ormula One has launched a resounding attack on the president of its own governing body, accusing Mohammed Ben Sulayem of “unacceptable” interference.
F1 chiefs were responding to a series of tweets from the FIA chairman on Monday in which he described the sport’s £16.2bn valuation as “inflated”.
But in a bombshell letter, composed by F1’s legal team, sent to the FIA’s World Motor Sport Council, the 10 grid teams, and leaked to Sky News, Ben Sulayem was described as “overstepping the bounds of the FIA’s mandate”, and says the FIA could be “responsible” for undermining Liberty Media’s value to F1 owners.
F1’s reaction to Ben Sulayem’s social media posts is a dramatic escalation in tensions between the sport and the FIA. Last week, Bloomberg News reported that the Saudi Public Investment Fund had explored the possibility of a $20 billion takeover of F1.
US conglomerate Liberty Media ended Bernie Ecclestone’s reign by buying F1 from private equity firm CVC Capital Partners for £6.4bn in 2017.
Ben Sulayem, who served as FIA President for 13 months, tweeted: “As the guardians of motorsport, the FIA, as a not-for-profit organization, is cautious of alleged inflated price tags of 20 billion euros imposed on F1.
“Any potential buyer is urged to use common sense, consider the greater good of the sport and come up with a clear and sustainable plan – not just big bucks.
“It is our duty to consider what the future impact will be for promoters in terms of increased hosting fees and other business costs, and any negative impact this may have on fans.”
But his tweets have angered the F1 hierarchy, prompting the letter – written by sports legal guru Sacha Woodward Hill and Liberty chief legal officer Renee Wilm – to be sent to all key players on the grid.
It said: “Formula 1 has the exclusive right to exploit the commercial rights of the FIA Formula 1 World Championship.
“Furthermore, the FIA has made an unequivocal commitment not to do anything that may affect the ownership, management and/or exploitation of these rights.
“We consider that these comments, taken from the FIA President’s official social media account, interfere with these rights in an unacceptable way.”
The letter continued:[That] any potential buyer of Formula 1 activity is required to consult the FIA is wrong”, and Ben Sulayem had “overstepped[ped] the limits of the FIA’s mandate”.
He added: “Any individual or organization commenting on the value of a listed entity or its subsidiaries, particularly claiming or implying possession of inside knowledge in doing so, risks causing substantial harm to shareholders and investors of that entity. , not to mention potential exposure to serious regulatory consequences.
“To the extent that these comments harm the value of Liberty Media Corporation, the FIA may be held responsible.”
F1 and the FIA declined to comment when contacted by the PA news agency. The new F1 season starts in Bahrain on March 5.
Additional reports by AP.