Interview: FIA boss on his conflict with F1's commercial boom

But Ben Sulayem argues that as the Concorde Agreement that binds F1 commercially permits 12 teams, newcomers can’t be totally shut out. 

He has been vocally supportive of the Andretti operation, run by Michael Andretti – son of 1970s F1 legend Mario – that’s bidding to join in partnership with General Motors.

“Our rules say if there are serious [prospective] teams, we have to open [the process],” says Ben Sulayem. “There are rules; we can’t just say no. Meanwhile, there’s a contract for 12 teams, so we have to follow the process.

“Honestly, I’m not here to upset Liberty Media, but if people think that’s upsetting them, I can pick up on people saying things about the FIA that also upsets us.

“Imagine us saying no to potential teams? We’re here to sustain motorsport. We don’t look at market share; we’re a non-profit. I don’t want any big team to take us to court and say we’ve been blocking them for the wrong reasons.

“Yes, we open the expressions of interest, we do the due diligence, we look at the financial side, technical side and we also look at where we see ourselves in years to come. If we get a [team from the] United States, that would be good. I can’t force anyone to say ‘no, you aren’t allowed unless you buy a team’.”

The timeline for a decision on this is drifting backwards. It’s a fascinating situation, because both the FIA and F1 would have to sign off on a new team. Ben Sulayem’s current choice is to either accept the application of one or more aspirants, thereby putting the ball in F1’s court, or back down.

This is symptomatic of the tension between the two sides, but it’s just one manifestation of it.

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