Ben Sulayem faces accusations of sexism and bullying from newspaper

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In the round-up: FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem has been accused of “sexism and bullying” by a British newspaper.

In brief

Ben Sulayem faces new accusations

The Daily Telegraph claims Shaila-Ann Rao, who joined and left the FIA within a six-month period last year, sent a letter alleging sexist behaviour to Ben Sulayem and FIA Senate president Carmelo Sanz de Barros. The newspaper claims they were not investigated.

It quotes an FIA spokesperson responding to the accusations, saying: “Shaila-Ann Rao was a temporary director at the FIA from June 1 2022 and then became interim secretary general for motor sport. In Nov 2022 it was decided by both parties that she would leave that position. Mutual privacy terms have been agreed as is commonplace in business. Neither party has made a reference to the FIA Ethics Committee.”

The newspaper adds its reporters “spoke to dozens of current and former FIA staff, including elected officials, World Motor Sport Council members and stewards who likewise paint a picture of erratic and bullying behaviour behind the scenes.”

Ben Sulayem has made few public comments since the death of his son early last month. He was previously active on Twitter, but his account on the social media site was closed without explanation several weeks ago.

He became president of the FIA in December 2021 at a turbulent time for the governing body following the controversial conclusion to that year’s world championship. He drew criticism earlier this year when sexist comments attributed to him on his official site over two decades ago were republished by The Times newspaper. An FIA spokesperson said at the time: “The remarks in this archived website from 2001 do not reflect the president’s beliefs.”

In a statement provided to RaceFans following the Telegraph’s story an FIA spokesperson said it “takes allegations of abuse very seriously and addresses all complaints using robust and clear procedures.”

“As part of this, the FIA has an anti-harassment policy, an anonymous whistleblowing facility and an investigation procedure and all staff are made aware of these through an induction and regular training,” the spokesperson added.

The FIA said “due process was followed” concerning the allegations relating to Shaila-Ann Rao. “An amicable negotiation [was] conducted by the President of the Senate and as such, no referrals were made to the Ethics Committee. As previously stated, both parties agreed she would leave her position in November 2022 and mutual privacy terms were agreed as is common business practice.”

No complaints have been received against Ben Sulayem regarding other allegations, the spokesperson stated.

“Should the FIA Ethics Committee or compliance officer receive any complaint from a member of staff it will be dealt with in a comprehensive manner by our panel of independent elected ethics committee members which has been in place since 2012,” they added.

The FIA is conducting a review of its organisation, initiated by Ben Sulayem and led by Natalie Robyn, who was appointed as the governing body’s CEO last year. The spokesperson described this as “a deliberate and sustained effort to create an excellent culture that fosters collaboration, empowerment, and purpose among our employees.”

Euroformula grid reaches eight cars for season opener

Euroformula, Europe’s Formula 3-level junior single-seater series, looks unlikely to surpass 10 cars this season with eight only confirmed for this weekend’s opening round at the Autodromo do Algarve.

The series has a proven record of attracting future stars, with IndyCar champion Alex Palou, Ferrari F1 driver Carlos Sainz Jnr, IndyCar race-winner Colton Herta and reigning Formula 2 champion Felipe Drugovich among its graduates, but has struggled to attract teams and drivers following the domination of German squad Motopark in recent years.

Motopark announced their fourth driver on Tuesday, with GB3 race-winner Cian Shields joining the team for his second season in car racing. Of the four cars being entered by other teams, one of them is not even confirmed for beyond round one.

There are two more cars owned by Motopark that could be run, while BVM Racing has one confirmed driver and want to sign another. The prospect of the grid growing has been jeopardised by many of the established teams selling their cars on to drivers who race elsewhere.

Azerbaijan GP sells all grandstand tickets

Alex Albon, Williams, Baku Street Circuit, 2022
Baku’s grandstands will be full this weekend
The promoter of this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix has announced that this year’s race will have full grandstands, having sold out of the 30,000-plus available tickets to fans from over 100 countries.

