Formula One’s owners are understood to be deeply dissatisfied with the sport’s governing body, the FIA.
After another weekend when the FIA’s performance was publicly criticised at the Monaco Grand Prix there are indications of an increasing schism between F1 and the FIA and in particular its new president, Mohammed Ben Sulayem. Sources fear that the governing body is damaging the sport just as it is enjoying a surge in popularity.
The FIA was criticised after the Monaco GP for the race director, Eduardo Freitas, delaying the start because of rain. Lewis Hamilton was among several drivers who said they could have at least begun the race before the rain became too heavy and that the FIA was too conservative in its concern that the drivers had not done any wet running until that point. “I don’t know the reason for them not sending us out,” he said. “We are Formula One drivers; [the weather] is not a good enough reason.”
That was the latest in a series of FIA decisions the Guardian understands is increasingly infuriating F1 and its teams. Ben Sulayem took over in December from Jean Todt and under his stewardship a fractious relationship has developed within the sport.
Ben Sulayem presided over the failure to ban Russian drivers from competing in FIA events, allowing them to continue to race under a neutral flag, when F1 had acted swiftly and decisively to sever all ties with the Russian GP. The FIA was made to look farcical shortly afterwards when individual national racing bodies such as Britain’s Motorsport UK issued their own ban on Russian teams, competitors or officials participating in events in the UK.
Equally the FIA report into the controversy of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was felt by many to be deeply unsatisfactory and failed to genuinely address what had happened at the race that cost Hamilton an eighth title.
More recently Ben Sulayem opposed the unanimous agreement by F1 and all the teams to increase the number of sprint races next year to six. His stance was known to have been received with considerable annoyance by both teams and F1.
The recent clampdown on drivers not being allowed to wear jewellery under their race suits which has centred around Hamilton has resulted in a very public standoff, with the driver refusing to remove his piercings. It is considered to be a pointless interference. Its enforcement is believed to be being pushed by Ben Sulayem. Hamilton refused to attend Ben Sulayem’s first FIA gala in December, a decision for which the president said there would be “no forgiveness”.
In Miami Esteban Ocon was scathing in his assessment of the governing body after he and Carlos Sanz both suffered heavy crashes at turn 14 and endured bad neck pain. His requests that the concrete barrier be replaced by the more forgiving Tecpro material he said were ignored by the FIA, despite the Tecpro units being readily available.
Fernando Alonso was equally damning of the FIA stewards after he received a penalty in Miami. “We believe that it was very unfair and it was just incompetence from the stewards, they were not very professional,” said Alonso on revealing that when he and his Alpine team went to present evidence to the stewards after the race they had packed up and were not even in the room.
This litany of poor publicity comes at a time when more people than ever are watching F1 and the sport wants to make it as accessible as possible with the focus very much on the track. Senior figures within F1 consider much of what the FIA has done as a needless distraction and are asking questions about whether the governing body’s role should be downsized, fully aware that the FIA is almost entirely reliant on the income it receives from F1.