The world of automotive racing is the most exciting and fast-paced industry, drawing in millions of fans from around the globe. But behind the flashy cars and high-speed action lies a complex web of regulations that keep the sport running smoothly. Everyone in motorsport, from fans to drivers, must follow these absolutely. Otherwise, a strict punishment will be followed up to retirement, disqualification, or thousands of euros penalty. But what is that world racing rule maker who decides and strictly judges? It is the FIA. It stands for Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile and has been the key player – a governing body for world motorsports. Let’s clarify the FIA and why it makes sense for F1 fans, drivers, teams, ecology, and the future of automotive racing.
- For what is the FIA? History insights
- What does FIA stand for in racing?
- What sport is under FIA?
- What does FIA do in the WRC?
- The FIA's involvement in Formula One
- The FIA's governance structure
- What is its profit, or how does FIA make money?
- Other racing directions governed by the FIA
- Instead of conclusion: The Evolution of Motorsports and the Role of FIA
For what is the FIA? History insights
Backing 150 years ago, car racing, as another culture and a new sport, compared with horse racing, had developed fast since 1886 when Carl Benz received the first patent for a gasoline-powered automotive. The first car race took Paris–Rouen in 1894, and the first rally racing was launched in 1910 in Monaco. There were so many new vehicles and exciting events, but still, there were no clear rules, which were high-risk.
In 1904, Paris, France, founded the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, or FIA, to fill this gap and provide a framework for the sport to grow. It was initially called the Association Internationale des Automobile Clubs Reconnus (AIACR). The primary purposes were to promote automobile racing and ensure it was conducted safely and fairly.
Over the years, the AIACR expanded its reach, eventually becoming the FIA we know. Today, with 80 million members worldwide, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile includes 241 motoring and motorsport club members in 146 countries!
What does FIA stand for in racing?
After 120 years of its creation, the FIA oversees all aspects of world automotive racing, from safety regulations to technical specifications. Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile works closely with race organizers to cover every Grand Prix and with manufacturers to conduct safely at every race. Setting safety standards for the car racing sport is the primary role of the FIA. It is responsible for enforcing safety standards and investigating race-related accidents. In reality, considerable influence lies under this concept, which controls almost every aspect of any championship race.
Thus, Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile is also liable for regulating the automotive racing sport’s technical aspects: from the cars’ engines and tires to the aerodynamics and weight distribution. By handling these technical aspects, the FIA helps ensure that races are conducted fairly and that no team has an unfair advantage.
What has changed over the years, they have established new goals since the global’s issues have also changed. So, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile follows accessible mobility for road users, the sport’s environmental impact, the development of Esports, and the promotion of female racing.
In 2018 the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile launched the W series. A free-to-enter championship provided equal opportunities for women by eliminating financial barriers and was a support race for the Formula 1 Grand Prix. However, the barriers were still being. Even after winning all three W series championships, the career of Jamie Chadwick to step up to Formula 1 is still an issue. The W series ended after three seasons in 2022 due to financial problems. Although the FIA is searching the new ways to increase female racing drivers‘ interest in world racing.
What sport is under FIA?
The FIA abbreviation has been mentioned in almost every racing series, which means the organization owns the rights to the world championships such as:
- FIA Formula One World Championship (FIA Formula 1),
- FIA World Rally Championship (FIA WRC),
- FIA World Endurance Championship (FIA WEC),
- FIA World Rallycross Championship (FIA World RX.)
- FIA World Rally-Raid Championship (FIA W2RC)
- ABB FIA Formula E World Championship (FIA Formula E)
But its influence exceeds these bounds, including everything from touring car racing to Karting. Thus, Formulas 2, 3, 4, the World Touring Car Cup (FIA WTCR), and even Karting racing are governed by the FIA. You can check the complete list.
The FIA represents the United States. Thus, NASCAR is part of the Automobile Competition Committee for the United States (ACCUS) of the National Sporting Authority (ASN) of the FIA. While IndyCar is not under the FIA regulations and is governed by the International Motor Sports Association or IMSA with its own standards.
Each of these championships has its own set of rules and regulations overseen by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile. However, the crucial role of the FIA is most acute for race fans in two disciplines: World Rally Championship and Formula 1. The first one is because it is always a need for safety increasing, while the second one is always about controversies.
What does FIA do in the WRC?
The WRC is a part of the FIA and the most dangerous in terms of its unique features. Safety has always been a hot debatable topic with rallying off-road at high-speed cars, especially in areas with many fans.
