Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff says he is considering suing the FIA in the wake of its now-aborted investigation into his relationship with his wife, the F1 Academy managing director Susie Wolff.
Susie Wolff, meanwhile, launched a scathing attack on motorsport’s world governing body on a day of high drama on Friday after what she called “a misleading and unfounded campaign” against them.
The FIA announced on Tuesday that it had launched an investigation into “an F1 team principal” and a “member of FOM”. It did not specify to whom it was referring but certain outlets were seemingly briefed before the FIA’s statement dropped that it referred to Toto and Susie Wolff.
That investigation was swiftly dropped on Thursday after all nine of Mercedes’ rivals issued identically-worded statements denying they had made “any formal complaint” about a potential conflict of interest in the relationship. The FIA said it was satisfied F1’s protective measures were sufficiently robust to prevent any unauthorised disclosure of confidential information. However, the damage was already done.
None of Mercedes, F1 or Susie Wolff had received any prior warning from the FIA that it was about to refer their relationship to its compliance department, prompting them to wonder where the story had originated and why.
The FIA had said in its statement on Tuesday that it was acting on “media speculation” regarding an “allegation of information of a confidential nature being passed to an F1 team principal from a member of FOM personnel”.
This was apparently a reference to a recent article in BusinessF1 magazine which suggested that a comment Wolff made in a recent team principals meeting had acted as the trigger point for other team principals to complain about a potential conflict of interest.
However, after all nine of Mercedes’ rivals published the same statement on Wednesday denying they had made “any complaint”, intrigue grew as to why the FIA had escalated the situation to such a degree, with frictions in Wolff’s relationship with FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem seen as one apparent possibility.
Ben Sulayem took over in the wake of the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in December 2021 when Lewis Hamilton was denied a record eighth world title after then race director Michael Masi wrongly applied the safety car rules. Since then they have had a strained relationship, with the team suspicious that the FIA president has tried to provoke them, for instance with his recent comments that he would give Masi – who was fired last year after he was adjudged to have made a “human error” – another job if a suitable role came up.
“Several days ago the President (Mohammed Ben Sulayem) took ill and suffered a fall and concussion. He received care in hospital and will make a full recovery,” an FIA statement on Friday afternoon announced.
Susie Wolff: ‘I will not allow myself to be intimidated’
In a statement issued by Mercedes on Friday, Toto Wolff said: “We understand that there is significant media interest in the events of this week. We are currently in active legal exchange with the FIA. We await full transparency about what took place and why, and have expressly reserved all legal rights. Therefore we ask for your understanding that we will not be commenting officially for now, but we will certainly address the matter in due course.”
Susie Wolff, who had already described the allegations as “intimidatory and misogynistic”, was more forthright, describing the way the FIA climbed down from its original position as unacceptable.
“When I saw the statement issued by the FIA yesterday evening, my first reaction was: “Is that it?” she wrote on Instagram. “For two days, insinuations have been made about my integrity in public and through background briefings, but nobody from the FIA has spoken to me directly.
“I might have been collateral damage in an unsuccessful attack on somebody else, or the target of a failed attempt to discredit me personally, but I have worked too hard to have my reputation called into question by an unfounded press release.
“We have come a long way as a sport. I was extremely thankful for the unified support of the Formula One teams. I have worked with so many passionate women and men at F1 and the FIA, who have the very best interests of our sport at heart.
“However, this episode has so far taken place without transparency or accountability. I have received online abuse about my work and my family. I will not allow myself to be intimidated and intend to follow up until I have found out who has instigated this campaign and misled the media.
“What happened this week is simply not good enough. As a sport, we must demand, and we deserve, better.”
The FIA’s annual prize-giving gala takes place in Baku on Friday. Toto Wolff was never planning to attend, although seven-time world champion Hamilton is required to, having finished third in the drivers’ championship.
Speaking at the event, Hamilton said: “Disappointing to see the governing body of our sport has sought to question the integrity of one of the most incredible female leaders we’ve ever had in our sport in Susie Wolff without questioning and without any evidence. It’s unacceptable.”
It is unclear whether Ben Sulayem will address the controversy.