F1 and the FIA are no longer on the same page, Blundell says

Blundell believes the FIA is not keeping up with the sport's development, creating a potential for misalignment in the future.

Former Formula One presenter for the British broadcaster ITV and Le Mans champion Mark Blundell believes FIA is no longer in accord with Liberty Media.

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Lately the bickering between Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile and the sport’s commercial rights owners Liberty Media have been making the headlines. Liberty took over the sport rights over five years ago from the FIA. However the Federation retained ownership of the F1 World Championship. 

Liberty embraced social media, commissioned Netflix’s series Drive to Survive and all these efforts made F1 popular worldwide. The two parties have been at loggerheads for quite some time and the most recent was when FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem tweeted over the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund's (PIF) bid of $20 billion. 

“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,” he tweeted. “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.”

Later on, F1’s General Counsel, Sasha Woodward-Hill issued a statement, commenting on how Ben Sulayem had overstepped by commenting on F1’s market value. Immediately after, sexist comments on Ben Sulayem’s website dating from 2001 were exposed, which made things worse.

Liberty wasn't impressed with Ben Sulayem, which led to them wanting to replace him with David Richards. From that time, Sulayem confirmed his resolution to take a step back from the everyday operations of F1. 

Mark Blundell, speaking on the disagreement episodes between FIA and F1, he thinks the two are no longer in alignment. “I would say Liberty have done a great job in growing Formula 1 globally, I think that’s very obvious for everyone to see,” said Blundell. “No doubt the teams are very, very happy with that side of things. Because it’s only maybe what, four years ago, that you were looking at several cars on the grid that were very plain with no commercial sponsors. Where we are today, I think everybody’s clamouring to get their name on the side of a Formula 1 car. So there’s huge growth in that area."

He continued, “Netflix’s Drive to Survive has been very key to that, and the North American market that is exponentially growing. Where the FIA sits, and where it’s gone, for me, it’s been slightly out of alignment with the growth of the sport. But that’s just F1, bearing in mind that the FIA sits across all of global motorsport on every level. But, ultimately, F1 is the pinnacle. So I just think there’s been a little bit of a misalignment. That’s never a good thing. It’s also quite difficult for people to understand when there’s, in effect, two sort of governing bodies, a sporting side and a technical and commercial side that are part of one sport." 

Adding on he said, “So the communication hasn’t been clear. We’ve had several areas of the FIA being key communicators with things that have gone on in F1 over the last sort of 18 months or so.”

However, F1 and FIA aren't likely to end their relationship, given the complications of looking for new circuit promoters, manufacturers and everything in between.

Commenting on whether F1 should keep itself aligned with the FIA in order to maintain its checks and balances, Blundell reported, “It’s a difficult topic, because, if you look across most sports at these levels, there’s always a governing body that’s some sort of regulation framework around it. You’ve got football you’ve got FIFA, you’ve got the Premier League, the actual Premier League that sits above all of the clubs in terms of putting them together and hosting the championship. Maybe the Olympics is probably the only one that doesn’t really have anybody that gives any outside information to set guidelines. But F1 breaking away from the FIA, as such, would be an interesting concept. We did have some breakaway series that mooted many, many years ago, and it was a long way down the line in many areas. So it’s not unforeseeable but, whether or not it’s the right thing to do, I don’t know. I think there are a few things that could be done before it got to that stage.”

On whether Mohammed Sulayem is the right candidate as the FIA President, Blundell believes because he comes from a rallying background and not F1, he is having to approach F1 as a semi-outsider.

“Whoever heads up the FIA is sort of damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” he commented. But it’s always going to be tough to get someone to understand the inner workings of something where they haven’t been part and parcel of it. The previous president, Jean Todt, had come out of the Formula 1 pit lane, and was very understanding of how F1 worked. So that gave some insight. We’re talking about Formula 1, but the FIA is much more than that. So it does need somebody to have a grasp of the sport but, at the same time, the picture is much bigger.”

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