Motorsports: As new FIA vice-president, Singapore's Lee Lung Nien hopes to see more Asian drivers

Mr Lee Lung Nien is the first Singaporean to assume a leadership position in the FIA. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Max Verstappen's triumph as the 2021 Formula One world champion signalled a change on the track. Off it, a new era is in motion as well with the arrival of a new leadership team that wants to put the focus on Asia.

Mohammed Ben Sulayem, 60, of the United Arab Emirates became the first non-European president of the International Automobile Federation (FIA) after being elected on Dec 17. He replaced Frenchman Jean Todt, 75.

In his team as one of the seven vice-presidents is Lee Lung Nien, former president of Motor Sports Singapore (MSS) from 2016-2020 and the head of Citi's private banking business in South Asia. Lee, 57, will handle the Asia Pacific region.

This is the first time that a Singaporean has assumed a leadership position in the FIA - the governing body for Formula One, the World Rally Championship, World Endurance and Formula E among other series.

Bernard Tay, president of the Automobile Association of Singapore and Tan Teng Lip, a former president of the Singapore Motor Sport Association (now known as MSS) had previously been FIA committee members.

Lee, a MSS member since 2010, told The Straits Times he was excited for his new role. He said: "The FIA has wanted and needed change for sometime now. The fact that we have a new man at the helm shows you that the membership wants the change now.

"I hope to be able to help the president over the next four years at least, in ensuring that we can achieving what we have set out to - starting with ensuring that it is a well run federation."

In a press statement, Ben Sulayem said that "with the help of Lung, FIA will adopt an ambitious development strategy for Asia over the next four years".

He added: "Asia with 60 per cent of the world population and a growing economy is critical to the growth and development of global motorsport."

Lee said the FIA, headquartered in Paris and with offices in Valleiry, France and Geneva, Switzerland, is exploring setting up another office in Singapore.

He noted: "One of the two things we want to focus on over the next four years is communication and growth.

"If you want Asia to grow then there needs to be a office in the region where staff can work at and coordinate their efforts from."

Another area he knows must improve is the representation of Asian drivers in motorsports. While F1 held races last year in Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE and in Japan, China and Singapore pre-pandemic, the region has yet to develop a driver able to challenge for top honours.

Japanese Yuki Tsunoda finished 14th in the drivers' standings last season for Scuderia AlphaTauri. This term, he will be joined by China's Zhou Guanyu (Alfa Romeo Racing) and Thai-British racer Alex Albon (Williams),

Lee said: "We must accept that motorsports is an expensive sport and not everybody has had a chance to get into it. There are barriers to entry. My job will involve looking into this and working out how everyone, regardless of where they come from, can have a chance.

"We need to look beyond just the F1 and look at participation across touring cars, the karting circuit and beyond. If we can remove some of the barriers to entry, there will be more grassroots involvement and hence more involvement at the top in due course."

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