Ben Sulayem on what he would do as FIA president

FIA presidential candidate Mohammed ben Sulayem believes there are opportunities to make motorsport bigger at all levels if costs can be made more affordable for competitors.

Ben Sulayem on what he would do as FIA president

In an exclusive interview with Autosport talking about his vision if he is successful in this year's election, the former world rally driver sees great opportunities for all the member clubs of motor racing's governing body.

"I want to grow the FIA," he said. "I think there is potential. I feel there is potential to grow the competition.

"The FIA relies on two pillars: you have motorsport and you have mobility. The mobility, there are the motorists who we have to take care of, there is the environment and there is also the road safety. That all goes hand in hand.

"In motorsport, we have to grow the numbers and I believe whether it is in Latin America or if it is in India, or if it is in China, or any other place in Africa, there is a lot of potential.

"How to grow it is first of all to make it affordable. Today the sport is expensive. Even go-karting is very expensive. You can see people would spend $300,000 dollars for a full season for a young driver. Competition costs that much."

Ben Sulayem thinks that reducing costs at all levels of motorsport is essential if categories are going to thrive in the future – and the FIA can devote resources to achieving this.

"No one denies that F1 is the pinnacle of motorsport in the FIA, but the FIA is not only F1, otherwise it will be only limited to certain areas. What about regional championships? We don't want them to die.

"The only way to improve is to protect the regional championships. And protecting them is actually to make sure they are affordable. The rules are not there to restrict, the rules are there to save and also to grow with them, to serve them.

"I saw our championship in the FIA Middle East Rally Championship, it went up and down. And that was always because we were not innovative. The differences between the cost of a team like mine, compared to the team in last place, was a huge amount of money.

"But if we make it a bit of a balance, with equality and so that nobody can come there with millions of dollars and buy the best car to win, there will not exist a big gap."

Looking at F1

Ben Sulayem thinks that F1's current owners Liberty Media did an incredible job in keeping grand prix racing going during the coronavirus pandemic, but he still thinks there are opportunities to make the sport better.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B, and Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M, prepare to lead the field away at the start

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B, and Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M, prepare to lead the field away at the start

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

"As a sportsman and part of the motorsport society, I congratulate Liberty and the teams for, against all of these restrictions, having a safe non-stop championship last year," he said.

"We know the pandemic is just horrendous, so to have a huge mobilisation and logistics with F1, this is something to say to them: 'well done on this'.

"Having said that, the challenges with F1 we have to address are that we have to listen to our partners and we have to go on with the future.

"The main challenge I feel is definitely the cost cap. It's the way to go, but the cost cap has to be also not just specific to certain parts of a team.

"I believe in [it covering] the whole team. And the whole team includes the engineering, the amount of testing and a lot of things, including the drivers, including a lot of things. And that would create a competition.

"I don't feel that anyone would like to go on and watch just two or three teams fighting and then the rest are lapped. That's not a competition and that's not what the teams want themselves.

"I believe in creating a good technical department in the FIA and to empower it, and to have also much bigger dialogue with the members and with the teams."

He added: "I enjoy a very good relationship with Formula 1. I have been the sporting organiser of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with my team since 2009, and I've seen how to grow an event and how to sustain it.

"I can see what issues there are and what they're looking for in the future. I've been talking to them. I've been talking to Toto Wolff about how we can sustain it.

"Motorsport is not just a competition, it's an entertainment and a business. And unless we have a plan, we will fail."

Todt praise

Ben Sulayem has also praised the job that current FIA president Jean Todt has done during his tenure,  and says he hopes to carry on some of his work, while also focusing on different areas too.

FIA Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag, FIA Pesident Jean Todt

FIA Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag, FIA Pesident Jean Todt

Photo by: Carl Bingham / Motorsport Images

"I was one of the biggest supporters of Jean in the first campaign as vice president and I am still," he said.

"Definitely Jean has been a great president of the FIA for eleven and a half years, up to now.

"Among other topics, he has focused on road safety globally. And he genuinely supports that, he believes in it and that legacy has to go also in the future, because you're talking about road safety. It is extremely important, especially in developing countries.

"I do intend to create better and affordable pathways for young drivers. That's the change. You cannot just repeat what the previous president did, it won't work. The challenges are different. As I said, the landscape is changing but you will not divert me from the main thing: to create better and affordable pathways for young people."

Ben Sulayem is currently going up against Graham Stoker for the FIA's top job, and hopes the election campaign is conducted in the right manner.

"I welcome the challenge and the opportunity of comparing our ideas to those of his team," he said.

"I just hope that we will run a fair and transparent campaign. And we actually will look forward to winning and making the FIA a world leading sporting federation in terms of governance and innovative thinking."

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