Published On: Tue, Mar 5th, 2024

FIA president ‘tried to cancel Las Vegas GP’ and withdraw licence days before event | F1 | Sport

FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem allegedly tried to withdraw the licence for last year’s Las Vegas Grand Prix just days before the event was set to take place. The claim comes from the same whistleblower that said Ben Sulayem told officials to overturn a penalty handed to Fernando Alonso at the Saudi Arabian GP last year.

The report from BBC Sport suggests the FIA president told organisers not to certify the Las Vegas circuit for the race at the backend of the 2023 season. Max Verstappen ran out as the eventual winner, but the whistleblower says they were told “on behest of the FIA president” to find a way to stop the circuit from being passed as safe.

It’s suggested that an FIA spokesperson said: “From a sporting and safety perspective, the Las Vegas circuit approval followed FIA protocol in terms of inspection and certification. If you recall, there was a delay in the track being made available for inspection due to ongoing local organiser construction works.”

The accusation is part of a report by the FIA’s compliance officer to its ethics committee, which the BBC claims to have seen. It’s suggested the whistleblower was told: “The FIA president instructed him to find some concerns to prevent the FIA from certifying the circuit before the weekend of the race.”

Quoting the whistleblower, the report states: “The purpose was to find fault with the track in order to withhold the licence,” before later adding: “Asked to be more specific, [the whistleblower] said that issues on the circuit were meant to be artificially identified regardless of their actual existence, with the ultimate goal of withholding the licence.”

The race went ahead because no faults could be found with the circuit, but BBC Sport believes different officials, who were said to be present when the alleged conversations took place, have an alternative recollection of the events compared to the whistleblower. It comes amid a turbulent time for president Ben Sulayem, who was earlier this week accused of interfering with the Saudi Arabian GP.

Ben Sulayem has been placed under investigation for trying to overturn a 10-second penalty given to driver Alonso during last year’s GP in Jeddah. The penalty saw the Spanish racer drop from third to fourth, only for his podium position to be reinstated hours later, as per the same whistleblower.

Also revealed by BBC Sport, it’s mooted Ben Sulayem – who wasn’t present at the Saudi Arabian race – called FIA’s vice-president for sport for the Middle East and North Africa region and insisted the penalty be revoked. Alonso was later bumped back up to the podium spot that had previously been taken away from him.

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