Mohammed Ben Sulayem believes residual anger from the end of the 2021 Formula 1 season will cool over time, aided by improvements that the new FIA president is targeting for next year.
Lewis Hamilton and Toto Wolff both decided against attending the FIA Prize Giving Gala last week in protest at the handling of the end of the final race in Abu Dhabi, where race director Michael Masi set up a final-lap shootout that allowed Max Verstappen to snatch the title from the Mercedes driver. Ben Sulayem was voted in as president just five days after that event, and says he will involve the drivers as he oversees a detailed analysis into the final race, although he believes time will mend the relationship between the FIA, Hamilton and F1 fans.
“Communication is very important — when I had a meeting with the drivers they understand that I am an ex-driver,” Ben Sulayem said. “So we listen to them. There were some issues; I feel what happens (next) is declared now. The FIA took a decision, we discussed it in the World Council and there was a statement.
“We have to start a new season, so it is a responsibility for me to make sure that we all forget the past, but look into it with an eye on improvements, so we are ready for things like this. We have to be proactive (rather) than reactive — we have to improve in every aspect.
“I feel the need for improvement is always there, you don’t do it every few years. Even some of the contracts we have to look into between ourselves. I feel it can be mended. I feel that it is a time where as a driver I would be so upset for a while but time is a factor that will cool. Holidays are there, Christmas is there, New Year’s is there. I believe we will start fresh; I have no doubt.”
Ben Sulayem says making improvements is even more important given the fan investment in F1, on top of the anger that is being felt by Mercedes itself as a competitor.
“We always have to think of the fans and address them. The FIA did what they can do — I believe they did even a good job in what they did, (but) definitely at the end of the day someone will always get upset. I spoke to Toto Wolff and he said to me, ‘I’m not coming here’ (to the gala) and I listened to him. I did not argue, I just listened, and he started cooling down and then he sent me a message.
“I said being a driver and losing after all this time is not easy. One thing I would say is he was broken, but these are the rules and you have to follow them. But as I promised we will look into the rules and make sure that any situation like this that occurs in the future. we will have an instant solution for it or we avoid it.
“As I said, there are so many areas that we can improve — we cannot just sit and say we are good, it’s not enough in a sport as heavy and important, especially when you talk about the fans.”