Formula One’s lawyers reportedly sent a warning letter to FIA World Motor Sport Council in wake of president Mohammed Ben Sulayem’s recent tweets about F1’s valuation.
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, which launched LIV Golf, “considered an attempt to add” F1 to its sports portfolio, according to a recent report from Bloomberg. The group reportedly valued F1 at more than $20 billion plus its debt; however, Liberty Media was “not interested in selling,” per Bloomberg. The media conglomerate bought Formula One in 2017 for a reported $4.4 billion. Despite this, PIF is reportedly still interested in purchasing F1 if Liberty Media opts to sell.
The FIA president sent a series of tweets on Monday that questioned the reported $20 billion valuation—and these were retweeted by the governing body’s official account. Ben Sulayem wrote in a thread of three tweets, “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.
“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.”
According to Sky News, F1 general counsel wrote his comments “overstep[ped] the bounds of the FIA’s remit,” adding that the president “interfered with our [commercial] rights in an unacceptable manner.” While the FIA does own the rights to the championship, it reached a 100-year agreement with Bernie Ecclestone’s Formula One Management back in 2001 that handed the championship’s commercial rights in F1’s hands. F1’s legal counsel added in the letter, “Further, the FIA has given unequivocal undertakings that it will not do anything to prejudice the ownership, management and/or exploitation of those rights.”
Multiple outlets reported that the F1 teams were unhappy with Ben Sulayem’s social media posts, and according to Sky, “tensions between the two bodies escalated on Tuesday” when the letter was sent.
“Commenting on the value of a listed entity, 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,” the letter says, per Sky.
“To the degree that these comments damage the value of Liberty Media Corporation, the FIA may be liable as a result.”
The letter also reportedly stated that “the circumstances in which the FIA would have any role in a change of control of the F1 group are very limited,” adding, “Any suggestion or implication to the contrary, or that any potential purchaser of the F1 business is required to consult with the FIA, is wrong.”
The Middle East is one of the areas F1 has continued to expand into in recent years with races in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. In addition to LIV Golf, PIF also bought a majority stake in Premier League club Newcastle United FC in 2021.