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F1 2023: FIA boss Mohammad Ben Sulayem steps down from Formula One after sexism scandal, driver tension

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FIA president Mohammad Ben Sulayem has fallen on his sword, stepping back from his current position which includes overseeing Formula One in a day-to-day capacity.

The FIA oversees world motorsport, and directly administers Formula One, alongside other world-level series including the World Rally Championship and World Endurance Championship.

The head of the FIA’s single-seater commission, Nikolas Tombazis, will take over running F1 from Ben Sulayem, in a memo sent to the ten F1 teams on Monday.

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The decision comes after driver pushback against Ben Sulayem’s recent decisions in the role.

The FIA pushed last year to ban drivers from wearing jewellery during races, a rule already in place but not strictly enforced.

Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton said he was prepared to boycott races over the revision, having raced for years with various piercings that were difficult to remove easily.

“If they stop me (racing) then so be it,” he said.

“We’ve got a spare driver.

“There’s lots to do in the city anyway so I’ll be good either way.”

A jewellery ban was not the only pain point for drivers with Ben Sulayem, with the FIA having updated its International Sporting Code in December with a clause requiring prior written permission for drivers to make or display “political, religious and personal statements or comments” at races.

The move was criticised by rights advocates, as well as drivers, who have led various social justice initiatives over the previous few years, with Hamilton using his platform to call for social change in racial justice especially.

CEO Stefano Domenicali was at pains to stress that “F1 will never put a gag on anyone” after the changes.

“That should be the line of our sport, to give everyone the chance to speak in the right way,” he said.

Ben Sulayem also found himself in hot water after historical sexist remarks he made in 2001 came to light.

The 61-year-old was quoted as saying he did not like “women who think they are smarter than men, for they are not in truth.”

The FIA was forced to defend the former rally driver, with a spokesman saying the remarks “do not reflect the president’s beliefs”.

“He has a strong record on promoting women and equality in sport, which he is happy to be judged on.”

Late last year, Formula One announced the F1 Academy, an all-female driver category designed to prepare young female drivers to progress to higher levels of competition.

The new F1 season gets underway at the Bahrain Grand Prix on March 5.

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