The owners of Formula One have accused FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem of “interfering” in the commercial rights of the sport in an “unacceptable manner” after he commented on the value of F1 on Twitter.
In a series of tweets on Tuesday, Ben Sulayem reacted to a Bloomberg report that Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) had considered a bid of $20 billion to buy F1.
The FIA president described the figure as an “inflated price tag” and said it was the duty of the FIA to consider the impact such a valuation could have on race promoters and fans.
As the custodians of motorsport, the FIA, as a non-profit organisation, is cautious about alleged inflated price tags of $20bn being put on F1. (1/3)
— Mohammed Ben Sulayem (@Ben_Sulayem) January 23, 2023
The legal heads of F1 and its owner, Liberty Media, reacted to Ben Sulayem’s tweets by sending a letter to the FIA, excerpts of which were published by Sky News, saying his comments had “overstep[ped] the bounds of the FIA’s remit”.
It added: “Commenting on the value of a listed entity, especially claiming or implying possession of inside knowledge while doing so, risks causing substantial damage to the shareholders and investors of that entity, not to mention potential exposure to serious regulatory consequences.
“To the degree that these comments damage the value of Liberty Media Corporation, the FIA may be liable as a result.”
F1’s commercial rights, which are split from the regulatory side of the sport by a 100-year lease, were bought by Liberty Media in 2017 for $4.4 billion.
F1’s letter added that, under the terms of the 100-year lease, “Formula One has the exclusive right to exploit the commercial rights in the FIA Formula One World Championship.
“Further, the FIA has given unequivocal undertakings that it will not do anything to prejudice the ownership, management and/or exploitation of those rights.
“We consider that those comments, made from the FIA president’s official social media account, interfere with those rights in an unacceptable manner.”
The letter also played down suggestions that the FIA would have a say in the sale of Formula One to a new owner should Liberty Media choose to sell it.
“The circumstances in which the FIA would have any role in a change of control of the F1 group are very limited,” it added.
“Any suggestion or implication to the contrary, or that any potential purchaser of the F1 business is required to consult with the FIA, is wrong.”
F1 and the FIA declined to comment on the letter when contacted by ESPN.