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Formula 1 owners blast FIA chief over ‘unacceptable’ remarks

Formula 1 owners have blasted the head of the governing body of making “unacceptable” remarks about the value of the sports.

FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem on Monday described $20bn as an “inflated price tag being put on F1”.

A letter sent by F1 and owners Liberty Media to the FIA says the remarks “overstep the bounds of both the FIA’s remit and its contractual rights”.

It added that the FIA “may be liable” for any damage to Liberty’s value.

The letter was sent on Tuesday, which has been seen by BBC Sport, and is co-authored by F1’s chief legal officer Sacha Woodward Hill with Renee Wilm, who performs the same role for F1’s owner Liberty Media.

The letter constitutes an explosive response to remarks by Ben Sulayem on Twitter on Monday, which came in reaction to a report by Bloomberg that Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) had tried and failed to buy F1 for that figure.

Ben Sulayem described the valuation as an “alleged inflated price tag” and said: “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.”

The letter from Woodward Hill and Wilm was addressed to the FIA Executive and its World Motorsport Council, the sport’s legislative body.

It marks a dramatic escalation in the strained relationship between F1 and the FIA that has been evident during Ben Sulayem’s 13-month presidency.

The letter states that under the 100-year contract, F1 has “the exclusive right to exploit the commercial rights in the FIA F1 World Championship”.

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

It says Ben Sulayem’s remarks, “made from the FIA president’s official social media account, interfere with our rights in an unacceptable manner”.

The FIA has however declined to comment.

F1 holds the commercial rights to the category under a 100-year lease agreement signed by the FIA at the start of this century.

The US group Liberty Media bought F1 in 2017.

Writing by Tersoo Nicholas