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The most powerful people in motorsport

Who are the most powerful figures in the motorsporting world? Inevitably the heads of the FIA and the Formula 1 organisations will always figure high up on any such rankings, while acknowledging that motorsport is about far more than just F1.

Stefano Domenicali, CEO, Formula 1, on the grid

Stefano Domenicali, CEO, Formula 1, on the grid

Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

It’s a constantly evolving list, impacted by the coming and going of senior executives, and by the relative importance of manufacturers and teams. Former FIA president Jean Todt and ex-F1 CEO Chase Carey were on the last list we compiled in 2019, and both have now gone.

Some names have worked their way up through years of solid personal achievement in business, or on track. Others earned their place when they landed a job that automatically qualified them for a spot – and therefore they could depart just as quickly.

Here’s our take on the top 12 at the start of 2022.

12. Jim France
NASCAR CEO and chairman

Jim France

Jim France

Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images

NASCAR may have lost some of the popularity it enjoyed a couple of decades ago, but it remains an important series.

The France family has dominated the world of NASCAR since its inception, and the man currently holding the reins is 77-year-old Jim France.

Son of founder Bill Sr, he has been involved in the organisation since 1959. After Bill Sr’s death in 1992, Jim’s higher-profile older brother Bill Jr was the main face of NASCAR, before the latter’s son Brian took over in 2003.

Jim was always involved in the background and, when nephew Brian hit legal problems and eventually had to step aside, he became CEO and chairman.

Along with its Daytona home, NASCAR’s sister ISC organisation runs a string of 12 other major tracks across the US, including Watkins Glen, Darlington, Richmond and Fontana.

11. Roger Penske
Penske, Indianapolis and IndyCar boss

Roger Penske

Roger Penske

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

Known as ‘The Captain’, Penske has been a major force in motorsport for over five decades.

His teams have achieved success in all forms of US racing, and his 18 Indy 500 victories – the most recent earned in 2019 – are just the tip of the iceberg.

That same year the Penske empire expanded further when he bought both the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the IndyCar series from the Hulman family.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the workaholic Penske is that he has conducted his racing activities in parallel with his ‘day job’ as chairman of his hugely successful car dealership and truck-leasing businesses.

With his 85th birthday approaching this month, he shows no sign of slowing down.

PLUS: Why American racing's top dog is without equal

10. Max Verstappen
Reigning F1 world champion

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B

Photo by: Erik Junius

To make the upper reaches of our power list a driver has to make a global impact and, by winning the 2021 F1 world championship, Verstappen did just that.

His fierce battle with rival Lewis Hamilton helped bring new interest to the sport. His main fanbase is of course in his home country, and he was solely responsible for the hugely successful return of the Dutch Grand Prix in 2021.

His travelling fans have also helped to sustain other races around Europe, while his presence also helped to encourage Dutch beer maker Heineken to become a major F1 backer.

For the time being, the whole Red Bull operation is focused on him, and he has formed a powerful alliance with Christian Horner and Adrian Newey.

With Hamilton heading towards the end of his career, Verstappen is top of the list of drivers that any other F1 team would want to sign.

Autosport’s 2021 Top 50: #2 Max Verstappen

9. Alejandro Agag
Formula E and Extreme E founder

Alejandro Agag, CEO, Extreme E and drivers line-up

Alejandro Agag, CEO, Extreme E and drivers line-up

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

As founder and CEO of the Formula E organisation, Agag has carved himself an important role in motorsport.

The wealthy Spaniard has an unusual background – he was successful in politics at a young age (and was an MEP at 28) before focusing on business and sporting interests.

Well connected to Bernie Ecclestone and Flavio Briatore, he reached GP2 level as a team owner but, instead of making the obvious next step to F1, he created Formula E.

His background helped him put the pieces together and in particular to persuade cities and governments around the world to provide venues.

The withdrawals of Audi, BMW and Mercedes hit hard, but he has carved a significant place in the motorsporting world. The 51-year-old Agag extended his influence by introducing Extreme E last year, further staking his claim as the motorsport executive most closely associated with addressing key climate-change issues.

