A report in Bloomberg over the weekend suggested the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (PIF) - chaired by Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman - have tabled an offer over $20bn (£16bn) to F1 owners Liberty Media for the commercial rights of the sport.
Ben Sulayem, head of the sport’s governing body, took to social media to publicise his views, insisting the alleged price tag was “inflated” and any potential buyer needs to “apply common sense... not just a lot of money.”
Now, in the latest example of F1 and the sport’s governing body being at loggerheads, a letter seen by Sky News sent by F1 legal supremo Sacha Woodward Hill and Renee Wilm, chief legal and administrative officer of Liberty Media Corporation, has accused the FIA and its president of “interfering with our [commercial] rights in an unacceptable manner.”
The letter, sent to F1 teams including Ferrari and Mercedes according to the Sky report, states that: “Formula 1 has the exclusive right to exploit the commercial rights in the FIA Formula One World Championship.
“Further, the FIA has given unequivocal undertakings that it will not do anything to prejudice the ownership, management and/or exploitation of those rights. We consider that those comments, made from the FIA president’s official social media account, interfere with those rights in an unacceptable manner.”
The letter goes on to insist that Ben Sulayem had “overstepped the bounds of the FIA’s remit”, adding the notion that “any potential purchaser of the Formula 1 business is required to consult with the FIA is wrong”.
It concluded: “Any individual or organisation commenting on the value of a listed entity or its subsidiaries, 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.
“To the degree that these comments damage the value of Liberty Media Corporation, the FIA may be liable as a result.”
In full, Ben Sulayem tweeted on Monday: “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.”
However, Sky Sports added that the relevant report of a submitted Saudi bid was wide of the mark.
It is not the first time that the FIA’s Ben Sulayem and Formula 1 have clashed during the off-season. The 61-year-old supported Andretti’s bid to join Formula 1 alongside General Motors under the Cadillac brand, while F1 released a statement altogether more reserved about any potential bid to join the grid.
Ben Sulayem took over as FIA president from Jean Todt at the start of 2022 and has not been afraid to stamp his mark immediately, having pushed for a jewellery ban on F1 drivers which Lewis Hamilton spoke out against.
US media company Liberty bought Formula 1 in 2017 for $4.6bn and has increased the value and popularity of the sport through the Netflix Drive to Survive docuseries, as well as more races in the United States and a record race calendar in 2023.
Saudi has also recently entered the world of Formula 1, hosting its first race in 2021, and signed a 10-year deal to hold a race each year until the end of 2030 - but has faced accusations of sportswashing due to its poor human rights record.