If you were hoping for a relaxing F1 winter break… well, we’re sorry. A few days ago FIA opened an investigation into Susie and Toto Wolff, after some TPs complained about potential conflict of interest. After a series of unexpected events they announced the investigation was over but this doesn’t look like the end. So, what happened?
What did Business F1 write?
Everything starts from a report published in the December issue of Business F1. The magazine reveals that several Team Principals went to the FIA separately to complain about the conflict of interest existing between Toto and Susie Wolff.
Susie Wolff is the managing director of F1 Academy, an all-female driver category owned by the Formula 1 Group (and Liberty Media). This means she works closely with Stefano Domenicali, the CEO of F1, and has access to confidential information about Formula 1 thanks to her position. On the other hand, Toto is TP of Mercedes and he’s present at the meetings F1 teams have to discuss things that shouldn’t always be shared with Formula One Management (FOM).
According to Business F1, during one of these meetings Wolff made a comment demonstrating he had advance information about something that could only come from FOM. Because of this, the other TPs think that Toto can access confidential information through his wife and he’s using it to his own benefit. Their fear is that FOM is also receiving confidential information from team meetings. The magazine continues saying that there’s a genuine concern and complaints were made to Ben Sulayem, President of FIA, asking him to act accordingly.
“They [team principals] are saying, hey, you know, we can go and have a meeting, an internal meeting, and the next thing it’s all over Greg Maffei’s desk because, you know, Toto’s told his wife, who in turn has told Stefano (Domenicali), who’s told Greg Maffei. […] Stefano’s going to know what we said within 30 seconds.”
Toto Wolff’s Precedents
The thing is: Toto has history. In Singapore in 2022 he revealed information about the 2021 Cost Cap audit. In this case, the source was Shalia Ann Rao, interim general secretary for motorsport at the FIA and close friend of Toto Wolff. This was a serious breach of confidence, as he knew everything before Red Bull did and he used it to damage the Austrian team. Also, the situation was embarrassing for Ben Sulayem and it was the first crisis in his presidency.
Rao was fired, but TPs are still concerned, as the situation with Susie seems to be more serious, the magazine concludes.
It’s important to notice that the article doesn’t mention any name or source, the quotes are unattributed and it goes on questioning the sexual allegations against Ben Sulayem.
The FIA Starts an Investigation as Mercedes and Susie Wolff Reject the Allegations
On December 5th it was announced that the FIA opened a compliance investigation for a potential conflict of interest. The statement, that curiously enough cannot be found anywhere, is reported by Autosport:
“The FIA is aware of media speculation centered on the allegation of information of a confidential nature being passed to an F1 team principal from a member of FOM personnel. The FIA Compliance Department is looking into the matter.”
As you can see, no one is mentioned directly, but it’s easy to imagine who are the people involved.
Just so you know: a compliance department of a company works to make sure all employees follow the law but also the standards and ethical guidelines set by the company itself.
A spokerperson of F1 said:
“We note the public statement made by the FIA this evening that was not shared with us in advance. We have complete confidence that the allegations are wrong, and we have robust processes and procedures that ensure the segregation of information and responsibilities in the event of any potential conflict of interest. We are confident that no member of our team has made any unauthorised disclosure to a team principal and would caution anyone against making imprudent and serious allegations without substance.”
A few hours later, Mercedes answered to the FIA, too:
We have two issues here. First, the allegations against Toto and Susie Wolff are rejected from both F1 and Mercedes. Second, and maybe more importantly, the FIA didn’t warn anyone about the start of the investigation.
Shortly after, Susie’s statement followed:
Why the Investigation on Susie Wolff is a Feminist Issue
In her statement, Susie claims the allegations to be baseless and rooted in misogyny, understandably.
Susie Wolff is one of the few women who were able to grow professionally in motorsport. She was development driver for Williams, then Team Principal for Venturi Racing in Formula E and now managing director of F1 Academy. Nothing in her career suggests she is not a righteous person.
Conflict of interest has always been a part of Formula 1. The CEO, Stefano Domenicali, used to be Ferrari’s team principal. Lance Stroll is one of the drivers of Aston Martin, owned by his father. Sponsors determine business decision because of how much money they invest. But the issue is raised now, when there’s a woman in the equation.
The Teams’ Joint Statement
That’s not all. In a rather unprecedented episode, on December 6th, nine teams released a joint statement. They deny they made the said complaints and reiterate their support towards F1 Academy. The basis of the investigation itself is weakened.
FIA Drops the Investigation
In a surprising turn of events, on Thursday December 7th the FIA released another statement:
There’s no investigation on anyone, they’re happy with the compilance management system of FOM. Everyone can go home now, nothing to see here.
Except, Susie and Toto Wolff are angry (to say the least) and they released two separate statements on December 8th. Both of them request full transparency from the FIA and legal action will follow to really understand what happened. There’s no doubt that both of them faced a damage in reputation.
FIA vs F1
Probably, we’ll never know what happened exactly. Business F1 doesn’t seem to be a reliable source but, at the same time, it’s hard to believe the FIA would start an investigation on rumors only. Anyway, the investigation was not handled properly, as the people concerned were not notified and everything happened publicly.
Many have interpreted the issue as a power struggle between Toto Wolff and Ben Sulayem. The President is not happy about some statements made by the TP about the FIA and F1 teams think he’s behind a series of incidents, like calling Wolff to the stewards after him and Vasseur swore in the Las Vegas news conference.
The result of these episodes is a worsening in the relationship between the FIA and F1. As you may know, the FIA is the one that sets the regulations and leases out the commercial right to F1 and Liberty Media, who promote the races. Many people think this could lead to a revolutionary change, such as the organization of an independent championship by F1. There’s no doubt something is gonna happen, especially with the negotiation of the ninth Concorde Agreement on the horizon.