Senior figures in motor racing have expressed a widespread sense of fatigue and dissatisfaction among Formula One teams with the sport’s governing body, the FIA.
What is seen as an increasingly fraught relationship between the teams and the FIA was exacerbated further at last weekend’s Italian Grand Prix, while the organisation’s president Mohammed ben Sulayem has been criticised for a failure of leadership.
F1 is enjoying a huge surge in popularity at present but many within the sport are concerned that the FIA, which enforces its regulations, is proving to be more of hindrance than help to this growth.
At Monza last weekend, with a swathe of grid penalties applied across the field, the governing body was only able to provide a grid for Sunday’s race three and a half hours after qualifying had concluded, a period inexplicable to fans. Indicative of a difficult relationship with F1 – the commercial rights holder – the FIA claimed the hold-up was due to F1 not releasing timing data, which was vigorously refuted by F1.
The race itself ended behind the safety car, which generated disapproval from team principals including Christian Horner and Mattia Binotto of Red Bull and Ferrari, while Haas’s Guenther Steiner bluntly stated: “It wasn’t handled how it should’ve been.” However, the Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff pointedly noted that the FIA had followed their regulations correctly.
Ben Sulayem took over as president in December last year and his leadership has come under criticism ever since. There was exasperation when the Monaco GP was not started in the rain and disappointment when the FIA failed to ban Russian drivers from competing after the invasion of Ukraine. The report into the controversial end to the Abu Dhabi GP last year was felt by many to be unsatisfactory and it is claimed Ben Sulaymen has opposed the increase in the number of sprint races as a way of extracting more money from F1, an accusation he has denied.
Recently it is believed the president has demanded the FIA be afforded a motorhome of equivalent size to that used by the teams. Sources have suggested this was indicative of concern that Ben Sulayem gave more import to appearing on the podium and being seen at races than managing his organisation. Equally, teams had been left confused by what he was trying to do and drivers by a failure to make regulations clear, giving a sense there was no coherent strategy coming from the president.
The FIA did employ its rules around the safety car absolutely to the letter in Italy, however, and did so after what it said had been full and open discussions with the teams as to how the safety car should be used in the wake of Abu Dhabi, agreeing that the rules should be followed in exactly the same way, regardless of when or at what race.
The organisation insisted that it remained in a good working relationship with the F1 teams and that they were in every position to bring up any grievances.
“We are running the sport in a collaborative way, as we have always done,” a spokesperson said. “Our processes involve all the teams at all levels, any issues teams want to bring up can be dealt with through the sporting and technical advisory committees, the F1 Commission and ultimately the World Motor Sport Council to make any changes agreed upon.”