Mohammed Ben Sulayem has been president of the FIA for less than 24 hours, and he's already in the middle of a controversy.
And that controversy is Lewis Hamilton, and specifically Hamilton's refusal to attend the annual FIA Prize Giving gala in Paris on Thursday night. Formula 1 rules call for the top three drivers in the F1 championship to attend the gala, which features a lot of trophies, red carpet moments speeches.
New F1 champion Max Verstappen and third-place finisher in the championship Valtteri Bottas were there to pick up their hardware. Hamilton, however, was nowhere to be seen, undoubtedly still upset at how the F1 Abu Grand Prix and the 2021 championship season ended this past Sunday.
New FIA president Ben Sulayem was asked by the BBC if Hamilton would face any penalties for skipping the ceremony.
"If there is any breach, there is no forgiveness in this," Ben Sulayem said. "Forgiveness is always there. But rules are rules."
Ben Sulayem stopped short, however, of setting groundwork for any fine or penalty.
"I know Lewis is really sad about what happened. I would say he is broken. But we have to look into if there is any breach. (After) a few hours now as president, I cannot give answers without going back to the facts."
The FIA weighed in earlier this week in about the result of the race in Abu Dhabi and the controversial call made by race director Michael Masi that allowed a restart realignment of the field favorable to Verstappen. The realignment allowed Verstappen, who was on fresher soft tires, to line up behind Hamilton for a one-lap sprint to the finish. To make that Verstappen-Hamilton shootout a reality, officials allowed the five lapped cars between the two contenders to pass the Safety Car and in effect get out of the way.
The Mercedes team and Hamilton, as one might expect, were not all that happy with the decision that eventually cost them the race win and what would have been Hamilton's record eighth Formula 1 championship.
The FIA, while not admitting anything was done wrong, plans this offseason to take another look at the rule in question.
Lewis Hamilton may be punished for not attending awards ceremony, says new FIA president - BBC Sport https://t.co/NeeVQHthJL
— Andrew Benson (@andrewbensonf1) December 17, 2021
According to the BBC article, Ben Sulayem and Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff have spoken about the incident and about Hamilton's absence from the gala.
"Someone will always get upset. I spoke to Toto and he said to me: 'I am not coming here.' Ben Sulayem said. "I listened to him. When I listened, he started cooling down. We will look into the rules and make sure any situation like this that occurs in the future we will have an instant solution to it. There are so many areas we can improve."