There have been no changes to the capacity of the 12 grandstands around the Baku City Circuit since last year’s grand prix. Those in the grandstands will not only get to watch the grand prix on Sunday, but also F1’s first sprint race of 2023.

Formula Ford race decided in actual photo finish

Live timing transponders in cars has largely put an end to race winners being decided by a true photo finish. But just that happened last Saturday at Oulton Park in the opening race of Britain’s national Formula Ford championship.

The chequered flag and painted white line on the track is in a slightly different position to the timing sensor line that registers with the transponder that a lap has been completed, and the position of transponders within cars can vary.

In a thrilling wheel-to-wheel battle that lasted most of the race, Oldfield Motorsport team mates Brandon McCaughan and Lucas Romanek met the chequered flag side-by-side. McCaughan was initially determined by the live timing to have finished ahead. But after comparing the two cars’ transponder signals and photos of the finish, Romanek was declared the victor by 0.078 seconds.

Just 0.06s split the third and fourth-placed drivers as they also finished side-by-side, and sixth place was only 0.862s behind the winner. McCaughan struck back in race two to win by 0.374s over Romanek.

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Comment of the day

Lewis Hamilton spent last weekend trackside at Donington Park watching his brother Nicolas race in the British Touring Car Championship. It prompted discussion about what other racing gems can be enjoyed on weekends when F1 is not in action.

Like Claire [Cottingham, RaceFans reporter] and Lewis Hamilton, I was at Donington for the BTCC this weekend. I’m a big fan of the series – and the various support categories – and try to never miss a round on the television, but I do think it’s a series best enjoyed from trackside. The atmosphere in the paddock is always great, and the series really looks after its fans. And at most tracks, wherever you’re sitting (or standing), you’re bound to see some great action.

The other category – besides F1 – that I try to catch every round of is British GT. The cars are stunning, and the races are generally about two hours in length, which doesn’t feel like the same time investment required to watch something like the GT World Challenge endurance series or the Intercontinental GT Cup. Again, it’s nice to watch at the track – though it takes itself much more seriously than BTCC does – but easier to follow on television due to the multiple classes and lapped traffic. Also all the races are streamed live on YouTube, so very easy to get into.
Red Andy

Happy birthday!

Happy birthday to Markd, John Beak and Terro!

On this day in motorsport

  • 25 years ago today David Coulthard won the San Marino Grand Prix after team mate Mika Hakkinen retired with a hydraulics problem

Author information

Ida Wood
Often found in junior single-seater paddocks around Europe doing journalism and television commentary, or dabbling in teaching photography back in the UK. Currently based...

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12 comments on “Ben Sulayem faces accusations of sexism and bullying from newspaper”

  1. Alex Richardson
    26th April 2023, 0:33

    Todt was clearly watching a different F1 from me. Yes, F1 was more dangerous in the 80s and 90s, but the idea that two, three or four drivers were being killed or seriously injured every year is simply not true. In 1982 – the year that I began watching – there was Gilles, Paletti and Pironi, then in ’86 De Angelis & Laffite, ’89 Streiff, ’90 Donnelly, the ’94 Imola weekend (which was all the more shocking because F1 had seemed so safe for so long) and then Wendlinger, ’95 Hakkinen, ’97 Panis, ’99 Schumacher – I must admit that I’m now struggling to find more examples.

    Quite apart from the fact that he is comparing killed and injured from “the old days” with fatalities (only) from more recent years he seems to have forgotten Maria de Villota, which is poor for all sorts of reasons.

    1. … Luciano Burti in Spa, 2001. I mean it’s not in the ’90ies but the era wasn’t significantly different.

