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F1 hits out over Ben Sulayem's "unacceptable" comment over sport's value

NEWS STORY
26/01/2023

As expected, F1's owners have not taken kindly to the FIA president's claim that a reported $20bn Saudi bid for the sport was "inflated".

"As the custodians of motorsport, the FIA, as a non-profit organisation, is cautious about alleged inflated price tags of $20bn being put on F1," tweeted FIA president, Mohammed Ben Sulayem on Monday following reports that Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund had made a $20bn bid for the sport which was subsequently rejected.

"Any potential buyer is advised to apply common sense, consider the greater good of the sport and come with a clear, sustainable plan - not just a lot of money," he added.

"It is our duty to consider what the future impact will be for promoters in terms of increased hosting fees and other commercial costs, and any adverse impact that it could have on fans."

Today, in reaction to Ben Sulayem's comment, F1's general counsel, Sacha Woodward Hill, and Renee Wilm, the chief legal and administrative officer of Liberty Media have written to the sport's governing body accusing it of overstepping the bounds of its remit and contractual rights.

According to the BBC, which has seen the letter, Woodward Hill, and Wilm state that under the 100-year contract agreed in 2001 between Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley, F1 has "the exclusive right to exploit the commercial rights in the FIA F1 World Championship".

"The FIA has given unequivocal undertakings that it will not do anything to prejudice the ownership, management and/or exploitation of those rights," it adds.

Referring to Monday's tweets from Ben Sulayem's, it claims that the comment, "made from the FIA president's official social media account, interfere with our rights in an unacceptable manner".

"The circumstances in which the FIA would have any role in a change of control of the F1 group are very limited," the letter adds. "Any suggestion or implication to the contrary, or that any potential purchaser of the F1 business is required to consult with the FIA, is wrong.

"Commenting on the value of a listed entity, especially claiming or implying possession of inside knowledge while doing so, risks causing substantial damage to the shareholders and investors of that entity, not to mention potential exposure to serious regulatory consequences.

"To the degree that these comments damage the value of Liberty Media Corporation, the FIA may be liable as a result."

In conclusion, Woodward Hill, and Wilm say that both F1 and Liberty "hope and trust that it will not be necessary to address this issue again".

The various disagreements between F1 and the FIA over the course of the 2022 season aside, even before the cars hit the track this year it has been clear that trouble was building, first with Ben Sulayem's comments over Andretti and now this.

It is going to be fascinating to see how this develops, with the ball now very much in the FIA president's court.

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1. Posted by overdriver, 26/01/2023 16:01

"I presume that the contract FIA has with LM cannot preclude the FIA from running (or sanctioning the running of) ‘World Championship’ events for non-Formula 1 vehicles.

This being the case, my dream is to see a new ‘Championship’ featuring a simplified formula open to anyone prepared to enter. Since the advent of ‘Gold Leaf Team Lotus’ I have always believed that it is ‘sponsorship’ that has been the curse visited upon the sport (perhaps all sport?). I’m talking the corporate variety here, not the legitimate support from suppliers of fuel/lubricants, tyres, spark plugs etc. or even the local tuning shop or tyre fitters. It is the absolutely unrelated mega-organisations seeking to market their wares and services by association with a perceived glamour.

Hence, I propose that a cost cap - a very stringent one - be applied to the amount of sponsorship an entrant may receive. It should be at such a level as to discourage major manufacturers from investing squillions bypassing financial controls and forensic accountancy. It would also have the benefit of eliminating the need for obscene corporate hospitality facilities and the unwelcome presence of celebrity brand ambassadors littering the pits and paddock!

Should sponsors really feel the need to invest in the sport, they could undertake the promotion of events – as with the case of the RAC Woolmark British Grand Prix of 1971(!) - and doubtless enjoy complimentary reduced rate advertising in the event programme.

I did say it was a dream……….."

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2. Posted by kenji, 26/01/2023 11:01

"@Max...exactement! With both sides now marking out their territorial limits like the local cat brigades I foresee a promising conflict, that is, unless it all disappears behind closed doors! With such vast sums being bandied around both parties will be keen to maximise their positions. Someone should call Bernie and get the 'skinny' as it appears that we will most likely only ever get the scraps.....

The granting of 'rights' for 100 years has always seemed excessive and questionable."

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3. Posted by Max Noble, 26/01/2023 8:56

"This is going to get interesting! The FIA granted the license to “a third party” to run F1. Yet under what circumstances can they revoke that license? What exactly does “Commercial rights holder” mean? This is going to be more exciting than V. Max and Lewis side by side into the first two corners…

Ah people! Love it…
"

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4. Posted by kenji, 26/01/2023 1:02

"@Editor...and now that you've published your teaser...when do we get to hear what you are indicating as being a possible FIA detonation? As for the Yas Marina results I have always wondered why Wolff took along his ,reputedly, high flying legal eagle? Was it simply a co incidence ? Without any further details the fact remains that Mercedes could've lodged an appeal. The fact that they did not should end their ongoing diatribe surely."

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5. Posted by ZJAY, 25/01/2023 21:11

"The "bodies are buried" on sound frequencies and the recording is public. 8-1
"Je me souviens" & I will never forget

A Vettle + Schoumaker fan"

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6. Posted by Editor, 25/01/2023 13:49

"Two things...

Firstly, and I really hate doing this to you, but from what we hear, the current spat with Liberty and F1 is the LEAST of the FIA's problems. I cannot tell you more.

Secondly, Ben Sulayem appears up for the fight, he knows what he's doing, which suggests that he knows where bodies might be buried. Might he know something about what really happened in December 2021 at Yas Marina."

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7. Posted by BrightonCorgi, 25/01/2023 13:42

"Go to court and let a judge decide if that's what LM wants to do. Could open a can of worms that could negatively impact LM. I would tread lightly if LM. FIA could introduce new rules down the road in a tit-for-tat."

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8. Posted by Spindoctor, 25/01/2023 12:15

"If I were FIA I'd be looking to finding a loophole, any loophole in the legitimacy of that absurd 100 year contract which looks increasingly like Bernie's goodbye poisoned chalice to FIA.

On another, sane planet FIA would have more control, trying to maintain F1 as a proper Sport. The "Rights" to F1 would be worth roughly what Liberty (over)paid for them."

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9. Posted by Defiant, 25/01/2023 4:57

"I have to say I laughed out loud at the irony of the FIA telling drivers that they aren't allowed to use F1 to disseminate their opinion without permission only to have the head of the FiA to go and share his opinion bringing the ire of F1's members. "

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10. Posted by Simon in Adelaide, 25/01/2023 3:08

"At the end of the day it all comes down to how much money you are prepared to spend to achieve your ulterior motive."

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11. Posted by didaho, 25/01/2023 2:47

"There's only one place to recover that money from - the punters.
The only discount we might get would be by taking weekly dosages of poison propaganda pills."

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12. Posted by Burton, 24/01/2023 18:26

"That 100-year contract is so ridiculous that invoking it by specifying its length only makes me roll with laughter instead of acknowledging its authority."

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