Lewis Hamilton has delivered a scathing assessment of the FIA’s treatment of Toto and Susie Wolff after they were investigated for potential conflict of interest, condemning it as unacceptable and demanding change from the leadership of Formula One’s governing body.
Toto Wolff, the team principal, has also confirmed Mercedes have entered a legal exchange with the FIA to ensure they are given a full and transparent explanation of what happened.
On Tuesday the governing body announced it was to open an investigation after an unsubstantiated allegation that confidential information had passed between an F1 team and a member of the sport’s owners, Formula One Management (FOM). The allegation was centred on Wolff and his wife, who is the managing director of the F1 Academy, the all-female series run by FOM.
After all the other nine teams had stated they had made no complaint to the FIA and Susie Wolff, Mercedes and FOM had denied all the allegations, the FIA quickly dropped the investigation on Thursday, announcing that neither party had a case to answer.
Attending the FIA prize-giving in Baku on Friday, Hamilton was blunt and uncompromising in his criticism of the governing body at its gala event. “It has been a challenging week, and a disappointing week,” he said. “To see that the governing body has sought to question the integrity of one of the most incredible female leaders we have ever had in our sport in Susie Wolff without questioning and without any evidence and then just saying ‘sorry’ at the end. That is unacceptable.”
The decision to proceed with an investigation and to do so very publicly could almost certainly not have taken place without the knowledge and consent of the FIA president, Mohammed Ben Sulayem, and Hamilton implied that there were issues at the very top of the organisation that had to be dealt with.
“There is a constant fight to really improve diversity and inclusion within the industry,” he said. “It seems there are certain individuals in the leadership of the FIA that every time we try and make a step forward they are trying to pull us back, and that has to change.”
In a statement on Friday, Toto Wolff confirmed that he and Mercedes would be pursuing an explanation. “We are currently in active legal exchange with the FIA,” he said. “We await full transparency about what took place and why, and have expressly reserved all legal rights.”
Susie Wolff, who had denied the allegations from the off, was similarly vehement in demanding answers from F1’s governing body, which is now under intense pressure to justify its actions. “This episode has so far taken place without transparency or accountability,” she said. “I have received online abuse about my work and my family. I will not allow myself to be intimated and intend to follow up until I have found out who has instigated this campaign and misled the media.”