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Formula 1

Ben Sulayem reportedly facing race interference probe

2 min read

FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem is being investigated by the organisation he leads for allegedly interfering with a Formula 1 stewards’ decision at the 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

The BBC is reporting the claim after seeing a report by the FIA compliance officer to its ethics committee, which alleges Ben Sulayem applied pressure to overturn the 10-second penalty that initially cost Fernando Alonso and Aston Martin a podium finish in that race.

Alonso was penalised for his mechanics touching his car in the pitlane before he’d fully served a previous five-second penalty for lining up on the starting grid incorrectly.

The BBC reports allegations from a whistleblower that Ben Sulayem called Sheikh Abdullah bin Hamas bin Isa Al Khalifa, the FIA’s president for sport for the Middle East and North Africa, made it clear he thought the 10s penalty should be rescinded and expected F1’s stewards to overturn their decision.

In their original right of review decision, the stewards argued there was “no clear agreement” that “a jack touching a car would amount to working on the car” and F1’s sporting rules were subsequently updated to make it emphatically clear that “touching the car or driver by hand or tools or equipment will all constitute working”.

Ben Sulayem’s presidency has been marked by controversy since he replaced Jean Todt at the end of 2021.

The FIA’s overall competence in regulating F1 under his leadership has regularly been called into question, and several senior figures have resigned from the FIA in recent months.

Ben Sulayem has also provoked the ire of Formula One Management, F1’s commercial body, by making public comments on social media about the commercial value of the championship while also unilaterally starting a process to admit an 11th team onto the grid.

Andretti successfully made it through that process, but now finds its path to F1 blocked after the commercial rights holder rejected the application on commercial grounds.

At the end of last season, Ben Sulayem’s FIA opened itself up to possible legal action by launching an investigation into Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff and F1 Academy managing director Susie Wolff, over an alleged conflict of interest. 

This was swiftly dropped after all 10 F1 teams almost immediately united in saying none of them had complained.

The BBC reports the ethics committee is expected to issue its report in four to six weeks.

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