Red Bull had nothing to do with the FIA investigating a potential conflict of interest involving Formula 1 power couple Toto and Susie Wolff, team boss Christian Horner, as team bosses united denying being one or more of the whistleblowers.
Mercedes team boss Toto and F1 Academy series head Susie, the Austrian’s wife who works for commercial rights holder Formula One Management (FOM), were in the spotlight after the governing body issued a surprise statement on Tuesday.
In it, the FIA mentioned media speculation about “information of a confidential nature being passed to an F1 team principal from a member of FOM personnel” and said its compliance department was investigating.
According to a report in Business F1 magazine, other principals had raised concerns about possible leaks from private meetings.
“We have a big rivalry on track but we haven’t raised any official complaint either about Susie or Toto or Mercedes to the FIA,” Horner told Sky Sports television.
“In fact, Red Bull has been the team that has got most involved with Formula One Academy from its inception to the point that between the two Red Bull-owned teams we’ll be entering three cars.
“I think we, like others, were quite surprised (by) the statement that came out last night. It certainly wasn’t instigated or required or set off by Red Bull. This is an FIA thing. They’ve taken this action but certainly nothing to do with Red Bull,” Horner added.
Toto Wolff’s once-dominant Mercedes were champions Red Bull’s closest rivals last season and he and Horner have had a fierce rivalry over the years.
The all-female F1 Academy junior series is supporting seven grands prix next season. All 10 teams each nominate a driver and will have their livery on a car.
McLaren said in a statement: “We can confirm that McLaren Racing has not made any complaint to the FIA with regards to the allegation of information of a confidential nature being passed between an F1 Team Principal and a member of FOM staff. We are pleased and proud to support F1 Academy and its Managing Director through our commitment to sponsor an entrant in our livery from next season.”
Aston Martin released a copycat statement: “We can confirm that we have not made any complaint to the FIA regarding the allegation of information of a confidential nature being passed between an F1 Team Principal and a member of FOM staff. We are pleased and proud to support F1 Academy and its managing director through our commitment to sponsor an entrant in our liveries from next season.”
As did the eight other teams with graphics on Twitter sporting almost identical texts:
The storm broke after the FIA issued a statement saying it was looking into reports a team boss had received confidential information from an employee of the commercial rights holder.
Although the principal was not named, media identified him as Mercedes’ Toto Wolff whose wife Susie leads the all-female F1 Academy and reports to Formula One chief executive Stefano Domenicali.
“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,” the governing body said in a statement.
Susie Wolff, a former racer who was also previously a team boss in the all-electric Formula E series, said on Instagram that she felt “deeply insulted but sadly unsurprised” by the allegations.
“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. In the strongest possible terms, I reject these allegations.”
Liberty Media-owned Formula One said the FIA statement had not been shared with them in advance. They expressed “complete confidence that the allegations are wrong”, said “no member of our team has made any unauthorised disclosure to a team principal” and referred to “robust processes and procedures” to ensure the segregation of information.
Mercedes said the team had received no communication from the FIA Compliance Department “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.”
The www.motorsport.com website reported that some principals had expressed concern to FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem of a potential conflict of interest, although nothing had been said in public.
It said Ben Sulayem had asked the compliance department to investigate. An FIA spokesman could not comment on the matter. Formula 1 and the FIA have been at loggerheads on a number of issues since Ben Sulayem took office at the end of 2021.
Some team bosses also raised conflict of interest concerns last year when Shaila Ann-Rao, who had worked as a special adviser to Wolff, was appointed the FIA’s interim head of Formula One. She left the governing body less than six months later. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin; Additional Reporting by GRANDPrix247)