Seven-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton has criticised the FIA for questioning the integrity of Susie Wolff by drawing public attention to unfounded allegations “without questioning [or] any evidence”.
F1 Academy boss Susie Wolff, her husband Toto, and his Mercedes F1 team have criticised the FIA and hinted at possible legal action after an inquiry into allegations of a potential conflict of interest and sharing of confidential information between the Wolffs.
The FIA said earlier this week its compliance department was looking into the matter then dropped it two days later, supposedly satisfied any infraction could not have taken place and stating no investigation was ongoing.
Speaking ahead of the FIA’s prizegiving ceremony in Baku on Friday, Mercedes driver Hamilton said: “It has been a challenging week, a disappointing week really, to see that 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, without questioning, without any evidence and then just saying sorry at the end.
“That’s just unacceptable.”
The FIA’s conclusion to its short-lived probe did not actually feature an apology.
It stated it was satisfied that the F1 organisations’ “compliance management system is robust enough to prevent any unauthorised disclosure of confidential information”, that there was no ongoing investigation into any individual.
It also stated the FIA “has a duty to maintain the integrity of global motorsport” and “reaffirms its commitment to integrity and fairness”.
This has been deemed an unsatisfactory resolution given the comments made by the Wolffs on Friday.
Susie Wolff wants to uncover “who has instigated this campaign and misled the media”, as she feels she “might have been collateral damage in an unsuccessful attack on somebody else, or the target of a failed attempt to discredit me personally”.
Hamilton said it was evidence of how there is a “constant fight” to improve inclusivity in F1 and motorsport in general, which he feels is being undermined.
“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,” Hamilton said.
“And that has to change.
“This is a global sport. And we have such an incredible opportunity and responsibility to be leaders of change.
“As we’re traveling to all those countries around the world, we have a responsibility to make sure that we’re pushing in the right direction.
“I do want to acknowledge that there are a lot of people that are doing great work.
“But we need to make some changes to make sure that we’re all pushing in the right direction.”
BEN SULAYEM HAS 'FALL AND CONCUSSION'
Hamilton was speaking in the same forum in which FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem was due to give an opening address on Friday.
Ben Sulayem is attending its prizegiving gala in Baku but appears to have switched to a lower-profile role.
The FIA says that he required hospital care after suffering a fall and a concussion “several days ago”.
It has been widely interpreted that Ben Sulayem instigated the probe of the Wolffs, which has been criticised as another flashpoint between the FIA and other F1 stakeholders during his presidency.
The FIA has not responded to the Mercedes and Susie Wolff statements, with the only communication coming around Ben Sulayem’s health and confirming he will attend the prizegiving ceremony. He is supposedly due to hand out fewer awards than initially planned.
“Several days ago the president took ill and suffered a fall and concussion,” an FIA spokesperson told The Race.
“He received care in hospital and will make a full recovery.
“He would like to thank the medical staff and Mr Anar Alakbarov and his team for their help, and to all those in the FIA family that have sent their well wishes.”
What ‘several’ days means in this context is unclear as it would imply it happened earlier in the week, when Ben Sulayem was able to attend the FIA General Assembly.
On Wednesday morning he had shared a post of a "great first day" at the event on the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. The video in that post has subsequently been deleted.
He is believed to have missed some FIA duties on Wednesday, with illness cited then, by which point the saga with the Wolffs and F1 had already started.