Formula 1 owners accuse FIA ​​chief of ‘unacceptable’ comments on championship value

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The owners of Formula 1 have accused the head of the governing body of “unacceptable” remarks about the value of the championship.

FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem on Monday called $20 billion “an inflated price for Formula 1.”

A letter sent by F1 and owner Liberty Media to the FIA ​​said the comments were “beyond the FIA’s mandate and contractual rights”.

He added that the FIA ​​”could be held liable” for any damage to Liberty’s value.

The letter sent on Tuesday was co-authored by F1 chief legal officer Sacha Woodward Hill and Renee Wilm, who serves in the same role for F1 owner Liberty Media.

F1 owns the commercial rights to the category under a 100-year lease signed by the FIA ​​at the start of this century. American group Liberty Media bought F1 in 2017.

The letter is a blistering response to Ben Sulayem’s remarks on Twitter on Monday in response to a Bloomberg report that Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) had tried and failed to buy F1 for that amount.

Ben Sulayem described the valuation as “allegedly inflated” and said: “Any potential buyer would be advised to use common sense, consider the higher good of the sport and have a clear, sustainable plan rather than just a lot of money. “

He added: “It is our responsibility to consider what the future impact will be on promoters in terms of increased hosting fees and other commercial costs [у разі будь-якого такого продажу]”.

The letter from Woodward Hill and Wilm was addressed to the FIA’s executive body and its World Motor Sport Council, the sport’s governing body.

It marks a dramatic escalation of the strained relationship between F1 and the FIA ​​that was evident during Ben Sulayem’s 13-month presidency.

The letter states that under the 100-year contract, F1 has “the exclusive right to use the commercial rights to the FIA ​​F1 World Championship”.

It added: “The FIA ​​has given an unequivocal undertaking that it will do nothing to prejudice the possession, management and/or exercise of these rights.”

It said Ben Sulayem’s remarks, “made from the official social media account of the FIA ​​president, violate our rights in an unacceptable manner”.

Woodward Hill and Wilm write: “The circumstances in which the FIA ​​could have any role in changing control of the F1 group are very limited.

“Any suggestion or suggestion to the contrary, or that any potential purchaser of the F1 business should consult the FIA, is incorrect.”

The letter added that any “commentary on the value of a listed entity, particularly claims or insinuations of insider knowledge, risks causing significant harm to the entity’s shareholders and investors, not to mention the potential for serious regulatory consequences.”

“To the extent that these comments harm the value of Liberty Media Corporation, the FIA ​​may be held liable.”

It concluded that F1 and Liberty “hope and believe that this issue will not have to be resolved again”.

The FIA ​​declined to comment.

What did Ben Sulaym do?

Senior F1 sources have questioned the veracity of the claim that the Saudi PIF was trying to buy F1.

Saudi Arabia is involved in F1 – its national fuel company Aramco is a corporate sponsor and the country hosts a race that has one of the biggest placing fees – but its PIF has not at this stage tried to buy the sport.

Ben Sulayem’s intervention raises a number of questions as to why he felt the need to get involved in a commercial matter that is outside his purview.

Under an agreement with the European Commission more than 20 years ago, the FIA ​​is required to stay away from commercial matters in F1.

And Ben Sulayem’s statement comes amid ongoing tension between the FIA ​​on one side and F1 and the teams on the other over how the sport is run.

Liberty acquired F1 in 2017 in a deal that valued the sport at $8.5 billion, and since then its global appeal has grown significantly.

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