SportsThe FIA ​​and Liberty Media, in a brawl for control of Formula...

    The FIA ​​and Liberty Media, in a brawl for control of Formula 1

    The writers of Netflix must be licking their lips at the most recent scuffle that the Formula 1 World Cup has offered. This time, the conflict does not revolve around the title fight between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen. Nor does it focus on the savage competition for a seat that has, for example, spit Daniel Ricciardo off the grid. In fact, the noise has not even occurred with the season running, but has broken out in winter, with the single-seaters in gestation and without a single engine running. This row is political and is carried out by Liberty Media, the owner of the exploitation rights of the great circus, on the one hand, and the International Automobile Federation (FIA), on the other. At stake is the management of a shed that in three years has gone from idling to turbo, and whose value has skyrocketed, even above what is reasonable if we take into account the opinion of one of the sides.

    The fuse was lit last Monday by Muhammed Ben Sulayem, the president of the FIA, when he aired, through his personal profile on Twitter, his concern about information published on January 20 by Bloomberg, in which reference was made to the purchase offer for 20,000 million dollars (about 18,400 million euros) that the Saudi Arabian Sovereign Fund (PIF) would have made, and that Liberty would have rejected. This maneuver is part of the aggressive propaganda policy that the Arab country has been carrying out in recent years, which is bidding to host large sporting events with the intention of taking advantage of the loudspeaker that these represent, in a campaign to clean up its image. As bizarre as it may sound, the Spanish and Italian soccer federations had no objection to moving the celebration of three of the last five editions of the Super Cup to Riyadh. In 2020 it was the Dakar that left South America to caracol through the deserts and Saudi dunes, and a year later Formula 1 did it, on the Jeddah circuit. Also at the end of 2021 the purchase of Newcastle by PIF was completed.

    Few championships have skyrocketed its popularity as much as F1 has done since Liberty Media bought it in 2017 from the venture capital fund, CVC, in an operation of 7,300 million euros that involved the payment of 3,700 million, in addition to the same amount. as debt. Since then, F1 has become universal thanks to several factors: the visibility that the series has brought Drive to Survive, from Netflix; the consolidated roots in a market as attractive as the United States, where in 2023 up to three events will take place (Austin, Miami and Las Vegas); and the explosiveness on the track, especially thanks to the revitalization of Red Bull, which has found in Max Verstappen the ideal actor to play the role of Lewis Hamilton’s antagonist. All in all, the PIF proposal (18,400 million euros) represents an increase of 60% on the acquisition value, and that enormous differential in just six years is what motivated the entry on the scene of the FIA ​​boss.

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    “As guardians of motorsport, the FIA, as a non-profit organization, is on alert before the exaggerated figure of 18,400 million euros that is being attributed to F1,” Sulayem started, in a thread with several chained messages. . “Any potential buyer is advised to use common sense, to keep the good of the sport above all else and to come up with a clear and sustainable plan, not just a lot of money,” added the Dubai executive. , apparently concerned about the possible repercussions that such a change of hands could have. “It is our duty to study what would be the future impact for the organizers in relation to the increase in fees and other commercial costs, in addition to any adverse derivative that may affect the fans,” he concluded.

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    Faced with such a harangue, Liberty Media reacted with irritation through a letter from its legal department, sent on Tuesday directly to Sulayem, who was questioned for having gone too far in a matter (the exploitation of the rights of the contest), which is neither of his concern or of the organization he presides over. At this point it must be taken into account that the distribution of powers in F1 derives from the agreement signed in 2000 by Max Mosley, predecessor of Sulayem and before, Jean Todt, and Bernie Ecclestone. The contract does not expire until the year 2110, and in its drafting the FIA ​​promised to stay completely out of the commercial part. “We consider that these comments, made from the official account of the FIA ​​president, interfere with those rights in an unacceptable way,” read Liberty’s letter, something more than a warning, almost a honk. The entertainment giant has no intention of allowing Sulayem to alter the value of one of the conglomerate’s main assets. It is no coincidence that the holding’s shares (FWONA) went from 54.1 euros per title the day before Bloomberg’s information, to 58.1 euros, the day after (January 21).

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    With the cars stopped, the indisputable current good health of F1 at a sporting level has not been able to camouflage the wound that has been opening up for months between the FIA, and Liberty and the teams. The decades of understanding seem to have been left behind, the result of the tandem between Ecclestone and Mosley, and which served to put an end to the brawl that marked the World Cup agenda in the 1980s, and which confronted FISA, led by the controversial Jean-Marie Balestre, and FOCA, with an energetic Ecclestone. With no allies to publicly express their support for him, and with several contenders for his position inside his own house, Sulayem’s ranch begins to burn on all four sides. This same week, a British Liberal deputy called him to order, accusing him of being inconsiderate for neglecting a letter signed by 90 parliamentarians that was sent to him ten months ago and in which he mentioned the consequences that taking F1 to countries in the world could have. Persian Gulf, where human rights are not respected.

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    Source: EL PAIS

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