x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Ben Sulayem's busy times at the top

Mohammed ben Sulayem talks about his work in his role at the FIA, motorsport's world governing body.

Mohammed ben Sulayem has worked as a race steward as part of his determination to learn more about Formula One.
Mohammed ben Sulayem has worked as a race steward as part of his determination to learn more about Formula One.

It has been an eventful seven months for Mohammed ben Sulayem since he became a key figure for the FIA. Budget cuts and battles with teams have been high on the agenda for motorsport's world governing body. But ben Sulayem, a Vice-President of Sport for the FIA, has relished it, taking in the information that has come with his distinguished and high-profile role.

His ear was often glued to his phone at last week's Turkish Grand Prix to answer crisis calls over the row between the Formula One Teams' Association (FOTA) and FIA over the new plans for next year's championship. These are troubled times, but he remains calm and is still optimistic a compromise will be found with the teams before tomorrow's deadline for the confirmation of entries into the 2010 contest.

FOTA's eight members, led by Ferrari, McLaren-Mercedes and the leaders Brawn GP, are mulling an option to make unconditional entries, but then have the chance to discuss any future changes with Max Mosley, the president of the FIA. Ben Sulayem is hoping agreement will be reached, but admits there may yet be victims amid a scenario of a breakaway championship. While this issue has occupied much of his time and attention recently, he gained another valuable lesson at the weekend when he was one of the three official race stewards for the Turkish Grand Prix - the first time an Arab has been given such a position.

"It was like going back to school," says the President of the Touring Club of the UAE (ACTUAE). "But, like school, it is all about learning as much as possible and helping you go on to better things. "You have to do a lot of studying and be observant. It is very demanding. Watching and monitoring, familiarising yourself with the track. But it is all very important. "You cannot just say I am the organiser, I am the president of a club. The understanding does not come with a title, it comes with experience and you seeking knowledge. I want to learn everything with my role. It has been a hard seven months, but this is something I am enjoying.

"We are coming through hard times in motorsport and it's not over yet. We all have to play a part in making sure things are better in the future, whether it is Formula One, rally or another event. "If I want to know about motorsport, I have to be a steward and accept a lot of other things that might come in the future." He added: "It was a big challenge for me, especially with the Formula One. I was a rally driver, but this is a higher standard. The good thing is you are not alone and part of a team that helps each other. We did not have many problems with the Formula One race, but GP2 was interesting. There are many young drivers and they need to understand discipline."

Ben Sulayem believes his experience - which will be repeated in Hungary next month - will help improve motorsport in the UAE and make the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix a greater success when it hosts its first race on Nov 1 at the Yas Marina circuit. "We have the Formula One in Abu Dhabi and we have to be ready," he said. "I will pass on my knowledge to the others and other people will learn too. We have a mission and it is to make Abu Dhabi the best race. I know I cannot be an expert in all of this, but all knowledge helps.

"It also gives a bit more respect to the Arabic world. We are not just people who can buy races, we are part of the sport and want to learn and improve what we have to offer. Ben Sulayem's former rally co-driver Ronan Morgan, now sports project director with ATCUAE, was also in Istanbul. He will be the clerk at the Yas Marina Circuit and is also gathering information to help in his future task. The pair will be passing on advice to their team in Abu Dhabi, particularly the national steward Khalid bin Sheban.

Ben Sulayem said: "I took Khalid to Bahrain and we did some courses for him. This is new for him, but he's not new to the rules. He runs the karting, but if this is going to happen, then now is the time. We have put pressure on him, but he's doing well and he will be OK. "It is a good challenge, but a start of something for the future. "We need this. Anybody can have the money to bring the race, but I want it to have our identity, the Emirati identity. We can put the infrastructure in place and then use the locals and expats to make it strong. We are all excited about the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and the future of motorsport in the UAE."

akhan@thenational.ae