They got him, Formula One has bound and gagged FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem, a coup in all but name. Ben Sulayem announced last week that he is to take a step back from day to day management of Formula One. Ben Sulayem’s role is downgraded to that of a non-executive president, a transition that he himself described in an accompanying statement as largely completed. When elected to the role of FIA president, Ben Sulayem initially pledged to take a non-executive role, a pledge he never totally kept.
One of his broken pledges was to get involved in technical aspects relating to porpoising, insisting that he alone should personally approve complex engineering changes. What Formula One team would allow such interference? He soon found out. Ben Sulayem’s biggest mistake was to upset the owners of Formula One, Liberty Media, by suggesting their $20BN price tag was overvalued.
Ben Sulayem was actually correct about F1 being overvalued. The sport generates an annual revenue of $2BN, $3BN if you take into account various assets and residual/mechanical revenue streams. Let’s say if Liberty Media decided to sell F1 tomorrow and a bidding war ensued between two interested parties. Liberty Media could easily get double the $3BN.
Ben Sulayem’s mistake was to step on Liberty Media’s toes that is why he was subjected to a smear campaign which outed his misogynistic views from years past. Liberty Media doesn’t care about misogyny, neither does F1, the term was used to destabilise Ben Sulayem and protect the interests of Liberty Media.
It’s an odd relationship to have, the FIA and Formula One are two separate entities trying to work as one, both have an agenda to further their own cause and exist in a state of constant tension. The irony is, after the drivers complained about Ben Sulayem trying gag freedom of speech, it is Ben Sulayem’s freedom of speech that has been effectively gagged, and very few will raise their voices to defend Ben Sulayem.