By The Associated Press on December 8, 2023.
BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) – Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton criticized Formula One’s governing body on Friday for the “unacceptable” way it investigated Toto and Susie Wolff on allegations of conflict of interest.
Hamilton spoke at a news conference before the FIA’s season-ending gala in the Azerbaijani capital Baku.
The Mercedes driver said something “has to change” within the FIA leadership after a tumultuous week in which the governing body revealed it was looking into allegations then dropped the probe 48 hours later.
Toto Wolff, the Mercedes team principal, said earlier Friday there was an ” active legal exchange “ happening with the FIA a day after the governing body ended its inquiry.
“It has been a challenging week, I think,” Hamilton said, “a disappointing week really to see that the governing body of our sport has seeked to question the integrity of one of the most incredible female leaders we’ve ever had in our sport with Susie Wolff without questioning (her), without any evidence and then just saying “˜sorry’ at the end, and that’s just unacceptable.”
The FIA has not responded to a request for comment. Federation president Mohammed Ben Suleyam was pulled from his scheduled news conference on Friday after the FIA said he was hospitalized from a concussion sustained this week.
The FIA on Thursday confirmed “there is no ongoing investigation in terms of ethical or disciplinary inquiries involving any individual.” That was two days after saying its compliance department was “looking into the matter.”
“We’ve got a lot of great people within the sport that are doing amazing work,” Hamilton said. “There is a constant fight to really improve diversity and inclusion within the industry. But it seems that there are certain individuals in the leadership within the FIA that every time we try and make a step forward they’re trying to pull us back, and that has to change.”
Susie Wolff, who is the managing director of the all-female series F1 Academy, said on Friday that her reaction to the FIA’s latest statement was: “Is that it?
“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,” she wrote in a social media post.
Susie Wolff said the episode has “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.”
Toto Wolff’s statement was released by Mercedes.
“We are currently in active legal exchange with the FIA,” he said in the statement. “We await full transparency about what took place and why, and have expressly reserved all legal rights.”
The FIA’s compliance department had been looking into the Wolffs following allegations of a conflict of interest and whether they shared confidential information.
The probe began after a report in BusinessF1 magazine that rival team executives raised concerns about whether Toto and Susie Wolff passed on information discussed in private meetings. Susie Wolff reports to F1 chief executive Stefano Domenicali.
The BusinessF1 report said team officials were alarmed when Toto Wolff made comments in a recent meeting that included details they felt could only have come from F1. The report did not detail what was discussed.
The Mercedes team and Formula One Management, which runs the commercial side of F1, denied any allegations of improper sharing of information or conflict of interest.
On Wednesday, nine F1 teams released nearly identical statements denying they complained to the FIA about an alleged conflict of interest. The flurry of statements followed an appearance by Red Bull team principal Christian Horner on Sky Sports in which he denied instigating the investigation.
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