FIA president reminds Formula 1 they are ‘only renting’

Liberty Media bought Formula 1 in 2017 for $4.6 billion, with the Americans having supposedly received an offer for $20 billion.

Tensions between Formula 1 and the FIA continue to escalate following comments made by FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem, where he shared his ‘caution’ over a $20 billion bid from Saudi Arabia.

Ben Sulayem’s comments have infuriated Formula 1 bosses and owners Liberty Media, who bought the sport in 2017 for $4.6 billion.

It was reported by Bloomberg that Saudi Arabia attempted to purchase the sport last year from the Americans; however, their extortionate bid was rejected.

The FIA president has since been heavily criticised for his “unacceptable” comments regarding the offer and any potential bidder for the sport, with Formula 1’s legal department having insisted that Liberty Media have the “exclusive rights” to “exploit the commercial rights”, not the FIA.

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Ben Sulayem’s comments have infuriated the sport to the point where legal action is being considered by the championship, suggesting that internal conflict between the FIA and F1 is set to ignite.

Despite the sport’s comments, Ben Sulayem has remained insistent that the FIA does have a say on what company gets to control Formula 1’s commercial rights, with the president having stated that the FIA only “rented” Formula 1 “out”.

“The championship is ours,” Ben Sulayem said, per Auto Motor und Sport at the Monte Carlo rally.

“We have only rented it out.”

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Technically, the sport was rented out 20 years ago by the FIA following a 100-year lease deal that was agreed between the FIA and former F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone, for a “ridiculously low” $300 million.

According to the original deal, the FIA does have the power to veto any sale of Formula 1, suggesting that this won’t be the last that’s heard of the FIA getting involved with any future sale of the pinnacle of motorsport.

“So far there are only rumours about a possible sale,” said Ben Sulayem.

“But the FIA should have a say and be able to offer advice.”

Formula 1 bosses actually wrote a letter to the FIA and Ben Sulayem in particular, where his use of social media to discuss the sport’s ownership was labelled as “unacceptable”.

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“Formula One has the exclusive right to exploit the commercial rights in the FIA Formula One World Championship under a 100-year deal,” stated the letter from F1 to the FIA, drafted by the sport’s chief legal officer Sacha Woodeard-Hill and Liberty media legal expert Renee Wilm.

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

“We consider that those comments, made from the FIA president’s official social media account, interfere with those rights in an unacceptable manner.”