Formula One’s governing body, the FIA, has backed down from its conflict of interest investigation into the Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff, and his wife, Susie. By in effect admitting neither party had a case to answer it brings to a close what has been an extremely embarrassing episode for the FIA and its president, Mohammed Ben Sulayem.
On Tuesday the FIA had announced it was to investigate an allegation that confidential information was being passed between a team member and a member of the sport’s owners Formula One Management (FOM). It was centred on Wolff and his wife, who is the managing director of the F1 Academy, the all-female series run by FOM.
The decision to investigate appears to have been prompted by one, unsubstantiated media report alleging Wolff had made a comment that could only have been informed by information from a member of FOM personnel. The FIA cited “media speculation” over the issue as part of its rationale to investigate but there was little beyond that single source.
The reaction to it was swift. Mercedes resolutely condemned the investigation as did Susie Wolff, who called it “insulting” and rooted “in intimidatory and misogynistic behaviour”. FOM were similarly robust, warning caution against “making imprudent and serious allegations without substance”.
The following day, in what must be considered an almost unprecedented move, every one of the 10 F1 teams issued a near identical statement confirming they had made no complaints about information being passed and expressing unanimous support for the F1 Academy.
Their action shifted the focus on to why the FIA had opened the investigation and prompted what was a remarkable volte-face on Thursday evening when they announced there was no case to answer.
“Following a review of Formula One Management’s F1 Code of Conduct and F1 Conflict of Interest Policy, and confirmation that appropriate protective measures are in place to mitigate any potential conflicts, the FIA is satisfied that FOM’s compliance management system is robust enough to prevent any unauthorised disclosure of confidential information,” read its statement.
“The FIA can confirm that there is no ongoing investigation in terms of ethical or disciplinary inquiries involving any individual.”
The sport’s governing body must hope the decision will draw a line under what has been a humiliating affair – especially with its annual prize-giving gala to be held on Friday – but its handling of it will still come under serious scrutiny.
No explanation has been given as to what prompted the investigation, why it was made public and indeed quite how it has been dismissed so quickly. The week’s events may also have done serious damage to the relationship between the governing body, the teams and FOM.