Motor racing-FIA chief faces allegation of interference at 2023 Saudi Grand Prix

FILE PHOTO: Formula One F1 - Bahrain Grand Prix - Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain - March 1, 2024 FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem applauds after qualifying REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed/File Photo

(Reuters) - The head of Formula One's governing body, Mohammed Ben Sulayem, is under investigation for allegedly interfering in the outcome of last year's Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, the BBC reported on Monday.

A spokesperson for the Paris-based International Automobile Federation (FIA), asked for a comment on the report, could not confirm any details but said "the matter is being discussed internally".

Ben Sulayem, an Emirati, could not be reached immediately for comment.

The BBC said it had seen a report by FIA compliance officer Paolo Basarri to its ethics committee in which a whistleblower claimed the president had intervened to overturn a penalty given to Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso.

It alleged that Ben Sulayem called Sheikh Abdullah bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, the FIA's vice-president for sport for the Middle East and North Africa who was in an official capacity at the race.

Double world champion Alonso was handed back the 100th podium of his Formula One career after a U-turn by officials hours after the finish in Jeddah on March 19 last year.

The 41-year-old Spaniard had finished third but was demoted to fourth by a 10-second post-race penalty for failing to serve properly a five second penalty for an error in placing his car on the starting grid.

Stewards found the rear jack was in contact with the car before the five seconds were up.

The second penalty, imposed more than 30 laps after his pitstop, was then reversed when his team won a right to review after presenting new evidence to support their case.

The new evidence included the minutes of a Sporting Advisory Committee meeting and video of "seven different instances where cars were touched by the jack while serving a similar penalty... without being penalised."

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris)

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