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Figures at Liberty Media are reportedly angered by Mohammed Ben Sulayem’s comments

Both the possibility of further teams joining the Formula One grid, and Mohammed Ben Sulayem's comments regarding The Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund's bid for Formula One's commercial rights have reportedly angered Liberty Media officials.

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There are fresh reports of tension between F1’s owners Liberty Media and FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem

Mohammed Ben Sulayem at the Dutch Grand Prix 2022
Mohammed Ben Sulayem at the 2022 Dutch Grand Prix. (Image Credit: @Ben_Sulayem on Twitter)

It has recently come to light that The Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (PIF) made an unsuccessful bid for Formula One’s commercial rights to the tune of $20 billion last year. Those rights are currently owned by Liberty Media, who bought them in 2017 for $4.4 billion. Following the revelation of the unsuccessful bid, FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem publicly commented on the events via his Twitter account.

Ben Sulayem’s tweets

On Monday, The FIA president posted the following tweets regarding the failed takeover bid:

“As the custodians of motorsport, the FIA, as a non-profit organisation, is cautious about alleged inflated price tags of $20 billion being put on F1.”

“Any potential buyer is advised to apply common sense, consider the greater good of the sport and come with a clear, sustainable plan – not just a lot of money.”

“It is our duty to consider what the future impact will be for promoters in terms of increased hosting fees and other commercial costs, and any adverse impact that it could have on fans.”

It is important to note that the FIA is the sport’s regulator. But the organisation has no say in commercial matters.

Figures from Liberty Media now have their say

It has almost been 24 hours since Ben Sulayem’s comments. Now Sky News has obtained a letter from Renee Wilm (chief legal and administrative officer of Liberty Media) and Sacha Woodward Hill, accusing the FIA of interference. Liberty Media has exclusive commercial rights to the FIA Formula One World Championship. In the letter, they accuse the sports regulators of breaking the following agreement:

“The FIA has given unequivocal undertakings that it will not do anything to prejudice the ownership, management and/or exploitation of those rights.”

Having acknowledged the above agreement in the letter, Hill and Wilm go on to state that they believe:

“We consider that those comments, made from the FIA president’s official social media account, interfere with those rights in an unacceptable manner.”

The ‘rights’ that the letter refers to are the commercial rights that Liberty Media owns.

The letter further details how Formula One’s owners believe the FIA president has “overstep[ped] the bounds of the FIA’s remit,” with his comments. And that a belief “that any potential purchaser of the Formula 1 business is required to consult with the FIA is wrong.” Which the letter states that his comments on social media insinuate.

Has Ben Sulayem damaged Formula One?

Perhaps the most damning section of the letter is where the FIA president is accused of potentially damaging the sport and its commercial owners. A section of the letter reads:

“Any individual or organisation commenting on the value of a listed entity or its subsidiaries, 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.”

Concluding that, “to the degree that these comments damage the value of Liberty Media Corporation, the FIA may be liable as a result.”

How will the FIA, Formula One, and Liberty Media move forward?

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