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F1: Susie Wolff rejects conflict of interest allegations as FIA announces investigation

Susie Wolff is director of F1’s academy for aspiring female racing drivers while husband Toto Wolff is the team principal and co-owner of Mercedes F1 and the director of Mercedes motorsport

F1 Academy head Susie Wolff has rejected allegations of a conflict of interest involving her and husband, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, in the “strongest possible terms”.

Business F1 magazine claimed rival team bosses had raised concerns the Wolffs were sharing confidential information from their respective employers.

Governing body the FIA has announced an investigation into the claims.

Wolff said she was “deeply insulted but sadly unsurprised” by the claims.

In a social media post she described the allegations as “intimidatory and misogynistic”.

In her role with F1 Susie Wolff, director of the organisation’s academy for aspiring female racing drivers, reports directly to president Stefano Domenicali. Toto Wolff is the team principal and co-owner of Mercedes F1 and the director of Mercedes motorsport.

The FIA has said its compliance unit is looking into the claims, while F1 and Mercedes have rejected the accusations and made clear their frustration with the FIA’s handling of the matter.

Susie Wolff said in a statement on social media: “It is disheartening that my integrity is being called into question in such a manner, especially when it seems to be rooted in intimidatory and misogynistic behaviour, and focused on my marital status rather than my abilities.”

She added: “Throughout my career in motorsport, I have encountered and overcome numerous obstacles and I refuse to let these baseless allegations overshadow my dedication and passion for F1 Academy.

“As a woman in this sport, I have faced my fair share of challenges but my commitment to breaking down barriers and paving the way for future generations to succeed remains unwavering.”

The FIA said that it was “aware of media speculation centred on the allegation of information of a confidential nature being passed to an F1 team principal from a member of FOM [F1] personnel.

“The FIA compliance department is looking in to the matter.”

A Mercedes spokesperson said: “We note the generic statement from the FIA this evening, which responds to unsubstantiated allegations from a single media outlet, and the off-record briefing which has linked it to the team principal of Mercedes-AMG F1.

“The team has received no communication from the FIA compliance department on this topic and it was highly surprising to learn of the investigation through a media statement.

“We wholly reject the allegation in the statement and associated media coverage, which wrongly impinges on the integrity and compliance of our team principal.

“As a matter of course, we invite full, prompt, and transparent correspondence from the FIA compliance department regarding this investigation and its contents.”

An F1 spokesperson 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.”

The controversy comes in the wake of worsening relations between F1 and the FIA on a number of fronts.

FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem said in February that he was stepping back from direct involvement in F1, a move that came after a series of controversies since he was elected president in December 2021.

These included receiving a “cease and desist” letter from F1’s lawyers following his reaction on social media to a story claiming Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund had tried to buy the sport for $20bn, and the emergence of a historic website that appeared to suggest he had made misogynistic remarks.

He has sought to clarify the remarks in an interview with the Press Association.external-link

But insiders say Ben Sulayem is as heavily involved in F1 matters as ever, and F1 teams have viewed a series of incidents in recent months as having a direct link to Ben Sulayem.

These include re-investigating Lewis Hamilton crossing the track during the Qatar Grand Prix, and calling Wolff and Ferrari team principal Frederic Vasseur to the stewards at the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi after they swore in a news conference at the previous race in Las Vegas.

A number of sources told BBC Sport at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last month that if Ben Sulayem continued to act in a manner senior figures considered to be detrimental to the sport, F1 owners Liberty Media would lose patience and consider breaking away from the FIA.

This was already considered by F1 last year before relations between the two parties were smoothed over.

2023-12-05 23:23:00
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