FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem May 8, 2022; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Dan Marino and FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem applaud during the award ceremony following the Miami Grand Prix at Miami International Autodrome. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Formula One’s governing body, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, is facing an ongoing investigation following allegations of interference in the 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Consequently, a cloud of suspicion now hovers over the organization’s leadership, headed by president Mohammed Ben Sulayem. That’s because of an ongoing investigation that stems from accusations made by a whistleblower inside FIA, asserting that Ben Sulayem tampered with the outcome of that race.

According to BBC Sport, an FIA compliance officer’s report submitted to the organization’s ethics committee alleges that Ben Sulayem attempted to influence the outcome of a penalty issued to Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso.

The whistleblower claims the FIA president contacted Sheikh Abdullah, a high-ranking FIA official at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, and urged Alonso’s penalty to be reversed.

After finishing third in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Alonso initially received a 10-second penalty due to his team allegedly working on his car during his initial five-second penalty for a grid infraction. This dropped him to fourth place.

However, the 10-second penalty was later overturned, which seemingly sparked an investigation into potential external influence on the decision. The initial penalty stemmed from a rule regarding car service during time penalties, triggered by video footage showing the rear jack briefly touching the car before the five seconds were up.

Here’s more from BBC Sport:

At the time, the justification given by the stewards for overturning the decision referred to a discussion that had taken place between the F1 teams and the FIA on the subject of working on cars while serving a penalty in the pits.

The right of review decision said: “We concluded that there was no clear agreement, as was suggested to the stewards previously, that could be relied upon to determine that parties had agreed that a jack touching a car would amount to working on the car.”

At the time, article 54.4c) of the sporting regulations said: “While a car is stationary in the pit lane as a result of incurring a penalty in accordance with Articles 54.3a) or 54.3b) above, it may not be worked on until the car has been stationary for the duration of the penalty.”

After the race and following the Alonso situation, an additional sentence was added: “In this context, touching the car or driver by hand or tools or equipment will all constitute working.”

Had this sentence been in place at the time, there would have been no question that the stewards had made the right initial decision.

BBC Sport reports that the ethics committee is expected to complete its investigation and issue its report within four to six weeks.

Normally, league chief executives are the ones ensuring the rules are followed and the game is played fair. So, it’s utterly bizarre to see the FIA president, the very person responsible for Formula One’s integrity, being investigated for potentially messing with a race outcome. This situation is relatively unheard of. If the allegations hold true, it would be a massive blow to the sport’s credibility. And the outcome could have significant ramifications for the sport’s future.

[BBC Sport]

About Sam Neumann

Since the beginning of 2023, Sam has been a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. A 2021 graduate of Temple University, Sam is a Charlotte native, who currently calls Greenville, South Carolina his home. He also has a love/hate relationship with the New York Mets and Jets.