8. Toto Wolff
Mercedes F1 team principal and CEO

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, 3rd position, Toto Wolff, Team Principal and CEO, Mercedes AMG, and Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1st position, with the trophies

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, 3rd position, Toto Wolff, Team Principal and CEO, Mercedes AMG, and Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1st position, with the trophies

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

Wolff arrived at Mercedes at just the right time, with Ross Brawn having done most of the groundwork in building up the team, and High Performance Powertrains creating a superb power unit that left rivals trailing in the early days of the hybrid era.

In Hamilton, Mercedes also had the services of the greatest driver of the time.

Nevertheless, Wolff deserves much credit for overseeing the consistent success of the Brackley team since 2014. A canny political operator and inspiring leader, the 50-year-old has led the team to a string of titles, while managing frequent changes of key personnel as Mercedes GP has evolved.

His overall influence has been increased by HPP’s role as engine supplier to Aston Martin, McLaren and Williams, and in particular by his close association with Aston owner Lawrence Stroll.

He’s also overseen Merc’s entry and impeding exit from Formula E. Despite some doubts last year about his plans, he remains very much in charge of the team.

7. Stefano Domenicali

Stefano Domenicali, CEO, Formula 1

Stefano Domenicali, CEO, Formula 1

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

Domenicali took over from Chase Carey as F1 CEO at the start of last year, and he has quickly proved to be a wise choice for Liberty Media.

Carey had no prior knowledge of motor racing, but his job was to address big-picture tasks such as building the organisation and sorting the new Concorde Agreement. With those tasks achieved, the 56-year-old Domenicali’s focus is more on the sporting side, and expanding the calendar and increasing sponsorship and broadcast income.

He made his name running the Ferrari team, having worked his way up the ranks, and he subsequently gained experience in roles with Audi, Lamborghini and the FIA.

A superb front man for the sport, noted for his easygoing charm, he can also be as hard as nails when it comes to making key decisions. He doesn’t suffer fools.

As an aside, F1 sporting director Brawn will leave the organisation later this year and, with the 2022 regulations in place, much of his work is done. He therefore doesn’t make our top 12.

PLUS: How F1's new boss is shaping the championship's future

6. Lewis Hamilton
Seven-time F1 world champion

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12

Photo by: Jerry Andre / Motorsport Images

Hamilton’s last-minute defeat in the 2021 F1 world championship hasn’t diminished his position as the sport’s biggest global superstar and its greatest ambassador.

He has grown into that role in parallel with his consistent success on track. He is a thoughtful and articulate speaker not only on sporting matters but also on wider social issues such as human rights, particularly in the context of F1’s increasing profile in the Middle East.

His support of the Black Lives Matter campaign has extended to a hands-on involvement in promoting diversity in the sport via the Hamilton Commission.

Following last year’s Abu Dhabi GP, speculation suggested that he was so frustrated that he was considering his future, giving Liberty and F1 pause for thought about how the sport would deal with his sudden absence.

PLUS: Who is the greatest of all time?

5. John Elkann
Ferrari chairman

John Elkann, Chairman of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

John Elkann, Chairman of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

Photo by: Franco Nugnes

The two currently active F1 drivers aside, the youngest man on our top 12 list is 45-year-old Elkann, who earns his place as the chairman of Ferrari – just one of the many roles he juggles as the head of the Agnelli dynasty and its multifaceted Exor business empire.

Born in New York and educated in the UK, Brazil, France and Italy, he is the grandson of the late Gianni Agnelli.

It was the legendary industrialist who chose Elkann as the heir to the family interests, which now include Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Chrysler, Lancia, Peugeot, Citroen, Opel and Maserati among the many brands that sit under the Stellantis banner.

While some of those names also have significant motorsport involvements, it’s Elkann’s Ferrari role that gives him such huge clout in the F1 world. He has maintained a lower profile than his colourful predecessors Luca di Montezemolo and Sergio Marchionne, and seems happy to keep it that way.

