FIA President Ben Sulayem Steps Back From Daily F1 Duties Amid Controversies

Nikolas Tombazis, FIA's newly-appointed single seat director, will take over day-to-day operations.
Mohammed ben Sulayem
via Getty Images

Mohammed Ben Sulayem, president of the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile, has announced that he’s relinquishing hands-on control of Formula 1. The decision is reportedly a planned one, but the timing suggests it may have to do with recent controversies he’s been involved with.

News of 61-year-old Ben Sulayem’s concession came in the form of an email sent to F1 team bosses earlier this week. The message informed the 10 team principals that Sulayem would be stepping back from the day-to-day operations, effectively handing control over to Nikolas Tombazis, who was only recently promoted as the FIA’s current Single Seater Director last month as part of a larger restructuring.

Mohammed ben Sulayem

Ben Sulayem will remain as president of the FIA, a position that he was elected to back in December 2021; however, daily F1 operations will no longer be in his purview. At the time he was elected, Ben Sulayem revealed that he planned to restructure F1’s operations as a whole.

That restructuring began taking shape last month with a shakeup of senior management in the FIA’s Single-Seater Department. Ben Sulayem says it’s time he hands the reins to someone else, making Tombazis the effective point of contact. This doesn’t mean high-level decisions and other strategic issues won’t pass over Ben Sulayem’s desk from time to time.

“My stated objective was to be a non-executive president via the recruitment of a team of professional managers, which has now been largely completed,” reads Ben Sulayem’s email. “Therefore, going forward, your day-to-day contact for all matters on F1 will be with Nikolas and his team, while I will focus on strategic matters with my leadership team.”

The news of Ben Sulayem’s withdrawal from daily operations comes amid bouts of controversy surrounding the reigning FIA president.

Last month, Ben Sulayem claimed that F1’s $20 billion valuation was “inflated” and “exaggerated.” The remarks prompted a letter from F1’s lawyers, saying he had “interfered” with the series’ commercial rights territory. Series owner Liberty Media claims only it has the right to speak on such matters under the agreement penned with former FIA president Max Mosley.

Separately, a controversial remark made by Ben Sulayem was recently uncovered on his disused personal website. The comment, which was written in 2001, mentions that Sulayem did not “like women who think they are smarter than men,” The Times reports. The FIA responded to the findings by noting that Ben Sulayem has “a strong record in promoting women and equality in sport.”

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