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F1 2022

Ben Sulayem had defended former Mercedes-linked FIA lawyer

FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem did not understand criticism directed towards former interim secretary-general Shaila-Ann Rao.

Wolff Domenicali Ben Sulayem
To news overview © XPBimages

Mohammed Ben Sulayem had backed Shaila-Ann Rao - the former Mercedes-linked Formula 1 lawyer who was FIA interim secretary-general - prior to her departure from the governing body that was announced five days ago.

Rao had joined the FIA from Mercedes - where she has worked closely with team boss Toto Wolff in both head of legal and in advisory capacities.

Initially joining as director in the office of the president, Rao later became replacement for Peter Bayer - the previous secretary-general for sport.

Crucially, her latter appointment was in an interim role.

Her tenure was seen as controversial by some over perceived close links to Mercedes - with Red Bull's Christian Horner pointing out in Canada how 'one team' had arrived in Montreal with new parts in response to the FIA's attempts to combat porpoising before the relevant technical directive was published.

However, speaking at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix - while Rao was still in post as I-SG - President Ben Sulayem strongly defended her.

Ben Sulayem defends Rao

"Shaila-Ann has been [very] supportive of me and I see her intelligence when it comes to [assisting] big decisions," Ben Sulayem explained to media including RacingNews365.com.

"I'll be very honest with you - I'll defend my people and with Shaila-Ann there were accusations in the news that she was mainly a supporter of Mercedes.

"However, when the [Red Bull cost cap penalties were announced], she said: 'It is a bit harsh [as punishment].

"There is someone who is accused of being with Mercedes, but she is saying to me that it is harsh on Red Bull," he added.

In their overspend of the cost cap limit of $145 million for 2021, Red Bull went over by about $1.8 million.

However most of this, about $1.4 million was due to a tax rebate situation with UK authorities that the team believed was due.

After Red Bull's explanation for the breach, the figure was reduced to an effective $400k overspend - although they were still found guilty of going over by $1.8 million.

As punishment, Red Bull were handed a $7 million fine and docked aerodynamic development time from their 2023 allowance.

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