All nine of Mercedes’ Formula One rivals have issued identically-worded statements denying they made “any formal complaint” about a potential conflict of interest in the relationship between Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff and his wife, F1 managing director Susie Wolff.
Motorsport’s world governing body 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 apparently briefed before the FIA’s statement dropped that it referred to Toto and Susie Wolff.
The blanket denial from Mercedes’ rivals raises serious questions about who triggered the story and why.
Mercedes are understood to suspect the FIA of a deliberate attempt at reputational damage stemming from the long-running feud between Toto Wolff and FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem.
Both Mercedes and F1 responded on Tuesday evening with statements rejecting the accusations and making clear their frustration with the FIA’s handling of the matter.
Mercedes remain unhappy they did not receive any prior communication from the FIA about the matter, even though the governing body appeared to have briefed media. It is understood they were yet to receive anything from the FIA by Wednesday evening.
Susie Wolff, meanwhile, said she was “deeply insulted but sadly unsurprised” by the claims. In a social media post, she described the allegations as “intimidatory and misogynistic”.
FIA president Ben Sulayem has been accused of sexist and bullying behaviour in the past.
Telegraph Sport revealed earlier this year that Shaila-Ann Rao, the FIA’s former interim secretary general for motorsport, sent a letter alleging numerous instances of sexist behaviour on the part of the FIA president prior to her abrupt departure last December.
A number of other FIA employees past and present made similar allegations in the same article.
Ben Sulayem and Toto Wolff have engaged in a long-running feud, which blew up in Abu Dhabi 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.
Masi was later dismissed after he was adjudged to have made a “human error”. But Ben Sulayem claimed recently that he would offer the Australian another job if a suitable role came up, upsetting Wolff, who described Masi as an “idiot” adding the “scars” from that day would never heal.
There is clearly a suspicion on Mercedes’ part – as with the formal warning with which Wolff was issued after swearing in a recent press conference – that the FIA is trying to provoke, with Susie Wolff collateral damage in the feud.
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 a reference to a recent article in BusinessF1 magazine suggesting 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 is sure to grow.
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.