FIA president, Mohammed ben Sulayem says he has been “put through” hell over his bid to introduce new teams to the sport.
From the moment Andretti revealed its desire to enter the sport, it has faced stiff opposition from the majority of the teams and F1’s owners, Liberty Media.
Despite the opposition, earlier this year the FIA began the process by which two new teams could enter F1, finally rubber-stamping Andretti’s bid earlier this month.
While F1 deliberates Andretti’s proposed entry, the teams ramped up their objections, curiously, with those at the back of the grid appearing to be the most vociferous.
Ben Sulayem had already crossed swords with F1 when he poured cold water on the value of the sport following rumours that the Saudis were prepared to make a $20bn bid, his comment resulting in a warning from the sport’s legal team.
Speaking in Austin, ben Sulayem admitted that the last twelve months have not been easy.
“I went through hell,” he said. “I’m asking myself, ‘What did I do to deserve all of this attack in February and March? They attacked me, the day I opened the expression of interest.
“Even when my son died, they attacked me, abused me, just to break me,” he continued, referring to the death of his son Saif, in a car crash in Dubai in March, “just because I opened for the whole world to enter.
“It was unnecessary, counterproductive, not good for business,” he added. “They can say whatever they want. At the end of the day, I was elected to take care of the sport.
“Nothing goes into my pocket. We don’t have shareholders, we don’t have a board of directors to share the money, so my mission is different than theirs. That’s very clear.”
Asked the reason for the attacks, he replied: “I don’t know, I really don’t know. Just because I opened an expression of interest.
“We have a contract for 12,” he continued, referring to the Concorde Agreement that allows for twelve teams. “To have 12 and say ‘No, you are not allowed’… I am here for motorsport, the spirit of the sport. They look at the money as a piece of cake and they will share it.”
Asked to explain if the ‘they’ referred to was about greed, he replied: “You said it! I don’t want to speak that financial language, ‘Oh, let’s make more money, let’s make more money’. I want to speak about the sustainability of the sport and the business.
“There are 12 teams allowed. Yes, I will say it again, if there is another reliable, worthy team, I will open the expression of interest again for it. This is what will happen.”
Asked if those involved are putting their own interests before those of the sport, he said: “If they do that, then they are greed. I agree with you on that. If that’s the way to get money, that’s absolutely greedy. Yet there are so many good ways of making money.
‘They have to understand, I am more than happy,” he of his relationship with the teams. “I always have been with the teams. Last year I sat down with them, I invested a year with them, getting to know them. I’m always accessible.
“The teams are very important,” he added, “the drivers are very important, but it’s about all of us, combined together, who make the show. We have a role to play, FOM has, the teams have, the drivers have, and then comes the funds, that’s for sure.
“But I’m learning more, and whatever the attention it was done in no other way except to damage me because I opened the expression of interest. But I was doing my job, I was doing my duty. These are the rules, and we have to be transparent and fair. So we did our job. Not me as a president, but the whole FIA team.
“The FIA did all the due diligence, the rigorous process, we did everything,” he insisted. “We waited, we were patient, and we asked the right questions. Now, we will not go back on our word. We supported Andretti because it was the right thing to do. That’s very clear, and I congratulate my team for doing that.”
Ben Sulayem’s comments come at a time there are continuing rumpous that F1 and the teams sought to encourage GM to enter the sport, but without Andretti, the American manufacturer understood to have ruled out such a move.
If this were true, despite ben Sulayem’s previous claims about Andretti not resorting to legal action if rejected, it would suggest that the American team would have a good basis for such a challenge.