Therefore they try to keep everything in control. Thus, the FIA delegate heads the commission at the rally, stewards follow the regulations using video and photo cameras, and the marshalls control compliance with technical rules and safety at the fan zones.
The safety crew checks the rally route for the presence of the most unsafe zones before the start and during insecure situations. Stewards on the rally also work in cooperation with the organizers. Marshalls provide everything going on right the order.
The appearance of the people at the track line or when the cars are reaching close to the fans’ areas or any crash incidents, the action goes as the chain.
Rally Finland 2021
Such cases are usual, and the staff of the FIA at the place must control everything to ensure the event is safe.
But it is just the tip of the iceberg because the FIA World rally championship has many rules in the technical side of the discipline, especially after switching to hybrid Rally1 cars in 2022. So, alongside a driver’s and the car’s technical rules compliance, even the distance when the hybrid power has to be on is also regulated.
Moreover, there are rules about where and when drivers can use the phone. If someone breaches it, no matter how hard, the strict punishment by the FIA has reached the violator anyway.
FIA punishments in the WRC in the action
Rally Portugal 2023
Ott Tänak got a ten-second penalty for not driving at full electric mode inside the special zones on Rally Estonia in 2022.
On Rally Sweden 2023, Mikko Markkula, the co-driver for Teemu Suninen, got a €200 penalty for using his mobile phone during the refueling.
Eight-time world rally champion Sébastien Ogier was fined twice on Rally Croatia. In 2021 Toyota’s driver got €7k fine for a crash accident on public roads. However, it doesn’t stop him from winning the rally after a few hours. In 2023, FIA stewards gave Ogier a one-minute penalty for not having his safety harness right fastened while in motion, which made him lose chances for a podium.
However, one of the most controversial penalties by the FIA recently happened with WRC2 driver Nikolay Gryazin, who led the Rally Monte Carlo 2023 from start to finish. However, Gryazin was handed a five-second penalty after the finish when his closer opponent Yohan Rossel claimed about breaching FIA WRC Sporting Regulations. As a result, Rossel won Rally Monte Carlo topping ahead Gryazin by just 0.5sec.
The FIA’s involvement in Formula One
The F1 and FIA aren’t the same. It is two different organizations. But Formula 1 is a part of the FIA because Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile owns the rights for Formula 1. The difference between FIA and F1 is that first is a nonprofit organization, while F1 is the “product” of Formula One Group, responsible for growing the sport’s commercial viability.
The problem of understanding arises in the rights relation between U.S. company Liberty Media, which owns Formula One Group, and the FIA. Let’s bring the order. Bernie Ecclestone headed the Formula One Group to own the commercial rights to Formula 1 racing in the 1980s. In 2017 he transferred his ownership to Liberty Media. The deal cost $4.4 billion, but it was about commercial rights only.
Taking the case closer. The primary meaning of FIA in Formula 1 is safety, sustainability, rules, and regulations to make this sport fair and safe. All the issues of the commercial use of the rights and promotional business lie on the U.S. company Liberty Media, which is leased from the FIA. So, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile retained the Formula 1 championship name and ruleset rights.
So, can F1 break away from FIA? Of course not, because it contradicts the policy of the FIA. In theory, Liberty Media may buy the rights for Formula 1, but such a deal contradicts the rules.
Historical insight or the battle for the F1 commercial rights.
During the transformations, the political battle for commercial rights to Formula 1 arose between FISA and FOCA (Formula One Constructors’ Association) headed by Bernie Ecclestone. The event was labeled as the “FISA–FOCA war.” After the total restructuring in 1993, FISA became FIA.
What does the FIA do in F1?
With its personnel for adjudication, the FIA is supervising compliance with the rules of fairness and guarding the safety of all participants of Formula 1. Which is what is prescribed in four parts in the Formula 1 Sporting Code:
Stewards inspect everything from the circuit turns to the teams and drivers to keep the rules. If any of the regulations above is breached, the sanction will be immediately applied. The punishment is determined personally. It may be a time penalty or a fine of thousands of euros. However, in most cases, the FIA penalties are worth it, but sometimes these are confusing. That is why huge controversies arise between the FIA and Formula 1.
FIA VS F1: TOP Controversial Issues
James Hunt against CSI (FIA) at the British Grand Prix 1976.
The debatable incident happened in far 1976 during the fierce rivalries between Niki Lauda and James Hunt. Their duel formed the basis of “Rush”- the best movie about Formula 1.
