The new FIA president’s motorsport priorities – and the Hamilton case in his inbox

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On Friday in Paris the FIA club membership voted overwhelmingly in favour of change by electing Mohammed Ben Sulayem as president of world motoring’s governing body through to the equivalent meeting in 2025.

The Emirati’s nominated ‘slate’ – as required by FIA statutes – consisted of Carmelo Sanz de Barros as president of the FIA Senate, Robert Reid as deputy president (sport) and Tim Shearman as the equivalent for mobility.

Having won the vote by 62% to the 36% of Graham Stoker (2% abstained) they take over from Jean Todt and his team, the Frenchman having led the FIA since 2009, when he replaced Max Mosley amid the global economic crisis. Todt leaves some massive shoes to fill, having totally restructured the body along business lines as outlined here.

Still, there is room for improvement, and Ben Sulayem believes that total change will provide the optimum route for the progress and development of motorsport. For starters, the 60-year-old, whose motorsport background lies in Middle East and WRC rallying followed by regional club administration, pledged to appoint a CEO “to provide an integrated and aligned approach”.

Mohamed Ben Sulayem, Williams, Bahrain, 2004
Ben Sulayem lapped the Middle East’s first F1 track in 2004
Thus, various day-to-day activities and decisions will no longer burden the president, freeing him to concentrate on his two primary roles: presiding over 200-odd clubs in 140 countries while raising the FIA’s international sporting, mobility and road safety profiles in the face of enormous societal challenges towards road usage and sustainability.

As the first elected non-European president of the FIA in its 117-year history the Emirati is obviously strong on cultural change, and in addition to the CEO role he intends appointing an Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity Officer to ensure that all demographic groups are properly represented and that equal opportunities are provided for all, be they in sporting and/or mobility disciplines, be they in competition or other roles.

Ex-F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone is a supporter and his wife Fabiana is one of seven nominated sport vice-presidents as delegate for South America. The others are Anna Nordkvist (Sweden), Spain’s Manuel Avino from Spain, former CIK karting boss Abdulla Al Khalifa (Bahrain), Rodrigo Ferreira Rocha from Mozambique, Daniel Coen (Costa Rica) and Singaporean Lung-Nien Lee.

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FIA statutes provide for 14 members to be elected to the World Motorsport Council. Eric Barrabino (Monaco), Wayne Christie (New Zealand), Garry Connelly (Australia), Saudi Prince Khalid, Viktor Kiryanov (Russia), Tom Kristensen (Denmark), Barbadian Andrew Mallalieu, Amina Mohamed (Kenya), Rado Raspit (Slovenia), David Richards (GB), George Silbermann (USA), Jan Stovicek (Czech Republic), Serkan Yazici (Turkey), Tao Zhang (China) get the floor votes.

Ben Sulayem has an ambitious target to double motorsport participation
Of the list three are due separate mentions: Connelly, who is also a senior FIA steward; Kristensen, previously a WMSC member as drivers representative and during this election stood as Stoker’s deputy president (sport); and Mohamed, initially nominated by Stoker as a vice-president but now in Ben Sulayem’s cabinet as statutes demand three female WMSC members and his list had just two women.

Still to be nominated are a replacement as driver representative for nine-time Le Mans winner Kristensen, Women in Motorsport president (Michelle Mouton steps down) and the CIK and manufacturer commission presidents. F1’s president (currently Stefano Domenicali) is a member by right, while Ferrari’s team boss (currently Mattia Binotto) replaces the manufacturer commission representative when F1 items are tabled.

However, of greater immediate interest to RaceFans readers is Ben Sulayem’s sporting manifesto, which sets out motorsport’s road map through to the end of 2025 and – should they be re-elected – beyond. Acting on the pledges made in the document will be the responsibility of Reid, world champion rally co-driver to Richard Burns in 2001 and a seasoned motorsport administrator.

