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Todt hits back at Ben Sulayem’s criticisms of his FIA leadership

Former FIA president Jean Todt has spoken out over Mohammed Ben Sulayem’s criticisms of the way he ran things, calling them unfounded but unsurprising because of his successor’s “character.”

(L to R): Mohammed Ben Sulayem (UAE) with Jean Todt (FRA) FIA President.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 17, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE, Saturday 31 October 2009.

Photo by: Andre Vor / Sutton Images

Ben Sulayem took over from Todt at the end of 2021, and has pointed out several times that one of the biggest headaches he has had to deal with was a deficit that he inherited in the FIA's budget.

Speaking about the issue for the first time last year, Ben Sulayem said: “There was a financial issue that we didn’t know about. We had a deficit, even before the pandemic, but I’m pleased to have cleared that.”

Ben Sulayem suggested that the figures being talked about were “over $20m,” as he also said his early days as president were dominated by an unexpected court case involving a patent dispute regarding the Halo.

Up until now Todt has kept quiet about the matter, but in a lengthy interview published in L’Equipe, he has now responded to what has been said – and is far from impressed about how things have been portrayed.

Todt said that the deficit the FIA faced in 2021 was a consequence of the Covid crisis, where he had had to work hard to endure the survival of both the governing body and F1.

And he is clear that the overall finances of the FIA were in a far stronger place at the end of his presidency than the beginning – as he cited examples like options on FE ownership and real estate profits as extra positive elements.

“When I left, there must have been more than 250 million Euros in reserves,” Todt told L'Equipe when asked if he was surprised by Ben Sulayem's comments.

“When I arrived in 2009, there were barely 40m [Euro], although the FIA had just ceded the commercial rights to F1 for a hundred years a few years earlier.

“I don't call it a deficit. When I left, the budget had been multiplied by almost three, with many new competitions and sources of income, such as Formula E, the World Endurance Championship or the Rally Raid Championship.”

Mohammed ben Sulayem, FIA President talks with Red Bull Racing Team Principal Christian Horner and Max Verstappen of Red Bull Racing

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Mohammed ben Sulayem, FIA President talks with Red Bull Racing Team Principal Christian Horner and Max Verstappen of Red Bull Racing

He added: “It is true that we left one dispute unfinished when I left, the Halo trial. But it wasn't swept under the rug. It was well documented and monitored by our services; we presented it to the senate and the world council before I left, and the current president attended this presentation.

“This was a lawsuit brought in Texas by an engineer who owned a patent that was only valid in the United States and for a short time. So when I left, there was nothing secret. And only one ongoing case, that one.

"But I wasn't surprised, I knew who my successor was. I know the character.”

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Asked if he was annoyed that Ben Sulayem has been speaking out against his management, Todt said: “No, it doesn't matter to me. And then it's smoke.

“I start from the principle that when one chapter closes, another opens and we do not allow ourselves to attack its predecessor. Whether leaving Peugeot, Ferrari or the FIA, I never said a bad word. There is no point in launching into allegations, especially when they are false.

“The reality is what I just told you. And I will add something regarding the revenues of the FIA: it was under my presidency that the Hundred Year Agreement and Concorde Agreements between the FIA and F1 were renegotiated before Liberty Media became the owner of the FOM (Formula One Management)

“Without going into detail, I can tell you that the income received by the Federation has very clearly increased compared to before. And its position in the governance of F1 has also been restored. It now has a third of the votes, along with FOM and the teams. It's night and day with previous agreements.

“You can't stop someone from criticising or disagreeing. But everything I have done during my presidency has always been approved by the senate and the world councils.”

Todt feels that the current FIA regime has embarked on a totally different direction under Ben Sulayem, who has faced criticism from several parties in F1 over the way he has dealt with issues.

“Everything that was put in place during my mandate was turned upside down,” he continued.

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