      The other one that came to mind were Patrick Tambay in Montreal 1986 (YMMV, but he did miss two races)

    2. Moreover, since 1980 only a single driver has been injured by how they handled on track incidents until 2019 (broken down cars, crashed cars, etc. SCs and RFs only came out if the track was blocked, a car was in a truly dangerous position. I just rewatched the 2014 F1 season and they were able to to always stay green with just a local double yellow in almost every single incident even during the German GP (again 2014) when Sutil spun and stalled on the front straight away, which was there for 3-4 laps. They used common sense and their radios to find a gap where the corner would be clear and simply pushed the car across the track and through the pit lane fence.

      It’s embarrassing how F1 operates right now despite the cars being nearly indestructible and only a single death in the last 30 years. F1 is safer than baseball right now.

  2. One of the biggest negatives of F1’s calendar expansion for me has been the increased number of clashes with other categories as well as the decrease in free time over weekends to catch up with stuff you miss.

    There are a dozen things i used to watch which i no longer do as since F1 has always been my favourite series it always gets priority over the rest. And i used to enjoy attending some of those other series on non-F1 weekends but less time to do so given the increased clashes.

    I guess for those who only waych F1 and who don’t have much else to do outside of watching F1 on weekends the 20+ race season with double and triple headers isn’t much of an issue. But when you are a fan of the sport who wants to watch and attend other series and who don’t want to feel like all your doing virtually every weekend is watching F1 then 20+ races is too many.

    Kinda gets to a point where it starts to make you like your been pushed towards not watching the full season which should be the opposite of what they should be doing. Looking at ways to ensure more watch every race and stay engaged throughout the year is surely better than pushing people away and making them pick and choose what races they watch.

    1. This can’t be said enough.

      Whether it’s by design or not, but this is part of the reason I believe why series like MotoGP are struggling somewhat. They’ve moved to sprint races every weekend too which is bonkers in my view. In 2001 MotoGP had 16 races and F1 17. Now F1 has 29 races and MotoGP 42 over 23 and 21 weekend respectively. There was room to watch and enjoy both. The lack of MotoGP events meant it was easy for F1 fans to migrate over and be part of the Rossi-boom without losing their commitment to F1.

      Now? I can’t begin to fathom how someone could really watch both series and enjoy them like they could in 2001. Obviously this benefits F1 more than any other series because it is the #1 motorsport in terms of general perception and it snowballs. Media outlets can’t afford not to run F1 stories daily. They will trump everything else. Even minor F1 stories sink the biggest headlines for other motorsports.

      1. The lack of MotoGP events meant it was easy for F1 fans to migrate over and be part of the Rossi-boom without losing their commitment to F1

        Ah, Valentino… A true race fan.
        You have to say GOAT, before even considering how many races he won. I don’t think there has ever been a man that raced at that level that purely loved the racing as much, and it was contagious.

        1. I’m not expert about motogp, but giacomo agostini was really dominant in his time and it would be like calling hamilton the greatest of all times in f1, ignoring top drivers of the old times who were likely better like ascari, fangio, clark.

  3. I don’t quite get the Formula Ford reference as timing line, i.e., the chequered flag-colored one is always the reference line for timing purposes & where a lap ends/starts rather than something else on the S/F straights without an exception.

  4. Admittedly I have little interest in F3 so I have no idea how these various series compare, but Euroformula does seem a rather one-sided affair compared to the Formula Regional European Championship. Having less than 10 cars, half of which are of one team, does make it seem like the series has little future.

    More English rags making unsupported insinuations and trying to discredit the FIA President? At least they, and whoever is feeding them their talking points, had the respect to pause their little campaign for a while. But that extra time hasn’t done their coverage any good, or made it any more substantial. It’s a bit boring by now. Let’s see if they can actually produce something real before giving them any more attention.

  5. I truly pity him and feel terrible for his loss, but Sulayem has been nothing but a problem since he became FIA president. He needs to go.

    1. Absolutely agree, he’s been terrible! Btw, there’s no report comment button on your comment, very strange, so maybe someone already missclicked!

    2. I have my doubts. He tried to protect F1 against complete corporate takeover, and look what happened to him. His son died and now he’s facing defamation and accusations. Seems more like he’s being cancelled.

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