Until this week Reid was president of the FIA closed road (rally) commission and sat on the international sporting code review and safety commission. Since retiring from competition he has acted as performance consultant to both on an individual basis and for Motorsport UK, chaired by his former Subaru rally boss David Richards – who was an influential Ben Sulayem supporter and is now a WMSC member.

Apart from a heavy emphasis on grassroots and regional motorsport development – good news for F1 and other world championship series as it implies they will leave these very much alone – and said diversity initiatives, the manifesto prioritises a doubling in global motorsport participation within four years, enhanced value for clubs from international series and intensified lobbying for motorsport at political levels.

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The presidential team says it will achieve these objectives by introducing revised governance to redefine in the FIA, developing new audiences to secure the long-term growth of motorsport, embracing digital technologies, focusing on growth, enhancing worldwide engagement with the global regulatory authorities and strengthening cohesion between sport and mobility.

Hamilton was a no-show at the FIA’s end-of-year prizegiving
Of this list, the ones most affecting F1 are the first two, particularly given recent events and subsequent allegations that the need for ‘show’ has overtaken sporting integrity. Indeed, Ben Sulayem and Reid face their first test when the no-show by Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton at the gala is brought before them by secretary-general for sport Peter Bayer. Collectively they must decide what if any steps are taken against the seven-times world champion.

The president of the FIA has the power to change the direction of F1 although the commercial rights holder (Liberty) will obviously resist any moves that could damage the sport commercially; equally, the FIA needs to stand firm in the face of any possible pressure from Liberty to introduce gimmicky regulations. Thus, it is a fine balancing act, one that Todt’s team deftly walked for almost 12 years, only to stumble at the final race.

Crucial to the credibility of the new administration will be their handling of the “analysis and clarification exercise” announced by Todt into events in Abu Dhabi. Do too little and they undermine F1; go in heavy-handed and they undermine their own regulations; do nothing and they lose the remaining faith fans have in the FIA.

Thus, a fascinating first test of Ben Sulayem and Reid’s abilities to navigate choppier roads than they faced during their rally careers awaits.

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41 comments on “The new FIA president’s motorsport priorities – and the Hamilton case in his inbox”

  1. Nice introduction to the new team at the FIA.

    I am indeed curious to see how (short term) the FIA now deals with that FIA-Gala no show (maybe inviting Hamilton to speak with him and talk things over?) as well as that “commision to clarify the rules interpretation” in the somewhat longer term.

    1. Heads will roll :)

      1. … under the carpet, maybe. Todt made it clear he considers this a “huge misunderstanding”.

        I wonder if the new FIA president will admit the FIA screwed up in Abu Dhabi?

        The problem is, Hamilton is attempting to play the two wrongs make a right card, which doesn’t work– but on the other hand, I would argue (as Hamilton) that his presence would have led to questions from the media, that if answered honestly, would certainly bring the FIA and it’s gala event, into disrepute.

        1. Matija Majdanac
          20th December 2021, 19:33

          FIA really screwed in Abu Dhabi, allowing Hamilton to keep position and not letting all cars to unlap as soon safety car was deployed, at least they corrected it partially with letting backmarkers in front of Max to unlap.

          1. Surely the purpose of the safety car is to bunch the cars up so that there are long periods with no passing cars during which marshalls can safely work on track. That is why the rules require that lapped cars can only be asked to unlap themselves once the incident has been dealt with.

            To have asked them to unlap while marshalls were on track would have been
            (1)against the sporting regulations (although Michael Masi does not seem to worry about that), and
            (2) dangerous.

