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FIA president cleared of interfering in 2023 Saudi and Vegas GPs

FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem has been cleared of interfering with the 2023 Saudi Arabian and Las Vegas Grands Prix.

The FIA Ethics Committee said it found “no evidence to substantiate allegations of interference” by Ben Sulayem.

A statement said the FIA president “was cleared of any wrongdoing regarding allegations (i) to have interfered with the Stewards’ decision to reverse an additional penalty on Car 14 (Fernando Alonso) following a challenge from the Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant F1 Team at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix 2023 and (ii) to have attempted to interfere with the track certification process for the Las Vegas Grand Prix 2023. The certification was completed and approved in due time.”

An FIA ethics committee investigation had been looking at a claim Ben Sulayem made it clear that a penalty handed out to Aston Martin driver Fernando Alonso at last year’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix should be revoked.

Alonso, who started the race in P2 and led for the first four laps after overtaking pole-sitter Perez, was given a five-second time penalty for an incorrect start position after lining up too far to the left of his grid box.

The Spaniard served the penalty under a Safety Car when his team-mate Lance Stroll broke down on the 19th lap but was then later hit with a further 10-second penalty.

That was because stewards deemed the pit crew broke the rules by working on his car before the initial five-second penalty had elapsed, with the rear jack in contact with his AMR23.

The 10-second penalty handed out to the Spanish driver meant he dropped to fourth place from third in the race behind Red Bull drivers Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen, and also Mercedes’ George Russell.

Alonso was only handed the penalty after the race and celebrations had been completed, prompting him to call the decision a “poor show” from the FIA.

Aston Martin appealed the decision and received a right to review on the basis that there had been seven previous examples of a jack touching a car while a penalty was being served that had not been punished.

The stewards subsequently reversed their decision the following morning.

The additional allegation aimed at Ben Sulayem related to the process of certification of the circuit used for last year’s Las Vegas Grand Prix.

In an interview in November for GP Racing UK, Ben Sulayem said: “The president of the FIA is the one who signs the homologation for the new track, or for all the tracks. I supported it.

“I could have said no [because it wasn’t ready in time for inspection]. But as soon as my team said it was safe, because I’m a driver, I care about the wellbeing of the drivers and the people around them, our staff and the marshalls, I did it.

“It was a big thing. If I had said no, it would have been disastrous [for F1]. But it would have been legal.”

More to follow…

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