F1 sends fireplace letter to FIA after allegation of ‘extreme worth’.
Formula 1 bosses have accused FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem of “unacceptable” interference in the alleged sale of the sport.
Following reports of a US$20bn (£16.3bn) bid by Saudi Arabia to buy F1’s commercial rights, Ben Sulayem took to Twitter to voice concerns about the potential consequences of an “overstated” takeover, such as their investment .
He added that a potential buyer of F1 “should bring a clear, sustainable plan – not just a lot of money”.
Sky Sports News revealed on Monday that his comments angered senior F1 officials and now law chiefs have written to the FIA warning that Ben Sulayem’s tweets “invaded our rights in an unacceptable manner”.
In a letter first reported by Sky News but also seen by Sky Sports News, Sacha Woodward Hill, F1’s General Counsel, and Renee Wilm, Chief Legal and Administrative Officer of Liberty Media Corporationthe controlling shareholder of F1, has accused the FIA - motorsport’s governing body – of going beyond its remit.
The letter was also distributed to all 10 F1 teams. Sky Sports News has reached out to the FIA for a reply but has received no comment.
Ben Sulayem’s comments came in response to a report by Bloomberg News last week that Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund was exploring a $20 billion takeover bid for the sport in 2022.
Neither F1 nor Saudi’s Public Investment Fund have commented on the report.
The letter warned the FIA that “Formula One has the exclusive right to exploit the commercial rights to the FIA Formula One World Championship” under a 100-year deal.
“Furthermore, the FIA has given an unequivocal commitment not to take any action to interfere with the ownership, management and/or exploitation of these rights.
“We believe that these comments, which originated from the official FIA President’s social media account, constitute an unacceptable interference with those rights.”
The response to Ben Sulayem’s comments comes at a time of heightened tensions between Formula 1 and its governing body.
Woodward Hill and Wilm’s letter also said that the suggestion, contained in the FIA President’s remarks, “that any potential purchaser of Formula One business be asked to consult with the FIA is incorrect .”
It added that Ben had “overstepped” Sulayem[ped] the limits of the FIA’s remit” and said that “any person or entity commenting on the value of a listed company or its subsidiaries, in particular claiming or implying possession of inside information, risks causing significant harm to the shareholders and investors of the company, not to mention the potential exposure to severe regulatory consequences.”
“To the extent that these comments damage the value of Liberty Media Corporation, the FIA may be held liable as a result.”
Contacted by Sky News, an F1 spokesman declined to comment.
F1 teams are questioning the position of the FIA President after recent disagreements
Analysis by Sky Sports News’ Craig Slater…
Ahead of the 2023 season, this is a major conflict at the top of the sport.
Formula 1 is owned by the American company Liberty Media and is a publicly traded company. If someone from the FIA President’s position makes an observation as to what the potential fair value is, it could lead to the company’s commercial disadvantages.
This is just one of several issues that have angered not only F1 but also some of the teams over the course of Mohammed Ben Sulayem’s tenure.
I’ve been in touch with a number of F1 teams and they had different views on what happened this week.
A senior figure told me there was a discussion between several teams about how long Mohammed Ben Sulayem could stay in the job.
Questions are being asked about his tenure as the (relationship) between the governing body and the commercial rights holder, and by extension the teams, becomes increasingly tenuous.
It’s as much a leadership style as anything else. It all stems from an unease some people in the sport have about the agreement by which the FIA (then headed by Max Mosley) sold the 100-year lease of the commercial rights to an organization over a decade ago which was then run by Bernie Ecclestone for the exploitation of the commercial rights.
It was felt at the time that it was being rented out far too cheaply, and some people see Mohammed Ben Sulayem publicly signaling that he was uncomfortable with this arrangement.
This runs quite deep, and it’s a historic issue for the governing body and commercial rightsholders to grapple with.