          2. I agree that something could have been done with the lap one incident, however, with the lapped cars, saying the FIA “corrected it partially” I struggle to understand how this decision is partially correct, while yes one of the rules states that the FIA can deploy and bring the safety car at any time no matter what, allowing only the cars between two championship rivals to un lap themselves and not the others. 1. it gives an extremely unfair advantage to Verstappen, and not just that he gets to be behind Hamilton but also stops Sainz and other drivers behind from competing for the win even if it was very unlikely. Two it also allows a massive advantage to the 5 or 6 lapped cars who are able to go faster than those still lapped and behind the safety car. While I do believe Max did deserve the championship this year, the way he was able to win it at Abu Dabi, was not entirely fair, the FIA bent the rules so that it would be a one-lap showdown between Max and Lewis with Lewis having a very little chance of staying in front. I strongly believe that they should have just left the lapped cars as they are, and despite this, it would have been very possible max would have still been able to pass Lewis as I think the lapped cars would have jumped out the way, however, because the FIA put this matter in their own hands themselves, it tarnishes the ending as it feels scripted. It kind of feels like someone taking a freekick from a close distance, and then the referee decides to remove the wall or change it into a penalty.

  2. Andy (@andyfromsandy)
    20th December 2021, 13:34

    The longer term is really only a short time away for the start of 2022 cars on track. I don’t know when the regulations have to be signed off, before the first GP or pre-season testing.

  3. Jeffrey Powell
    20th December 2021, 13:59

    Retire Lewis save a lot of hot air being expelled, if next year proves to be a battle between Mercedes and RB. the whining will be to much to bear and certainly won’t improve your Legacy. I’ve said it before but let us see Lando. in the Merc give Max a taste of his own driving style at least it will give Horner someone else to embarrass himself over.

    1. So if anybody else has the same driving style as Max, except Max himself it is ok? So you do like it.

      1. Pjotr, the stewards are happy with Max’s driving style, so the only solution to stop it is for another driver start using it to show how ugly and dangerous it is.

      2. Jeffrey Powell
        20th December 2021, 14:41

        Max is a fantastic driver but he needs someone of his own era to compete with who will pressure him and won’t back out, Lewis is always going to work on the live to fight another day strategy Max knows this now if he didn’t before. Maybe like Senna his only rival in pace is himself I just want to see a rival take him on directly ,this year there were three types of race between the two of them . Max is unbeatable, Lewis is unbeatable or they crash.

        1. Lando to me isn’t anywhere near Max in terms of raw talent, I feel like Leclerc on his best days can compete with anyone given he has something to fight with but right now with equal cars or close cars Lewis is the only one who will consistently be able to fight with Max, maybe Alonso if he had a car. We need Lewis is what I’m trying to say.

        2. Hamilton’s shown, however, the “live to fight another day” strategy works as he was on the verge of giving him his 8th title until the safety car got fiddled with.
          Vestappen doesn’t need a driver “of his own era”, he needs to grow up and realize he can’t win every battle with increasingly insane lunges. Seeing as he was ultimately gifted the title I can’t see him learning that any time soon.

          1. I’m not sure, he risked to lose it because of silverstone, at red bull they should certainly point it out to him that hamilton’s play it safe style seems to be working.

          2. Especially in a season like this where the n. 2 drivers of the top cars were in another world.

      3. I really hope someone takes the fight to Max with his own driving style. 2 drivers regularly battling with the “get out of my way or we crash” mentality. It would be very interesting to see the results…

        1. A driver like Bottas would find himself in contention with 5 races to go if we had a 2nd Max. He’s the fastest kid in the world but still very reckless. When he reaches a mature prime of his career, if he does, he’ll be hard to beat in a good car.

          1. Verstappen has some similarities to schumacher imo, and considering his age you can compare him to schumacher’s first few seasons, so guessing he still has some scope for improvement in terms of being less reckless.

        2. Perhaps Mercedes will use George as the man to take the craziness to max, once they’ve crashed a few times, with lewis cruising to victory from 3rd,…..perhaps the penny will drop??

  4. Ben Sulayem and Reid face their first test when the no-show by Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton at the gala is brought before them by secretary-general for sport Peter Bayer. Collectively they must decide what if any steps are taken against the seven-times world champion.

