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Ben Sulayem urges caution over "exaggerated" $20bn valuation for F1

FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem has warned of potential risks for Formula 1 amid "exaggerated" talk of a $20 billion valuation for the sport.

Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President FIA

A story by Bloomberg last week suggested that Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund had been interested in purchasing F1 from current owner Liberty Media for a $20 billion price tag, but the proposal was rejected.

While sources suggest that the report was not totally accurate in that discussions never opened seriously with Liberty about a buyout, the eye-watering valuation of grand prix racing has raised some eyebrows.

With Liberty Media having originally purchased F1 for $4.4 billion in 2017, a $20 billion price tag would suggest it has secured an incredible payback on its investment.

But for the FIA, which has leased out F1's commercial rights until 2110, a sale of the sport at such a high level could trigger some unintended consequences.

One example, suggests president Ben Sulayem, is that any new owner who has spent so much money to purchase F1 would seek to fast-track returns.

And that could result in race promoters facing a grave hike in hosting fees. This, in turn, could force an escalation in ticket costs, which could price fans out of being able to attend races.

In a post on Twitter on Monday, Ben Sulayem voiced his concerns about the implications of such a big-money buyout.

"As the custodians of motorsport, the FIA, as a non-profit organisation, is cautious about alleged inflated price tags of $20bn being put on F1," he said.

"Any potential buyer is advised to apply common sense, consider the greater good of the sport and come with a clear, sustainable plan – not just a lot of money.

"It is our duty to consider what the future impact will be for promoters in terms of increased hosting fees and other commercial costs, and any adverse impact that it could have on fans."

Sébastien Ogier, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT, Mohammed Ben Sulayem, FIA President

Sébastien Ogier, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT, Mohammed Ben Sulayem, FIA President

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Speaking to Motorsport.com during the Monte Carlo rally about the original report of interest from Saudi Arabia, Ben Sulayem felt a $20 billion valuation of F1 was not accurate.

"Is it value for money?" he asked. "I think, honestly, it is inflated. It's exaggerated. Talking with common sense, is it worth that much?

"[If it is] then what do we do? We would have to charge to recover that money. How much would we charge the local promoter?

"I'm just looking at the rationale behind it, the logic. Because you have to have a plan."

Ben Sulayem believes that it was essential that ownership of F1 was only passed to organisations that had a concrete proposal on how to improve the sport, rather than it simply being sold off to the highest bidder.

"I think they should have a plan, also," he said. "Whoever it is should have a plan, not just the money. I'm just looking at the rationale behind it, the logic. You have to have a plan.

"Up to now though, it's rumours. But I believe also the FIA should be part of talks, or offer advice, because the FIA owns the championship.

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"We lease it, it is true. But I just want to ensure we have clarity so we can go forward."

Ben Sulayem added it was not lost on him that talk of a $20 billion valuation for F1 is in stark contrast to the way that the commercial rights were leased as part of an infamous 100-year deal for just more than $300 million at the start of this century by former FIA president Max Mosley.

"My God, if I take $20 billion for that, I think the FIA had a raw deal," he said.

"If I'm being honest, you cannot convince me that $300 million for 100 years, and a $20 billion valuation [is correct].

"These numbers, it just doesn't make sense when you go and digest them."

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