Pushing for more motorsports events in India, says FIA President

Pushing for more motorsports events in India, says FIA President

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For India to resurrect motorsport in the nation, FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem believes a combination of hosting high-profile racing events like Formula 1 and intensive engagement at the grassroots level is necessary.

The first non-European president of the global auto racing governing body, speaking to PTI on the sidelines of the inaugural Formula E race in Hyderabad, discussed a variety of topics, including his plans for a large market like India, women in motorsport, the urgent need to make the sport more affordable, and why he has stepped back from the day-to-day management of FIA.

"In my manifesto (ahead of his election in December 2021) I had mentioned how important India is. Not because I am here, not because I am the president," said Ben Sulayem, a former rally driver from the UAE.

"India and China both have the manufacturers, both have the numbers. We have not scratched the surface yet. I mean it when I say this. We are talking about 2.8 billion people in these two countries and we have less than 8000 competitive licenses. We need to grow but how do we grow? There is no one size that fits all. India is different so we have to listen to people here. We have to empower ASN (Indian governing body FMSCI) to make sure that we are doing the right thing."

India's first Formula E race with world championship status in ten years took place on Sunday. Due to financial and administrative difficulties, the Formula 1 Indian Grand Prix was abandoned after three races.

A much-needed boost to Indian motorsport is expected from Formula E and a MotoGP race later this year, and Ben Sulayam is hoping the momentum will continue. "It has been long (since India hosted big event) but it is something we welcome. We don't want events to come just and go but we want it to come and stay and leave an impression.”

"That is why planning for motorsport is very important because you don't want investment which goes into the racing (to be wasted). The infrastructure has to be utilised by the Indians. " Also. You had Formula 1, you had F1 drivers (two in total) and now (Formula E). But what does it show? It shows that sustaining it is the other challenge," said the 14-time Middle East Rally Champion.

The 61-year-old stated that while he will fight to bring additional events, including Formula 1, to India, ground-level work is just as crucial. Ben Sulayem believes that Formula E's use of a street track in the middle of Hyderabad is the best strategy for organising future high-profile events.

"These are circuits we believe will help build motorsport culture, it will make the sport more appealing, more than appealing it will make it affordable.

"I am pushing for more events in India and affordable vehicles and we passed that already in the FIA general assembly. We have a new identity for karting and cross cars." Can the Formula 1 return to India in the near future? "Of course it can comeback... The opportunity is there and I have to break these barriers to ensure it happens. The FIA is for all the members," said Ben Sulayem.

He continued by saying that in order to popularise racing in India, it would also be helpful for drivers to compete internationally and for manufacturers to become involved.

Costs must be reduced in both racing and rallying, according to Ben Sulayem. "There is an issue with the cost of vehicles being high, we need to control it. It has been approved in our general assembly and we will be presenting the blueprint to the manufacturers in India to do (racing and rallying) at much lower costs so it allows the beginners into karting and cross cars and make it more affordable.

"I go back to the main thing. Motorsport is expensive. I faced it myself. I had to sell two watches, I had two cars I sold them for a cheaper car but we can avoid this for the newcomers by building a bridge. "I am very happy with current pyramid. You have go karting, then you have Formula 4, Formula 3, 2, and 1," he said.

Soon after Ben Sulayem assumed leadership, FMSCI president Akbar Ebrahim was chosen to lead the FIA's International Karting Commission. Gautam Singhania lost his position in the election, which allowed him to win, and India was reinstated on the influential World Motor Sport Council.

"The first ever thing I did when I became president, I appointed India back on the World Motor Sport Council, which is the highest table. It is not about XYZ, it is about big picture which is India. People come and go."

The FIA hired its first Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Advisor last year in an effort to encourage diversity, increase participation, and attract more women to motorsport. In addition, Natalie Robyn, the first female CEO in the governing body's 118-year existence, has been appointed.

The FIA is concentrating on bringing more women into motorsport, according to Ben Sulayem. In 1976, Lella Lombardi became the final female to compete in a Formula 1 race. "We are even combining (men and women racing together). I had someone telling me that F2 and F3 physically is not fit for women. I said 'No.This is achievable'. "The next generation has to fit all. I took a stand that the chassis has to fit for women because their body is different to men. There were some issues with the power-steering but I said 'it is doable' and they are doing it. I don't believe anybody is less than the other."

Ben Sulayem reportedly had disagreements with the Formula 1 owners earlier this month, which led him to stand down from managing the sport's daily operations.

He added that it had always been part of his long-term goal to step aside from managing day-to-day operations. "In my manifesto more than 18 months ago, it was very clear than no member of the presidential team will be performing executive tasks. "A successful federation has to have a successful system. I can't be running day to day affairs and micro-manage the affairs as president. Presidential team should go after strategy and future planning," he added.

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