    Understandably, the plan is to blame Hamilton for what happened in F1 entertainment.
    Their second test might be to penalise those F1 fans who will have a “no-show” at F1 circuits and by the TV anymore. Will they give them a 10 second penalty for making a break-test on F1? How dare they leave F1 entertainment!

    1. Still here?
      So your promise is as empty as your statements.

      1. Don’t compare me with yourself!

        1. i did not make the promise to leave..
          That’s your story. but as always.. air.

          But its always nice to have someone like you around. ;)

          1. I leave the sport, because it is now just an entertainment. But I will not leave the Racefans page as I started to enjoy the entertainment. It is fun to have a laugh at Fia’s “misunderstanding” and naive Max fans like you.

          2. erikje, nice for you to have somebody to harass? That’s clearly what you are out to do.

  5. Ben Sulayem has an ambitious target to double motorsport participation

    – I am curious how he is going to do this. A season in karting costs roughly 200-250K euro. There are people who can afford changing tyres every training or testing session, changing the chassis every weekend, and so on. And there are people who don’t have that much money, so they are racing without any chance of winning. Considering covid (which won’t go anywhere in the next few years), nothing is getting cheaper, rather more costly.
    Looks like populism to me.

    1. Perhaps he intends to fund it with his personal money.

    2. It would be really unfair to penalize Hamilton
      They stole a title from him so what more does FIA want?

  6. one that Todt’s team deftly walked for almost 12 years,

    DRS, double points season finale, sprint races, maybe even fastest lap point. I’m sure there’s other stuff I’ve missed too

    1. Matija Majdanac
      20th December 2021, 19:35

      You really think that in the world that is changing faster than anytime in history one sport can survive without adapting to new circumstanses??

      1. F1 isn’t a Sport…

        1. You’re spot on, F1 is fixed! Not only you, Bernie as well:
          Bernie Ecclestone: “We are in the entertainment business…”
          MARCH 8, 2015

        2. Using the Olympic motto (“Higher, faster, stronger”) as a guide to what is a sport, motor racing seems to fit, because it is judged according to who is faster.

          Of course many competitions which do not fit the motto (e.g. gymnastics, synchro swimming, diving) find their way into the Olympics and results are determined entirely by judges. F1 seems to be going that way too. So perhaps you are right, and F1 is not a sport any more.

          1. What else could be determined in F1 entirely by judges, besides any (all) Safety car rules? From ice-skating – how an F1 driver “skates” out of his car to the podium after the race? From diving – how they all dive into famous Monaco pool after the race? From synchro swimming – how mechanics change tyres during the pits? From gymnastics – how high they jump on the podium? I guess, there is still a room for improvement in F1 entertainment. :)

    2. Ipsom, it also seems odd that, given how this site criticised the decision at the time for the lack of transparency and impression of favouritism it gave, there has been no mention at all of the investigation into Ferrari’s engine and the subsequent deal behind closed doors.

      I don’t think anybody could call that clear and transparent governance – yet, strangely, that is being quietly ignored whenever this site talks about Todt’s governance, which is being painted in very flattering terms.

      1. To: Anon,

        I think that all who are Formula One enthusiasts should, by now, have been informed exactly what happened ‘behind tightly closed doors’ with regard to the Ferrari engine decision.

        Or, would that be too embarrassing for some?

        Season’s Greetings,

        Michael A.

  7. To avoid further dragging the reputation and credibility of F1 through the mire of Masi’s muck-up, Ben Sulayem should just admonish Hamilton for his no-show.
    This wretched debacle has caused enough trouble. Let it heal without any more contentious decisions.

  8. Seriously? Failure to attend a “gala” is equivalent- or more pressing- to the problem of a reckless driver rewarded for endangering others?

    Masi has to go.
    Vertsappen needs to be punished meaningfully.

    1. I am with you. Your disbelief is on point.

  9. What would 2021 have been like if we didn’t have BOTH Max and Lewis?

  10. The new FIA President … when he drove an F1 car at Abu Dhabi. Hopefully, not demonstrating priorities…

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