The head of Formula 1's governing body has issued a passionate defense of his leadership, claiming a pair of whistleblower complaints against him were meant to “destabilize me as President of the FIA, but also of questioning the integrity of our respected organization.”

In a letter sent to FIA membership, a copy of which was seen by The Associated Press on Friday, Mohammed Ben Sulayem said the complaints have “shaken the FIA” and created a “period of unprecedented turbulence and challenge.”

The ethics committee for the FIA earlier this week cleared Ben Sulayem after an investigation it said lasted 30 days and included interviewing 11 witnesses, including the president.

The FIA had said its compliance officer received two complaints against Ben Sulayem. The first alleged he intervened to overturn a penalty given to Fernando Alonso at last year’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. The second, from the same whistleblower, claimed Ben Sulayem told officials not to certify the Las Vegas circuit for its high-profile race last November.

“These events have unfolded with one clear objective: to target the very heart of our leadership and undermine the foundation of our federation,” Ben Sulayem wrote to the FIA members. F1 this weekend is in Australia for the third race of the season.

Ben Sulayem was elected president in December of 2021 and is the first Muslim to run the FIA, which is comprised of 242 motoring and motor sport club members in 147 countries. It oversees F1 among other entities and tensions between the two have been particularly tense of late.

The leadership of Ben Sulayem has been questioned during his entire time at the helm. He tried to enforce a ban on drivers wearing jewelry in their cars, which seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton rebuked and showed up at a 2022 news conference wearing every necklace, watch, bracelet and ring he had with him in Miami.

The FIA also tried to issue a ban on drivers making political statements. Although many pushed back on that Hamilton said he outright refused to be silenced and even this week called for a ceasefire in the war between Israel and Palestine.

Asked Thursday in Melbourne if Ben Sulayem had Hamilton’s support as president, the Mercedes driver said “never has.”

Hours after Ben Sulayem was cleared by the ethics committee, Susie Wolff announced she had filed a criminal complaint in France against Paris-based FIA over its brief December conflict of interest investigation into her.

Susie Wolff, who is the head of F1's all-female F1 Academy, was accused of sharing confidential information with her husband, Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff. The Wolffs denied any wrongdoing, and the other nine F1 teams released identically worded statement denying they'd complained about the Wolffs.

The FIA has also been hands-off in the saga at Red Bull Racing, where an employee accused team principal Christian Horner of misconduct. Red Bull's parent company investigated Horner and ultimately cleared him while also suspending the accuser.

The employee has since hired a communications firm, appealed Red Bull's findings to the parent company and lodged a complaint to either the FIA's ethics or compliance committees. Both bodies operate independently from the FIA.

The FIA has refused to comment on whether it is investigating Horner. F1 is not conducting its own investigation into Red Bull, saying that is the job of the governing body.

All the off-track drama has completely overshadowed the start of the season. Red Bull went 1-2 in the first two races and three-time reigning world champion Max Verstappen has won 19 of the last 20 races.

In his letter, Ben Sulayem wrote that he was annoyed that the FIA has “fallen victim to malicious leaks of confidential and sensitive information, tarnishing our reputation and causing concern among our members."

“Yet, despite these attacks aimed at my character and our organization as a whole, we have emerged stronger and more resolute than ever,” he wrote. “We know that the ultimate goal of these reprehensible acts was to target me and to weaken the very essence of the FIA.

He added that he is committed to “an environment of transparency, accountability and unwavering integrity within the FIA.” He closed the letter by insisting he remains “steadfast in my dedication” as president of the FIA.


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