside straws are now bio-degradable”.

    3. @dang
      This is uncommon since the actual president of the FIA Jean Todt used to travel in private jets ever since he was in Ferrari.

    4. At least he’s not pontificating about it without following it himself.

  4. I suspect there will be many who object to his appointment simply because anything to do with the Middle East is viewed as “bad”, but he seems just as qualified as Stoker to take over the role from Todt.

    Those who were paying attention after the race on Sunday rather than just rage tweeting would have noticed he was handing out trophies to the drivers on the podium.

    1. I understand him being the host (effectively) of the season finale was one of the reasons why Todt’s last race was the one in Saudi Arabia (to avoid looking to be supporting one of the candidates by gracing him with his presence) @geemac.

      I think that it is somewhat fanciful to expect much change from either Ben Sulayem or Stoker. Both have been part of the FIA structures for years (decades). Either we end up with a rich english guy form the sport establishment or a rich royal connected part of that same establishment.

      I do think we will possibly get somewhat more regional diversity with Ben Sulayem, be it that the role of the Middle east in F1 / Motorsport is further highlighted and strengthened.

      1. @bascb

        Either we end up with a rich english guy form the sport establishment or a rich royal connected part of that same establishment.

        +1. In order not to disturb his reign over the sport, Max Mosley has made it almost impossible for anyone outside of the system to be running for top motorsport job.

  5. The most important bit to aid diversity in racing is to lower the entry level cost and regulating costs all the way. FIA have done little about it (its of course on national level aswell) , i hope they can try turning it around, i don’t want racing to be a pure rich kids club in the future (of course more money is always better, and top motorsport is expensive)

  6. Brazilian-born Fabiana Ecclestone – wife of Bernie is in his team. That’s cute. Bernie may get back! Good luck in dealing with the cheaters FIA!

  7. Sulayem is linked to ex-F1 boss Ecclestone

    Hard pass.

    1. If mr. Saleym is a true racer at heart then i have have little doubt thengs like the last race might get sorted out. Who ever takes the position need to emsure amd reassure that rules written are black and white. No grey areas. And not easily open to different differing opnions.

  8. Who doesn’t know Todt? That’s the person that should become the FIA president.

    They should select someone from the streets like Trading Places and make that person the FIA President. In fact, let’s go with Eddie Murphy or Dan Aykroyd!

    That person is guaranteed to be better than Todt who gave Ferrari a “get out of jail’ card and appointed a WDC champion. Todt destroyed the sport.

    1. Jean Todt just continued his orders.
      From “Rubens, let Michael pass for the Championship” to “Michael Masi, let Max pass Lewis for the Championship”.

    2. @freelittlebirds The sad part is, I think you’re right. Practically anyone else with a modicum of common sense would be better. It’s just an option between two well connected men in motorsport who are friends with other well connected men in motorsport and they have lunch together.

      21 Mercedes 600’s, a private jet and will give a job to Bernie’s wife isn’t a qualification, it’s just depressing. Not that Stoker seems any better.

      Give it someone who at least has someone background in the sciences the FIA loves to talk about and has long held passion for motorsport, there’s plenty of them, they won’t command a massive salary, they’ll move to Paris rather than offering not to move the FIA, and they’ll be able to walk from one side of the paddock club to the other without having to stop and offer pleasantries every four steps.

      And perhaps make some informed impartial decisions.

  9. Another reason to switch off!

  10. The big red flag on this guy is that he is in Bernie’s pocket. This vote is all about, liking Bernie’s way or Not. The rest of the issues are just noise.

  11. I like this! Some diversity for a change!

    1. UAE diversity is not known for its equality.
      I don’t know this particular person – and he might genuinely be in favour of proper diversity – but having spent some time in the area there are certain generalisations that come to mind. The expectation is that people from Country A are labourers, County B are office workers, Country C are taxi drivers, Country D are cleaners and shop assistants. And those Country D people are all diverse in a different way that do not get a look in to any form of leadership roles, whichever country they’re from.

      1. You can’t have both 3quality & d1versity.

        Choose one.

        Is that the main reason “progre55ives” are almost always in complete contradiction of themselves?

    2. You mean diversity as in having someone from the UAE elected to the position? I’m not sure this is a desirable form of diversity. Perhaps someone less self-entitled would be better for the sports.

  12. “Strengthen diversity and inclusion”
    OMG, I believed at least a guy from the Middle East would be free of that nonsense.

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