F1 needs ‘more teams, fewer races’, says FIA boss Ben Sulayem

Emirati also suggests possible Chinese outfit as 12th team to cater for underserved market.
  • Andretti has had entry bid approved by FIA
  • F1 must now approve the decision on a commercial basis

Formula One needs more teams and fewer races moving forward, according to International Automobile Federation (FIA) president Mohammed Ben Sulayem.

Speaking to Reuters at last weekend’s Qatar Grand Prix, the Emirati made it clear that any opposition to Andretti’s entry plans should be put aside for the benefit of the sport.

He said: “Saying no to a team which has been approved by the FIA, it’s very hard to say no. You can call me optimistic, I’m always optimistic. I think yes [the bid will be accepted].”

The 61-year-old added that Liberty Media’s share price had risen following the news that the FIA had accepted the joint proposal from Andretti and General Motors.

“The FIA should be asking, begging, OEMs [car manufacturers] to come in. We should not just say no to them,” he continued.

“If you say what is my dream, it is to fill up the 12 [slots] and to have one US team from an OEM and a PU [power unit] and a driver from there driving. And then go to China maybe and ask for the same thing and do it.”

Currently, teams are opposed to a new entry as it will reduce their share of the prize money, while Formula One chief executive Stefano Domenicali has repeatedly voiced his opposition to any expansion.

The Concorde Agreement – the contract under which all entrants agree to race in Formula One – stipulates that there is a maximum of 12 teams allowed. The agreement also states that any team must pay a US$200 million anti-dilution fee to make up for lost income for the existing teams.

The issue with this, however, is that this fee was set before Formula One’s popularity boom. Now, the teams appear to be unanimous in their agreement that this should be raised to at least US$600 million.

Teams wanted Andretti to purchase an existing outfit to keep the grid at ten teams, but Michael Andretti has said previously that “they’re not even interested in talking” when it comes to approaching anyone on the matter.

“I won’t mention names but they were after me to go on and convince GM to do that. It’s not my job. I was not elected to do that. I am not a broker,” said Ben Sulayem.

“We are allowed to have 12 teams [in the rules]. Some of the teams said ‘oh, it will be crowded’. Really? We are already running [Brad Pitt’s] Hollywood team with us.

“The circuits are supposed to have enough garages and space for 12 teams…I think the number of races is too much [rather] than the number of teams. We need more teams and fewer races.”

The 2024 schedule is set to run for 24 races, the longest season in Formula One history. This is an increase of two races from this season with the addition of China and the expected return to Imola following its cancellation this year.

On financial concerns for the teams, Ben Sulayem added: “The teams are looking at the piece of cake. I understand their worries…but our worries are different.”

This could be seen as the start of yet another power struggle between the FIA and Formula One, with Ben Sulayem having instigated numerous incidents before relinquishing day-to-day control of the global motorsport series.

However, the FIA president insisted that this time it is different 

“We are not a service provider,” said Ben Sulayem. “We own the championship. We leased it, we are the landlord. So that has to be respected also.

“My intention was never to embarrass or to put someone in a corner, Liberty or FOM [Formula One Management]. I am here for the spirit of the sport.”