Toto Wolff (AUT, Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team), Susie Wolff (GBR, Managing Director F1 Academy), F1 Grand Prix of Las Vegas at Las Vegas Strip Circuit
Formula One’s governing bodies are facing a scandal, and this time, it’s one of their own making.
The sport, whose 2023 season concluded in Abu Dhabi in November, has been thrown into disarray over its treatment of one of its most famous families.
Earlier this week, the FIA — Formula One’s governing body — announced it was investigating Mercedes team leader Toto Wolff and his wife, Susie, the head of F1’s women’s racing series. They allegedly shared behind-the-scenes information with each other about key regulatory updates.
The possibility of illegal information-sharing is a product of F1’s unique organizational structure. While the FIA runs rules, regulations and racing series, another organization — Formula One Group (often abbreviated to FOM) — runs the commercial interests of the 10 F1 teams.
The organizations are equally powerful and often in conflict.
Susie Wolff, as head of the women’s F1 Academy series, reports through the FIA; Toto Wolff, as head of Mercedes, reports through FOM.
The FIA’s statement noted that one of F1’s 10 racing teams had made a complaint on behalf of FOM and triggered the investigation. However, mere hours after the investigation was made public, every F1 team denied being responsible for the complaint and came out in full support of both Wolffs.
To make things more interesting, the 10 teams also noted the FIA’s statement was a shock to them. “We note that the public statement made by the FIA this evening was not shared with us in advance,” the teams said, per CNN. “We have complete confidence that the allegations are wrong.”
With all 10 teams surprised by the allegations and convinced of the Wolffs’ innocence, where did FIA pull this investigation from?
The answer appears to be rather damning. It came from BusinessF1, a small-time F1 publisher, making an unsubstantiated claim.
But why would the FIA risk its reputation — and the reputation of its racing series — on such a flimsy case?
It all comes down to the relationship between the FIA and FOM. The FIA is relentlessly focused on increasing F1’s reach and influence; FOM cares more about protecting the interests of the existing F1 teams. In recent spats, FOM has come out ahead. The FIA, meanwhile, appears to have seen this scandal as a means to discredit FOM, and particularly Toto Wolff, one of its more charismatic and influential members.
But doing so by launching an attack on his wife — a respected racing driver in her own right who is adored by the F1 community — was a huge miscalculation by the FIA, and one that many, including Susie herself, believe reeks of misogyny.
Unfortunately, it’s not the only time the FIA has shown its hand regarding the role of women in F1.
FIA leader Mohammed Ben Sulayem once stated he “does not like women who think they are smarter than men, for they are not in truth.” When confronted about that opinion in November, Sulayem defended his stance and called the “smear campaign” led against him “inhuman.”
On Thursday, FIA announced that it would be dropping its investigation into the Wolffs, effectively ending the storm in a teacup it created.
But memories of the organization’s attempt to harm its own teams will linger for a long time.
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