Ben Sulayem hands day-to-day running of F1 over to Tombazis

2023 F1 season

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FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem has handed the day-to-day running of Formula 1 over to Nikolas Tombazis, who was appointed as single-seater director last month.

The move follows recent criticism of Ben Sulayem’s management of the governing body’s most successful series. F1 wrote to Ben Sulayem last month to strongly object to comments he made on social media regarding F1’s financial value. Soon afterwards the FIA was forced to respond to sexist comments Ben Sulayem had made 20 years before he became president, after they resurfaced in a newspaper report.

An FIA spokesperson told RaceFans the transfer of operational responsibilities from Ben Sulayem to Tombazis was a planned development following its announcement last month that it had completed the introduction of its new management structure for F1.

Ben Sulayem, who was elected president of the FIA in December 2021, will continue to give input into top-level decision-making and strategy. The day-to-day operation of F1 will be handled by Tombazis and his team.

Tombazis joined the FIA in 2018 as its head of single-seater technical matters. Prior to that he was Ferrari’s chief designer. His team in charge of F1 include Steve Nielsen, who joined the FIA as sporting director last month, as well as directors responsible for technical, financial, strategic and operational matters.

“The president’s manifesto clearly set out this plan before he was elected,” said an FIA spokesperson. “It pledged ‘the appointment of an FIA CEO to provide an integrated and aligned operation,’ as well as to ‘introduce a revised governance framework’ under ‘a leadership team focused on transparency, democracy, and growth’.” Ben Sulayem appointed Natalie Robyn as the FIA’s CEO last September.

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Nielsen and Tombazis head up the FIA’s F1 team
“These goals, as well as the announcement of the new structure of the Single-Seater Department, have been planned since the beginning of this presidency,” the spokesperson continued.

“The FIA president has a wide remit that covers the breadth of global motor sport and mobility, and now that the structural reorganisation in F1 is complete this is a natural next step.”

Last month Ben Sulayem indicated he intended to spend less time on F1 matters during his second year in charge of the FIA. “I should give more time to rallying,” said the former rally driver. “I have been dragged – and I’m being very straight and honest – I’ve been sucked into F1.”

Ben Sulayem’s election as president came as F1 was engulfed in controversy over the conclusion to the 2021 world championship in Abu Dhabi. Its investigation into the handling of the race and the consequences arising from it lasted well into 2022.

Other controversies which arose during 2022 included a long-running dispute over the wearing of jewellery by drivers, which brought Ben Sulayem into conflict with Lewis Hamilton and was regarded by some as being targeted against the seven-times world champion. Ben Sulayem was also involved in long-running negotiations over F1’s new engine rules for 2026 and Red Bull’s punishment for breaching the budget cap during the previous season.

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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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24 comments on “Ben Sulayem hands day-to-day running of F1 over to Tombazis”

  1. Ferrari planting their men across the board, puts the FIA into MAFIA.

    1. Puts the Ferrari in to Ferrari International Assistance

    2. Tombazis hasn’t worked at Ferrari in nearly 10 years. His last work in F1 was with the defunct English Manor team.

      1. Don’t bother mate.

        1. Argh I’ve accidentally reported your comment 🤦

      2. Yes MichaelN. Same for Stefano, Jean and Ross. A curious state of affairs no?

        1. Jean Todt was elected by FIA members. Did they appreciate that he led Ferrari? Probably. It proved him to be a man who can run a large complex organisation and who can achieve results.

          Ross Brawn was hired by Liberty Media (not the FIA) to be their F1 sporting director. Given his success at various F1 teams (from Benetton and Ferrari to Mercedes), as well as his vast technical knowledge and deep understanding of F1 he seemed a pretty good choice.

          Stefano Domenicali was also hired by Liberty Media (not the FIA). You’d have to ask them why they chose him, though, because I can’t come up with a good reason.

    3. Sending Shaila-Ann Rao directly from mister Wolff to the FIA was of course right than?

  2. Massi coming back?

    1. @macleod No & entirely unconcerning of him anyway.

  3. If F1 has its own problems so does WRC and I hope MBS can do something on there

    1. are the problems in the WRC?

  4. Interesting

  5. Made comments on F1’s price, drivers’ right to express political statements, annoyed everyone, got found out to be sexist 20 years ago, stepped away from day-to-day governing.
    Some sequence.

    1. @minilemm another recent announcement also raised the spectre of a personal conflict of interest, as McLaren have recently announced that they have signed a sponsorship deal with DP World. The CEO of DP World is Ahmed bin Sulayem, who happens to be Mohammed’s brother.

  6. The FIA response to his misogynistic comments seemed to be pretty weak, it was basically:

    “Ben used to a massive sexist, but he says he’s not a massive sexist any more”.

    Like Lewis once said, cash is king. It wasn’t the sexism that toppled him but him publicly saying that F1 isn’t worth what some think it’s worth that will probably see him out the door. Sadly there never seems to be any accountability for wealthy men in power and he’ll no doubt get a severance payoff he doesn’t need and a healthy contractual bonus.

    1. Nobody is being “toppled”, the FIA simply has a structure that Ben Sulayem hadn’t yet completely filled after being elected. The president of the FIA is no different from the president of a country; they get to appoint an administration and aren’t supposed to be hands-on with every part of the organisation (Todt understood this, Mosley didn’t). As far as I’ve seen, they still haven’t appointed a Secretary General for Motor Sport either. That person who’d be Tombazi’s ‘boss’ once appointed. For the non-sporting parts of the organisation they have Onika Miller.

      1. So you’re saying we should wait until they announce he wants to spend more time with his family?

    2. I didn’t hear him speculate much on what F1 was actually worth, more that the people that eventually have to pay for an exorbitant sale price are the supporters (he also mentioned promoters who’ll, much like the buyers, either pass the cost on or go broke).
      Having said that – I won’t miss him much.

  7. Someone had a stern talking to from the legal department.

    1. This. 🤣

  8. For the most part, F1 sort of governs itself. There really isn’t much of a reason for Ben Sulayem to be quoted on anything really. Much as MichaelIN says above, Mosley got involved and did it publicly which just wasn’t needed, he could have done the things he did privately. *not that thing.

    Jean Todt remaining largely in the background and not getting embroiled in stuff I think is a better way to be efficient. Ben Sulayem isn’t getting out the tape measure to test wings etc, he has people to do that for him. If Tombazis is going to be ‘Mr.F1’ from now on, I think it’d be wise that he is ‘around’ without being everywhere.

    1. Alan S Thomson
      8th February 2023, 19:19

      I just hope FOM doesn’t sacrifice the Sport’s history (Spa) for the American Market.

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