Hunt qualified in second place but lost positions after the start. After multiple cars smashed into each other, the race was red-flagged. Later, the stewards announced that the drivers who had completed the first lap could restart the race. Both Lauda and Hunt were ready to continue. Althought, technically Hunt had yet to cross the finish line as he had taken a shortcut back to the pits. Recognitively to all the rules, Hunt was all set to be disqualified. British F1 fans were so furious that F1 officials had no choice.
They allowed Hunt to restart the race in his repaired McLaren. James Hunt won the British Grand Prix in 1976. McLaren’s rivals protested, but the FIA rejected them.
Ayrton Senna against FISA (FIA) president Japanese Grand Prix 1990
Jean Marie Balestre headed the FISA (FIA) from 1978 to 1991. The duel between Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna caused a lot of trouble for him. Senna took the pole on the Japanese GP in 1990 but was furious that the polesitter would start on the dirty inside of the grid. While sat second, Prost had the advantage from that.
Senna spoke to the Japanese stewards to request a change of position to the clean side of the track. The stewards initially agreed, but Jean Marie Balestre rejected the decision.
Senna vowed that if Prost entered the first corner first, they would not both exit it. The prophecies tend to come true. Two cars crashed over the barriers, in turn, one’s gravel trap. As a result, Senna won the Formula 1 championship in 1990.
Mercedes against FIA Race Director Michael Masi at Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2021
There were claims about Michale Masi before. No one could blame him, as he was one of the best in his job. However, the last laps of the Abu-Dhabi Grand Prix in 2021 decided the championship’s fate between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen.
After appearing the safety car, there would be correct to pass all lapped cars or to finish the race behind the safety car. But passing the lapped cars only between Verstappen and Hamilton, FIA race director Michael Masi ordered to continue the race with one lap to go. It helped Verstappen overtake Hamilton on the final lap and became the youngest-ever F1 champion.
Why did this happen with experienced Michale Masi? Choosing between rights, rules, fairness, and its commercial aspects, Michael Masi tried to keep the golden edge. As a result, with the FIA, he was involved at the epicenter of the critics from F1 fans. He was forced to retire, while Mercedes launched a political battle against Masi to back the title.
However, they were unsuccess. But Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2021 literally brought the world glory to Formula 1 with record-breaking 108.7m viewers! Michael Masi returned to the Formula 1 paddock only two years after the Abu Dhabi race.
Red Bull F1 team against the FIA in the 2021 Formula 1 season
That was the breaching of the cost cap. According to the Sporting regulations, the FIA salary cap was reduced to $140m for 2022. So, the Red Bull team exceeded the budget cap by almost $2 million in the 2021 Formula 1 season! The F1 community arrived with calls for the FIA to take the championship back to Mercedes, but they didn’t. FIA punished Red Bull with $7 million and a 10 percent reduction in its aerodynamic testing allowance for 12 months.
McLaren F1 against the FIA rules or the most significant fine in Formula 1
The was labeled as “Spygate.” In 2007 McLaren was given the most significant FIA penalty in Formula 1 history. The team was smacked with a $100 million fine.
A McLaren employee was found to have owned detailed documentation regarding the design of the 2007 Ferrari F2007 car. The matter came to light by chance.
The McLaren employee’s wife went to a photocopying shop in the U.K. with the documentation. But the shop worker became suspicious and contacted Ferrari’s Maranello factory. Such a shame.
Renault F1 against the FIA on Singapore Grand Prix 2008
Involving Fernando Alonso, Nelson Piquet Jr., Flavio Briatore, and Pat Symonds, the “Crashgate” has been the worst of the F1 controversies.
Purpose to Fernando Alonso got the advantage from the new tires, and Briatore and Symonds made a foul play by ordering Piquet to crash into the wall in Singapore Grand Prix 2008. Perhaps the truth would never appear if they had not decided to retire Piquet Jr. from the Renault F1 team the following year. With revenge, Nelson Piquet Jr. returned the story to save his name and told the truth.
As a result, FIA banned Briatore from any racing for life. Symonds got a five-year ban, while Renault suffered financially when sponsor ING pulled out. The team also received a two-year disqualification suspension period.
However, after 15 years, Flavio Briatore was back in Formula 1 to help build promoter and partner relationships. Pat Symonds has served as Formula 1’s Chief Technical Officer. Fernando Alonso is rushing the third title, while the career of Nelson Piquet Jr. ended irrevocably.
For copying the Mercedes car for the 2020 season, Aston Martin (Racing Point) had 15 constructors’ points slashed and fined €400,000.
With well-deserved punishment, history remembers the epic cases.