4. Ola Kallenius
Mercedes-Benz CEO

Sir Jim Ratcliffe, CEO, INEOS, Toto Wolff, Team Principal and CEO, Mercedes AMG and Ola Källenius, CEO, Mercedez-Benz

Sir Jim Ratcliffe, CEO, INEOS, Toto Wolff, Team Principal and CEO, Mercedes AMG and Ola Källenius, CEO, Mercedez-Benz

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

Swede Kallenius earns his spot on our list as CEO of Mercedes-Benz, and as such he has ultimate responsibility for overseeing the company’s sporting activities.

Mercedes has been the most successful F1 team of the hybrid era, as well as an engine supplier to customers – currently McLaren, Aston Martin and Williams, meaning the marque powers 40% of the 2022 grid.

The Mercedes name is important for any series, and its Formula E withdrawal announcement was bad news for the electric category.

A business and management graduate, Kallenius worked his way through the company ranks with remarkable speed. Along the way he had spells seconded to McLaren (on the road car side) and F1 engine maker High Performance Powertrains, so the dynamic 52-year-old has a more detailed understanding of the sport than his old-school predecessors.

He remains a supporter of the F1 programme, but the partial sale of the team to INEOS and Jim Ratcliffe perhaps suggest a gradual stepping back of official involvement.

3. Dietrich Mateschitz
Red Bull co-founder

Dietrich Mateschitz, CEO and Founder of Red Bull

Dietrich Mateschitz, CEO and Founder of Red Bull

Photo by: Jerry Andre / Motorsport Images

Red Bull co-founder Mateschitz has long played a significant role in F1. He owns Red Bull Racing and AlphaTauri, and thus has a huge influence – any threat to pull out has to be taken seriously.

He also owns the Red Bull Ring and is the promoter of the Austrian GP, and he scored points with Liberty and the FIA amid the early days of the COVID pandemic by hosting the first two events of the delayed 2020 season.

Red Bull’s role as one of the key players of the modern era has been further bolstered by the creation of a sister powertrain division – never again will it be at the mercy of a manufacturer partner, although it is still working closely with Honda and has been linked to a future Porsche deal.

The 77-year-old Mateschitz remains an intensely private person who rarely appears at circuits and shuns the media.

2. John Malone
Liberty Media chairman

John Malone, Chairman, Liberty Media

John Malone, Chairman, Liberty Media

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

His name might not be well known to motorsport fans but, as the founder and chairman of F1 owner Liberty Media, Malone wields a huge influence.

Ultimately, Liberty CEO Greg Maffei and F1 executives Domenicali and Brawn work for him.

After studying electrical engineering and economics, Malone made his fortune and his name in telecommunications. Along the way he became known as the ‘Darth Vader’ of Wall Street, a nickname supposedly coined by former US vice-president Al Gore in recognition of Malone’s tough way of doing business.

Rarely seen at races since the Liberty takeover, the 80-year-old is nevertheless very active in the background. Have no doubts – he’s involved in F1 to make money for Liberty and its shareholders, and not as a benevolent fan of the sport.

1. Mohammed Ben Sulayem
FIA president

Mohammed ben Sulayem, President EMSO (UAE)

Mohammed ben Sulayem, President EMSO (UAE)

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

Ben Sulayem was propelled into the top position when he was elected as president of the FIA in December, taking the job – and the spot in our rankings – previously occupied by Todt.

It’s logical to place him top given the scope of his new role, but there’s no guarantee that he will remain on top in the coming years, since he has to prove that he will be as powerful and influential a figure as his three immediate predecessors.

It won’t be easy. Jean-Marie Balestre, Max Mosley and Todt were all huge personalities and, in the case of the latter two, had achieved much at a high level in motorsport before they were elected.

Ben Sulayem’s background is in desert rallying, so he has an appreciation of the competitor’s point of view, and latterly he’s been a key figure on the club and administration side of the sport in the Middle East. He therefore has an impressive CV.

But, while he was involved in the birth of the Abu Dhabi GP, he lacks the detailed understanding of F1 that Mosley and Todt had. He’s spent his early weeks in his new job meeting key people and learning how everything works.

His first big test will be how he deals with the fallout from the 2021 Abu Dhabi GP controversy, with a report due this month.

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