F1 criticises FIA president’s “unacceptable” comments over “$20bn price tag”

2023 F1 season

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Formula 1 has criticised comments made by president Mohammed Ben Sulayem yesterday regarding the value of the sport in a letter to the FIA.

Ben Sulayem said the FIA would be “cautious about alleged inflated price tags of $20bn being put on F1” following reports the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund had made an approach to the series’ owners Liberty Media which was turned down. The reports claimed the offer valued F1 at $20 billion (£16.16bn).

A letter from representatives of the American media company, obtained by the BBC and Sky, reminded the FIA that F1 had signed a 100-year deal to the series’ commercial rights and the governing body “has given unequivocal undertakings that it will not do anything to prejudice the ownership, management and/or exploitation of those rights”.

The letter said Ben Sulayem’s comments “interfere with those rights in an unacceptable manner”. It added that the implication “that any potential purchaser of the F1 business is required to consult with the FIA is wrong”.

“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,” it added.

“To the degree that these comments damage the value of Liberty Media Corporation, the FIA may be liable as a result.”

The letter was sent by Sacha Woodward Hill, F1’s general council and long-serving legal consultant, and Liberty Media’s chief legal officer Renee Wilm.

Ben Sulayem said yesterday: “As the custodians of motorsport, the FIA, as a non-profit organisation, is cautious about alleged inflated price tags of $20bn being put on F1.

“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.

“It is our duty to consider what the future impact will be for promoters in terms of increased hosting fees and other commercial costs, and any adverse impact that it could have on fans.”

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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41 comments on “F1 criticises FIA president’s “unacceptable” comments over “$20bn price tag””

  1. I think Ben is slowly learning that asserting himself comes at a steep price when the other party is megaconglomerate.

    1. I think this is all out war between the FIA and FOM. Its interesting given that the FIA technically own the series, and have only leased it to the FOM. A bit like the tenant of a house telling the owner to bugger off.

      1. A bit like the tenant of a house telling the owner to bugger off.

        If your landlord just casually came by your house and smeared faeces all over its walls, inside and out, you’d be telling them off, too.

  2. Stephen Taylor
    24th January 2023, 15:12

    The FIA president has no business getting involved in matters which only concern the commercial rights holder.

    1. They own the sport, so yes, it is their business. And Sulayem’s comments are correct. Some prudence is required and we want someone who cares about the sport. Not another GENII capital or CVC capital who were only interested in bleeding it dry.

    2. Exactly what I said! I think Ben needs to understand that he is managing a global enterprise not his personal fiefdom.
      He should be removed if he continues like this

    3. He does have a right to veto a sale on particular grounds.
      Liberty just upset that he’s put a shot across their bows threatening to knock out bad actors that want to pay more than fair value for nefarious reasons and that may affect the sticker price in the future.
      His point that only us punters will be paying in the end is well made though.

      Reply moderated
  3. Leave it to Mohammed ben Sulayem to throw themselves into needless controversy.

    They don’t own Formula 1, so they should refrain from discussing its valuation.

    1. They do. FOM merely has an exclusive license, which has a fixed expiration date, to run certain aspects of the show.

      1. When is this expiration date?

        1. 75 years from now or so.

        2. I believe the current licensing period is through the end of the year 2110, which is another 32.117 days according to Google.

        3. @sjaakfoo The end of 2110.

          It may well be that FOM can credibly argue that the FIA is breaking the terms of the license agreement, but that’s still what it is, a license.

          1. This goes beyond just a question of licences though.

            The reason for the commercial rights being split out to a separate body was because of EU anti-monopoly legislation (i.e the FIA could not be the regulator and also have direct control over all commercial activities).

            That is why FOM referred to “serious regulatory consequences” from Sulayem’s activities – the more heavily that Sulayem begins to involve the FIA in commercial activities, the more likely it becomes that regulatory bodies will start legal proceedings if they believe the FIA is acting outside of its legal remit.

      2. The FIA own Formula 1, but have given up any control over who exploits its commercial rights.

        Mohammed ben Sulayem don’t own Formula 1, nor any commercial rights to it.

  4. Stephen Taylor
    24th January 2023, 16:11

    They own the regulatory aspect . However the sport is largely dictated by the commercial interests and Ben Sulayem needs to not to get in the way of that . Ben Sulayem doesn’t care about F1 only about the FIA.

  5. Somebody register SuperDuperFormula . com…

  6. The death of everything on Earth starts with Americans and their lawyers! What a bunch of losers at Liberty sending a legal letter denouncing the head of their sporting body and making it public! These Liberty guys are only going to get more ridiculous as the year goes on. I predict they will lose their rights to F1 sooner than they think! And good riddance! Just because you were lucky enough to be gifted a garbage show on Pay-TV about F1 doesn’t mean you really have a growing business in the dying world of motorsport. And Americans change their mind by the minute about what they like, so hold your breath bean counters!

    1. What a bunch of losers

      Just a public company fulfilling its fiduciary duty to its shareholders.

    2. @jjfrazz Just like the FIA has an interest in F1 not going the way of the dodo, so too does Liberty have an interest in maintaining or increasing the (perceived) value of their asset. If someone (Saudi Arabia) is looking to buy something (F1), only to have someone else (the FIA) loudly proclaim that it’s not nearly worth the asking price, that’s obviously not going to be appreciated by the person (Liberty Media) attempting to sell said product.