When FIA’s punishments are confusing
Thus, the Brazilian Grand Prix in 2021 was the epicenter of FIA penalties. But one of the most confusing was a €50k fine for Max Verstappen, who touched Lewis Hamilton’s rear wing in Parc Ferme after qualifying.
In far 2017, McLaren driver Stoffel Vandoorne got a 65-grid penalty for Formula 1’s Belgian Grand Prix after Honda elected to make another engine change overnight.
The 2022 season was wealthy for controversies about penalties. There were many claims from the FIA against Lewis Hamilton’s jewelry pieces. The officials required him to take it off before the race. Also, they rewired drivers to wear fireproof underwear.
However, the apogee came with starting the 2023 Formula 1 season. The new rule in Sporting regulation announced the FIA speech rule.
Thus, the express F1 drivers’ political, religious, or personal views must be regulated during and after the International Competition. In this case, all the F1 drivers, especially those with world influence like Lewis Hamilton, lost their speech.
Although the rule was corrected after rushing critics from all the F1 drivers, the bitter taste remains.
Additionally, FIA banned all wheeled transport during the Thursday track walks at Grand Prix weekends, which confused many drivers.
The FIA’s governance structure
Being a central figure and first-hand responsibility, Ben Sulayem is a key figure in rules and regulations to control and compliance, but he is not the only one.
The FIA is governed by a General Assembly, which is made up of representatives from each of the FIA’s member clubs. The General Assembly meets once a year to discuss and vote on issues related to the sport.
The day-to-day operations of the FIA are overseen by several different bodies, including the World Motor Sport Council (WMSC), which is responsible for supervising the FIA’s various motorsport championships. The WMSC comprises representatives from the FIA’s member clubs and meets several times a year to discuss and vote on issues related to the sport.
The FIA also has many different commissions and working groups responsible for overseeing specific aspects of the sport. This includes safety, technical regulations, and sustainability.
Who those influential persons are?
Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile has the huge support around the world. Their Global Partners include the famous Michelin, Essilor, and Pirelli; the Nissan Motor Corporation is the official supporter.
The CEO and the head of the FIA is its President, Mohammed Ben Sulayem. He was elected by votes from FIA member clubs at Annual General Assembly in 2021. Sulayem has been working in the organization as a World Motor Sport Council member since 2008. However, the role of the FIA President is vital because it is first-hand responsible for any issue. The FIA president is the institution’s voice and participates in all ceremonial events.
The second-hand responsibility and the FIA vice president currently is Robert Reid – former co-driver and 2001 World Rally champion. Luke Skipper has been set as the FIA Communications director. With leading the FIA’s technical team in F1 since 2018, Nikolas Tombazis is the single-seater director of the FIA. Steve Nielsen became FIA Sporting Director after the 2021 Abu-Dhabi Grand Prix incident. Tim Goss is the technical director, while Francois Sicard is the operations director of the FIA.
FIA in Faces: Presidents
With the FIA having unique personalities in its president role, Mohammed Ben Sulayem differs from the others. Thus, Jean Marie Balestre was the “Mr. Safety” of Formula 1. He is credited with establishing special crash test requirements for Formula 1 cars to improve safety.
Max Mosley also fought for safety, especially after the death of Senna in 1994. Mosley stood to cap costs and give the gas-guzzling sport a greener image by introducing biofuel technology.
A motorsport maestro on a road safety mission, Jean Todt is, without exaggeration, the most talented head of the FIA. The former FIA boss Todt has been awarded the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor and a hundred awards. It is difficult to overestimate his contribution to safety, sports regulations, and the development of world racing. With all types of experience, from rally driver to racing team owner, Jean Todt had ruled the world of racing for 12 years.
Who is Mohammed Ben Sulayem?
Ben Sulayem was born in the United Arab Emirates. With European education, he stood by the development of motorsport in the East. Ben Sulayem is a former rally driver; he became a 14-time FIA World Rally Champion in the Middle East.
However, since Ben Sulayem has headed the FIA, the controversial point came about Formula 1 first, as FIA’s prominent sports presence in the Middle East was already more than enough. Having Saudi Arabian, Bahrain, Qatar, and Abu-Dhanbi Grand Prix, the additional integration in this direction, while iconic destinations like Nurburgring have been ignored, may hurt Formula 1 overall.
The regulations concerning the drivers in Formula 1 have also changed. With such a significance but nothing in common with safety like speech rule in F1, jewelry claims arose rumors that the FIA was unhappy with its president Mohammed Ben Sulayem and he would soon be replaced with Dave Richards, a prominent member of the paddock in the 2000s.
