Home Interviews Special Interview with Mohammed Ben Sulayem

Special Interview with Mohammed Ben Sulayem

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Born into a wealthy Dubai family – his brother Sultan Ahmed is chairman of Dubai Port World and real estate developer – Ben Sulayem is a 14-time Middle East rally champion and WRC campaigner, including with works Toyota drives. He was elected to the FIA World Motor Sport Council from 2008-13 and also served a term as a sport vice-president.

After retiring from active motorsport he turned to club administration, presiding over the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE since 2005, and is also the Emirati representative for FIVA, the classic car governing body. From 2013-17 Ben Sulayem served as FIA vice-president for mobility and tourism. Thus, he has experience across motorsport, mobility and classic motoring activities.

Ben Sulayem has long harboured world motoring’s top job, having initially thrown his hat into the election ring in 2013, but later withdrew. Whether he cut a deal with incumbent Todt at the time is unknown, but Ben Sulayem was thereafter nominated to the mobility and tourism office, which he told associates would equip him for the presidency. He did not stand against Todt in 2017, keeping his powder dry.

Ben Sulayem resides in the UAE but told RaceFans during an exclusive interview last week that he has no plans to relocate the FIA offices to Dubai. “I love Paris,” he said. “I have a private jet and will commute.” How this squares with FIA sustainability pledges is up to voters to decide but, to be fair, Todt flew private on occasion. As an aside, Ben Sulayem has a delectable collection of classic cars, including 21 Mercedes 600s.

Zero fatalities on UAE roads, is this a possibility?

Of course, that would be the ultimate aim, but we have to be realistic and take things one step at a time.
Road accidents happen far too often. Too many people, and in particular too many young people with the world at their feet, lose their lives or have their lives changed forever by road accidents.
There are a lot of campaigns designed to increase awareness of the factors which lead to road accidents, and educate drivers of all ages and nationalities on safe driving.
These can only help to reduce the number of accidents, and any reduction in the number of injuries and fatalities is a step in the right direction.
What we really need are more co-ordinated efforts at national and regional level. But at the same time we need every road user to accept responsibility for making our roads safer.

Road design or road users, what is the main cause of accidents here?

There are many causes of accidents, and drivers are mostly to blame. Some of the most common causes are speeding, running red lights, not indicating when you change lanes, windows tinted too strongly and careless driving.
We can add to those not stopping at pedestrian crossings, driving without a drivers’ license, failure to check blind spots before changing lanes, drink driving, and of course not obeying road laws.

What should the government do to ensure safer roads?

It seems that every time you pick up a newspaper, turn on the TV or listen to the radio these days you’re confronted by reports of accidents and deaths on the roads.
To cut down on the senseless loss of life we’re seeing we must make people more aware of the main causes of accidents, and how to avoid them, and that means government departments, road safety
organisations, manufactures and motoring organisations all working together to raise awareness and educate all road users.

Many young drivers in the country do not seem to understand the difference between a race track and a road for public use. What do you have to say about this?

A lot of young people like to drive fast. That’s natural because speed is exciting. But in the interests of road safety it’s vital to keep racing off our roads and streets.
We have to educate the youth of the UAE that this is very dangerous, both for drivers, their passengers, other road users and pedestrians.
At the same time we have to give them a chance to take their desire for racing into a safe and properly controlled environment where they will have the chance to learn new driving skills and enjoy motor sport.
There are a growing number clubs and facilities for this in the UAE, including the new racing school which opened recently at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.
This is a very positive step in the right direction as it will help young people to become better, more disciplined drivers. They are being given a wonderful opportunity at one of the most exciting venues in the world for motor racing. I wish I’d have had this chance when I was young.

Your advice to the public on their role to ensure safer roads?

Every single motorist needs to take responsibility for making our roads safer. Parents can set an example for young people by driving carefully, within the speed limit, and by avoiding the other main mistakes which lead to accidents
In the same way, young people who are already driving can set an example for their younger brothers and sisters who will be the next to get their driving licenses.

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