      1. MichaelN,
        If Liberty are going to sell for 20 billions, then how the purchasing entity are going to make a return on their investment without further increasing what Liberty is already charging in terms of race promotion fees, tv deals, subscriptions, tickets, merchandising… which are at an all time record. This is the position of the FIA which is an organization unlike liberty which is a listed company and will sell for the price they consider right.

      2. The veil of truth has been parted. Liberty don’t care that we are certain they are only in F1 for the money. Surprised? Their plan for F1 all along has been to increase the value of it and then sell it! That is what they teach in business school! Profit through operating if F1 keeps “growing,” or a sell if it slows down or holds steady.

  7. Mohammed is not doing his re-election bid any favours.

    1. On the contrary. He’s very much protecting the interests of his FIA members.

      1. S, if he did care so much, why has Sulayem also been intentionally circumventing the FIA’s own requirements on how public officials are meant to act and communicate with the press? Why has he been deliberately placing himself at the centre of the story by insisting on using his own social media channels, bypassing the FIA’s own official communications teams?

        Why, if he supposedly cares so much about the FIA, has he deliberately not consulted anybody within the FIA about any of his recent remarks, nor actually bothered asking what the interests of the FIA might actually be? There seems to be rising discontent within the FIA that Sulayem seems to be making the mistake of thinking that his own self-interests are the same as those of the FIA, when in fact they are not.

        1. Why, if he supposedly cares so much about the FIA, has he deliberately not consulted anybody within the FIA about any of his recent remarks, nor actually bothered asking what the interests of the FIA might actually be?

          Hasn’t he?
          How do you know?

          There seems to be rising discontent within the FIA that Sulayem seems to be making the mistake of thinking that his own self-interests are the same as those of the FIA, when in fact they are not.

          Is there?

      2. How, exactly, is inviting a lawsuit which runs the risk of being quite expensive to the FIA, with no obvious gain to the FIA even if said lawsuit is avoided, meant to be interpreted as non-damaging to re-election prospects?

  8. Does it sound like he has hidden interests going on with entities and he’s trying to steer something favorably using his position?

    1. If they have an agenda, it’s currently well hidden behind their seeming incompetence, impotence, or both.

  9. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
    24th January 2023, 18:55

    Out of curiosity, don’t the teams have a say in who is allowed to be a stakeholder in F1? Clearly the teams have made massive investments and are stakeholders themselves and I’d expect them to collectively have the power to veto any substantial transfer of ownership (e.g.10-20%).

  10. Let’s face it he is right, Liberty are all about profits and making money no matter what the expense is to the fans and race promoters.
    And if it goes to the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund they too will soon be putting prices up and pricing a lot of venues out of the races.
    I’m not a fan of Stefano Domenicali or liberty I think they are holding the sport back in some cases and denying fans of some good race tracks and fresh faces in the paddock ie. Not letting Andretti in, not revisiting circuits like mugello and portimao, not helping W series when they needed the finances.
    Personally I would like to see a space left open for a wild card circuit on the calendar each year, bring in a leguna seca a fuji a Buddh International Circuit or Mount Panorama Circuit

    Reply moderated
    1. I like your practical suggestions.

  11. I think Liberty Media have made some really good decisions in regards to F1. Hopefully the next owner of F1 will want to continue along the path they have already started, e.g. increase the number of teams on the grid, increase the number of countries where races are on Free-to-Air TV, improve the competitiveness of the teams at the back of the grid, etc. generally just try to make F1 better and more popular.

  12. Either Ben is some high level expert at 3D Chess, plotting out several moves ahead of his opponents, or he’s a bit of an incompetent idiot and doesn’t really know what he’s doing.

    Reply moderated
  13. Either Ben is some high level expert at 3D Chess, plotting out several moves ahead of his opponents, or he’s a bit of an incompetent bureaucrat and doesn’t really know what his place on the grand scheme of things

    1. Or maybe you just don’t get it.

  14. The gloves are off. This was expected given the nature of how global American corporations work. Liberty will certainly sell at one point in the future, not now but maybe 30 years from now because the F1 stocks will be worth nothing once the current deal will expire after 2100. They don’t want anyone interfering with the value of F1 rocketing even if it is beyond its realistic value.

    I think the matter should have been handled in a different manner, behind the scenes. The fact that Liberty and Ben Sulayem are trading public clashes is quite telling about the nature of their relations. Another thing is that publicly threatening in an arrogant manner someone like Ben Sulayem who is backed by UAE and Saudi Arabia two of the wealthiest most powerful states on earth with the current shift of the momentum from the western world could lead to disastrous consequences on their value.

    The FIA and especially Ben Sulayem can devalue F1 and Liberty should think twice before escalating the matter for their own good as a listed company.

    1. The FIA and especially Ben Sulayem can devalue F1 and Liberty should think twice before escalating the matter for their own good as a listed company.

      Exactly.
      The FIA have nothing to lose. Liberty, on the other hand, have an enormous investment at risk….
      It would be very wise for Liberty to respect the FIA’s power here, and not pick any fights that aren’t absolutely necessary.

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