Moreover, the situation still needs to look better in another FIA’s popular championship, where only three teams are racing: M-Sport Ford, Hyundai, and Toyota.
What is its profit, or how does FIA make money?
The FIA is not a company but a nonprofit making association. However, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile earned a whopping $26.7 million ahead 2023 F1 season. That is for a reason.
First, the FIA provides an annual license for teams and drivers. Thus, according to the 2023 FIA Sporting Regulations, each team in Formula 1 has to pay a flat fee of $617,687 in addition to an amount for every point they score.
The second is about commercial rights. FIA also generates revenue from the commercial rights to the series it oversees, including television rights, trackside advertising, and hospitality packages.
Just think, we pointed out above just Formula 1, while the FIA has eight world championships and many other racing series.
Does FIA make money? Simply, a lot.
Other racing directions governed by the FIA
FIA grades levels
Deciding organization? More than you can imagine because. Alongside the championships, the FIA creates the standards for circuit grading, driver licensing, and the provision of personnel to enforce.
Thus, the FIA has the 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6-grade levels. Depending on the suitability of the circuit for different types and groups of cars, with 1 being the highest grade and the only circuit that can host Formula One races.
Sustainability in Motorsports
The FIA also plays a vital role in promoting sustainability. In recent years, the organization has taken steps to reduce the sport’s environmental impact, including introducing hybrid engines and promoting the use of sustainable fuels. Thus, they have created the environmental strategy, which was created by Jean Todt.
For example, Formula 1 cars now use hybrid engines that combine traditional combustion engines with electric power. The FIA WRC followed the example and switched to a hybrid engine in 2022.This has helped to reduce the amount of fuel used in races and has made the sport more eco-friendly.
The main goal of FIA sustainability is to become motorsport net zero by 2030 by reducing and avoiding emissions while supporting solutions that allow carbon removal and the development of technologies that contribute to the decarbonization of motorsport and mobility.
Another critical initiative in sustainability the FIA introduced is the Formula E championship. Formula E is a global electric car racing championship launched in 2014, aimed at promoting sustainable mobility and encouraging the development of electric cars.
In addition to Formula E, the FIA has promoted sustainability in other motorsport championships like Electric Touring Car Cup (ETCR). This includes introducing new regulations and standards for the use of sustainable fuels and promoting the use of renewable energy sources at racetracks.
With international experiences and a knowledge base that FIA has collected since 1904, it provides the leading authority in the world for accreditation, education, and research into global motorsport and mobility via FIA University since 2011. The institute is responsible for researching safety standards and developing new safety technologies for the sport.
In recent years, the FIA has also taken steps to improve the safety of fans and spectators at races. It includes improving safety barriers at racetracks and introducing new safety protocols for fans attending races.
It is one of the fastest-growing disciplines in the world. For this purpose, the FIA certificated its Esport discipline in 2018 and united online racers worldwide. So, the Digital Cup is part of the FIA Motorsport Games. A new multidisciplinary event organized by the FIA for the first time in Rome in November 2019.
FIA Prize Giving
The FIA Prize Giving Ceremony is an annual event that honors the top drivers, manufacturers, and teams from all championships governed by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile.
As one of the year’s most anticipated events, the FIA Prize Giving is always a glittering occasion. The ceremony is always held on live stream on Facebook, Youtube, and Tiktok channels.
In addition, the FIA is committed to promoting diversity and inclusivity in motorsports. The organization will continue developing initiatives to develop young drivers and encourage gender equality in the sport.
Instead of conclusion: The Evolution of Motorsports and the Role of FIA
The power of speed has always been at the heart of motorsports. The thrill of watching cars zoom past at breakneck speeds draws fans and drivers to the sport.
Motorsports have come a long way, from the first-ever car race in France in 1894 to the present-day Formula 1 races.
The FIA, founded in 1904, has played a significant role in shaping the motorsports industry. It has helped to make the sport more accessible and appealing to a broader audience.
The FIA’s good partnerships with automobile manufacturers and sponsors have helped to drive innovations and the development of new technologies that have made racing faster, safer, and more exciting.
Keeping these goals, the FIA has controlled each aspect of the automotive world, from racing to cultural events and education. All the above makes FIA a cardinal, rule maker, and key player.
Looking to the future, the FIA will continue to play an essential role in shaping the world of motorsport. With new technologies and innovations emerging, the organization must stay at the forefront of these changes to ensure the sport remains safe, fair, and sustainable for years.
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