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Ben Sulayem investigated for alleged attempt to interfere in F1 race result - Report

FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem is reportedly under investigation by the ruling body for allegedly attempting to interfere with the result of a Formula 1 race.

Mohammed bin Sulayem, President, FIA, Stefano Domenicali, CEO, Formula 1, on the grid

Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

The event involved is the 2023 Saudi Arabian GP, where Fernando Alonso finished third on the road before a 10-second penalty for the team touching the car during a penalty stop demoted him to fourth.

However, later the stewards rescinded the penalty, restoring the Aston Martin driver to third in the final results.

According to the BBC, Ben Sulayem is the subject of an investigation after a whistleblower accused him of attempting to interfere with the result by attempting to get Alonso's 10-second penalty overturned.

Ben Sulayem is alleged to have called Sheikh Abdullah bin Hamas bin Isa Al Khalifa, FIA vice-president for sport for the Middle East and North Africa region and a close ally of his, who was present at the race.

The BBC says that the matter is being investigated by the FIA's ethics committee and that a report has been submitted by FIA compliance officer Paolo Basarri, who has been with the organisation since 2017.

At the time, there was no suggestion that there was anything untoward with the change of heart by the stewards.

In fact, the focus was on Aston Martin sporting director Andy Stevenson, who successfully made the team's case in a right of review, and convinced the stewards to change their minds.

It was also seen as a rare example of the stewards accepting new evidence and making a decision that appeared to be logical and fair.

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin F1 Team, 3rd position, with his trophy

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin F1 Team, 3rd position, with his trophy

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

It also led to an FIA investigation that created clarity for the rules related to touching cars at penalty pitstops.

The saga began when Alonso was deemed to have stopped on the grid too far to the side of his painted grid box, a result of extra FIA scrutiny at the time following a 2023 F1 sporting regulation change.

Alonso subsequently had to take a five-second penalty at his pitstop. Mercedes viewed a video of the stop and alerted the FIA to the fact that the rear jack was touching the car.

The FIA looked into the matter via its remote operations centre in Geneva, and the matter went to the stewards.

The stewards were initially led to believe that an earlier meeting of the FIA sporting advisory committee had agreed that jacks could not touch the car during a penalty stop, violating a regulation that says a car "may not be worked on until the car has been stationary for the duration of the penalty."

Alonso was given a 10-second penalty that dropped him from third to fourth. However, Aston Martin requested a right of review.

The Silverstone team was able to demonstrate to the stewards that while the matter had indeed been discussed at the SAC, there was no firm agreement on jacks touching cars being illegal.

Stevenson also showed videos of seven examples of penalty pitstops involving Mercedes, Alpine, AlphaTauri, Haas and McLaren where jacks were touching.

The stewards considered this was new evidence and thus reversed the decision on Alonso's 10-second penalty, and the Spaniard got his third place back.

The change of mind led to some criticism of the FIA because of the apparent confusion over what the regulations said.

The governing body decided to fast-track a review of the events, noting that "consistent with the transparent approach adopted by the FIA, a thorough analysis has been undertaken and conclusions drawn that will help improve the sport."

It added that "the review panel comprised representatives from a number of FIA departments including race control, safety, operations and technical and members of the FIA remote operations centre (ROC)."

Consistent with the decision of the Jeddah stewards the review noted that "this circumstance arose due to a lack of clarity in the wording of the relevant regulations and conflicting precedents, which were exposed by this specific incident.

"The rule itself had been a point of discussion at recent sporting advisory committee meetings, the forum in which the FIA, FOM and all the teams discuss and propose amendments to the F1 sporting regulations for approval and implementation in the FIA F1 World Championship."

After further discussion in the team managers' meeting at the Australian GP new protocols were issued regarding touching cars during penalty stops.

The FIA did not respond to a request for comment when contacted by Autosport. 

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