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Ben Sulayem drama will calm down once F1 racing starts, reckons Ferrari boss

Ferrari team principal Fred Vasseur believes the controversy surrounding FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem will calm down once the Formula 1 season gets underway.

Frederic Vasseur, Team Principal, Alfa Romeo Racing, Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the FIA

Ben Sulayem has found himself at the centre of a storm in recent weeks amid a public falling out with Formula 1’s commercial rights holders.

Comments he made about what he felt was an ‘inflated’ $20 billion price tag for F1, suggested in a report that Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund was looking at buying it, did not go down well with the series.

In a letter that F1’s legal department sent to Ben Sulayem, they said that it was wholly wrong of the FIA to be commenting on commercial matters.

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

"We consider that those comments, made from the FIA President's official social media account, interfere with those rights in an unacceptable manner."

Ben Sulayem was then accused of being "deeply discourteous and unprofessional" by a House of Lords peer.

Paul Scriven had been one of 90 lawmakers who wrote to Ben Sulayem last year to express concerns about the human rights records of many of the Gulf states where F1 races.

He was left deeply annoyed that Ben Sulayem had not responded to them, and further was worried about the implications of an FIA ban on drivers making political statements.

Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President FIA

Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President FIA

Photo by: A.S.O.

"Why do you think you can ignore parliamentarians?” wrote Scriven. “Do you think that concerns raised over human rights and the policies of the FIA should be above scrutiny? We wrote to you in order to raise concerns that are in the public interest, and we expect openness and transparency from the FIA.”

Following that, The Times newspaper then published archived comments from an old Ben Sulayem website that were disparaging to women.

Speaking about things he did not like, Ben Sulayem had said: “Women who think they are smarter than men, for they are not in truth.”

The FIA responded by issuing a statement stating that the old remarks do not represent Ben Sulayem’s views.

The wave of negative stories surrounding Ben Sulayem has triggered suggestions that there could be factions with the FIA, either at a senior level or amid the national clubs, that want to get rid of him.

Such a scenario could trigger some political turmoil in the build-up to the new F1 season.

However, new Ferrari team boss Vasseur suggests that the Ben Sulayem story has only become so big because there is nothing else going on – and that once track actions get under way then the focus will shift to that.

“I'm really convinced that as soon as we will put the cars on track, this will disappear a little bit off the screen,” he said.

“For sure we'll have discussions but, as always, I hope that we'll be able to stay focused on the sporting side.”

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