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Delving Into the Conflict-of-Interest Saga Between the FIA and the Wolffs

Written by Traber Burns, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri

Toto and Susie Wolff; Credit - Kym Illman/Getty Images

Yet another chapter has begun in the metaphorical book of recent tension between the FIA and FOM. On Wednesday, the FIA broke the news of their compliance department looking into an incident of confidential information being passed between an F1 team principal, and a member of the Formula One Management (FOM).

While the Wolffs were highly suspected, the subjects of the matter were confirmed when both Toto and Susie Wolff laid out their own public statements. Susie’s statement particularly stood out, as she said she was “deeply insulted but unsurprised” by the fact that her integrity was being called into question, and claimed intimidation and misogyny to be behind the claims.

This story has emerged as a bit of a slow burn. The original source of this allegation is from Business F1 Magazine, a publication proven to be skeptical when it comes to credible news, as stated by various journalists.

However, as time went on, bigger and more credible publications like Sky, BBC, and The Guardian started coming out with their take on the allegations. Sky Sports has even reported unnamed sources hinting at multiple F1 team principals raising concerns about the possible conflict of interest between the Wolffs. Only after this sequence of events, the FIA posted their statement:

The FIA is 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 personnel. The FIA Compliance Department is looking into the matter.

This sent PR teams into high gear, as each and every constructor released a statement, denying any submission of concern to the FIA on the matter. At this point, there has been no concrete evidence, and other than the FIA’s statement, nothing has been made official yet.

Multiple background pieces are at play here, but let’s start with the primary subjects at hand: Toto Wolff and Susie Wolff. Toto is the team principal at Mercedes F1, and has a major financial stake in the team.

On the other hand, his wife Susie Wolff (formerly Susie Stoddart), who he married in 2011, is a former driver who had a seven-year career in DTM, and was a test and reserve driver for Williams F1.

After retiring from racing in 2015, she joined Mercedes F1 as an ambassador, before becoming the team principal of the Venturi Formula E team in 2018. When the team announced their rebranding to Maserati MSG Racing prior to the debut season of the Gen3 era of Formula E, Susie decided to make her exit.

In early 2023, she was given the role of managing director of F1 Academy, the all-female F4-level development series. Her resume leaves no doubt about her qualifications, but considering her husband’s position, it’s understandable why some teams would raise concerns over her position within FOM. The specifics of what information could’ve been shared is unclear too.

Susie Wolff used to be a reserve driver for Williams; Image Credit - Hoch Zwei/Getty Images

This also adds to the ongoing tension between Liberty Media and the FIA. FOM is the commercial rights holder of Formula One, owned by Liberty Media and headed by Stefano Domenicali.

In layman’s terms, they handle the financial/commercial side of F1. The FIA are the rule makers and enforcers. FOM pay the FIA to set the rulebook, run the races, and ensure a fair playing field.

However, the two parties always see it that way. While Liberty Media believes they are the true owners of Formula One, the FIA considers themselves the landlord, having sold the commercial rights in a 100-year deal.

With this backdrop of disagreement already, it’s easy to see why any commercial statements made by FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem have kicked off controversy. Ben Sulayem — who was appointed back in late 2021 — has upset FOM with instances like his comments on a possible sale to Saudi Arabia, and the FIA’s approval of Andretti's Formula One bid.

This could very well be nonsense from a trashy tabloid, which is why it’s quite odd to hear the FIA entertaining this as a possibility. Is this just another episode of the tug-of-war between the FIA and FOM, or do these accusations have a basis? At the moment, all we can hope for is a clearer view through the extremely muddy waters of this saga.

In a turn of events, the FIA has officially ended its compliance investigation towards the Wolffs, only 48 hours after having accused them of a conflict-of-interest between the couple.


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