Abu Dhabi: Mohammed Ben Sulayem is busy. He’s busy managing motorsport, which sees plenty of high-octane duels on the track and dollops of glamour off it. Formula One alone had 23 Grand Prix races. That gives an idea of Ben Sulayem’s hectic schedule as president of the international motorsport association (FIA).
None of that is reflected on FIA boss’s face. He’s calm and greets everyone with a smile. “I’m on a mission,” said the former UAE rally champion driver. “My mission is not to make money but to sustain motorsport and ensure its growth. I was elected for that. I would like to see more drivers, and the sport growing while its popularity,” Ben Sulayem said at the round-table ahead of the Formula One Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the Yas Marina Circuit, on Saturday.
The 62-year-old said the focus was to tackle the sport at the grassroot level. Citing examples of India and China, which has a combined population of over 2.8 billion, which are not producing the desired results, he said: “There is something wrong with the ratio. Both India and China have less than 8,000 participants. But in Europe there’s a lot more involved in sport.
“So one thing we tackled was the grassroot level. We are pushing hard to promote karting and cross-kart. We have brought down the costing and the prices will see a drop by 70 per cent. Now we have the blueprint. So all they need is to take it and implement it in any country to promote the sport.”
Ben Sulayem has been a strong supporter of adding more teams to the F1 grid. And that can happen soon with the American outfit Andretti getting the green light to enter the F1 as the 11th team.
“Having more teams in the sport is the way forward. When we opened the Expression of Interest, it was for a good reason. The contracts specify up to 12 teams and if you ask me to sustain motorsport we need more teams. Someone comes to me and says I have General Motors to join, how can I say no. It’s very clear, all the boxes have been ticked and all the process has been done,” he added.
F1 back to India?
Efforts are also on to take F1 back to India at the Buddh International Circuit, which last hosted the first Indian Grand Prix in 2011. The country, which successfully hosted a Formula E race and the MotoGP recently, is taking all measures to revive the sport.
“I’m optimistic. The talks are underway,” he said, noting that Akbar Ebrahim, an Indian, was the president of FIA’s International Karting Commission.
“Because he has the experience, passion, and know-how. And that’s the diversity I have. Normally it was from a certain area. Europe is so important to us. But also the rest of the world is important. So I’m optimistic, but the grassroots in India should also be supported there.”
Ben Sulayem also delved on the issues of scheduling in F1 which many drivers talking about jetlag and tough schedules. “We are looking in to that. I feel sorry for all of us. It should not have happened and we are taking extreme measures to tackle this.”
Expressing pride at Yas Marina Circuit completing 15 years of Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, he said: “I landed here on a helicopter when this area was designated to have an F1 race. So, I have been part of every single step of it. Before even the building was built, we did a study on volunteers and have managed to successfully run it so far.
“I’m very much proud of what we have achieved here.”