FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem under investigation for interfering in F1 race result

Investigation centres around the result of 2023 F1 Saudi Arabian GP


The motorsport community is currently facing a whirlwind of controversy as FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem finds himself at the center of an investigation for allegedly interfering with a Formula 1 race result, raising questions about governance, ethics, and the future direction of the sport’s governing body.

The crux of the matter lies in allegations surrounding the 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, where Fernando Alonso, driving for Aston Martin, was initially penalised for a pit lane infringement. 

BBC Sport suggests that Ben Sulayem attempted to influence the decision-making process to have Alonso‘s penalty revoked, a move that has sparked a formal investigation by the FIA’s ethics committee.

The Alonso penalty situation, as per BBC Sport, involves a whistleblower’s claim that Ben Sulayem contacted Sheikh Abdullah bin Hamas bin Isa Al Khalifa, the FIA’s vice-president for the Middle East and North Africa region, expressing his desire for the penalty to be overturned. 

When Alonso was serving a five-second penalty work was done on his car – the rear jack was judged to have been touching the car before the penalty was served. This meant a further 10-second penalty was given. That resulted in Alonso losing third place in the race and was demoted to fourth.

This alleged intervention has led to a formal review by the FIA’s compliance officer, Paolo Basarri, whose findings are now under the ethics committee’s scrutiny.

Fernando Alonso looks in action at the Saudi Arabian GP | Aston Martin
Fernando Alonso looks in action at the Saudi Arabian GP | Aston Martin

The implications of these allegations extend far beyond the individual race result. They touch upon the integrity of the sport’s governance and the independence of its regulatory processes. 

Furthermore, this situation unfolds against the backdrop of several high-profile departures and resignations within the FIA, underscoring a period of instability and change. 

Senior figures, including Steve Nielsen, Deborah Mayer, and Tim Goss, have stepped down from their roles, highlighting a broader issue of leadership and direction within the organisation.

More controversy for Ben Sulayem

This incident is just the latest in a series of challenges and controversies that have marked Ben Sulayem‘s tenure as FIA President. 

Since his election in December 2021, Ben Sulayem has navigated through a landscape rife with disputes and disagreements, not only within the Formula 1 community but also involving broader aspects of the FIA’s governance and its relationships with key stakeholders.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner talks with Mohammed ben Sulayem, FIA President, on the grid of the 2023 US GP sprint | Chris Graythen/Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Ben Sulayem‘s presidency has also been marked by direct involvement in Formula 1’s operational aspects, a departure from his initial promise of a non-executive role. 

This hands-on approach has led to friction with teams, drivers, and other stakeholders, culminating in calls for a reevaluation of his leadership style and the FIA’s governance structure.

As the FIA’s ethics committee deliberates on the investigation’s findings, the motorsport community awaits clarity on these serious allegations. 

The outcome of this inquiry could have significant implications for the FIA’s leadership, its relationship with Formula 1, and the governance of motorsport at a global level. 

The resolution of this issue is crucial not only for the integrity of the sport but also for its future direction and the confidence of its participants and fans worldwide.

John Smith
Editor at and all round Motorsport journalist specialising in Formula 1, IndyCar and Formula E.
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