I applaud the FIA, Formula 1’s governing body for looking into a possible “conflict of interest” in Susie Wolff’s appointment to F1 Academy managing director in the light of her husband Toto Wolff heading Mercedes.
What’s going on? This statement by the governing body was the trigger: “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.”
To which F1 management responded: “We note the public statement made by the FIA this evening that was not shared with us in advance.” [Don’t they hate being caught unaware!!!]
“We have complete confidence that the allegations are wrong, and we have robust processes and procedures that ensure the segregation of information and responsibilities in the event of any potential conflict of interest.
“We are confident that no member of our team has made any unauthorised disclosure to a team principal and would caution anyone against making imprudent and serious allegations without substance,” the F1 statement added.
Before moving on and for the record, I have always admired Wolff for leading the German team to 15 F1 titles in eight years. He built the most effective winning machine the sport has ever seen. That’s his racing legacy for me. Undeniable and full kudos to him. And I know the Ross Brawn name will be mentioned, also Niki Lauda etc. But in the end, Toto made it happen under his watch.
Toto’s ‘extra-curricular activities’ are what should be of concern
Not only was he head of the Mercedes F1 team, he also became big boss of the entire Mercedes Motorsport programme in 2013, including a formidable DTM programme. “Conflict of interest” is not a new phrase being bandied about regarding Wolff, apparently with his fingers (and probably) toes in so many pies.
The reality is that it is now being asked by officialdom. The FIA, who as owners/governors of the sport, have a duty to do so. It’s ugly and not pleasant, more like hardcore police work but someone has to do it.
Early on during his tenure as Merc boss, I became aware that Toto not only backed emerging talent of the time Valtteri Bottas, but also began to sign a slew of drivers such as Pascal Wehrlein, Esteban Ocon, and George Russell among the more illustrious. All leveraged into F1 drives thanks to Mercedes backing.
There has long been a line of opinion that Toto Wolff has simply been too powerful in F1 since the day Mercedes started dominating the sport when the F1 turbo-hybrid era kicked in back in 2014. But who is Susie?
Susie Stoddart, who raced since the early 2000s, in 2006 secured a drive with Mercedes in DTM with Mucke Motorsport at the time Norbert Haug was the boss of Merc Motorsport.
Simultaneously, Wolff was aware of Susie over the years before the love interest awakened, in Toto’s own words: “It was a day in March or April 2009, at a DTM test. So our first candlelight dinner was in a small hotel near the race track.” They married in October 2011.
From wannabe F1 driver to Formula E team principal of Venturi powered by MercedesEQ
Thereafter, Susie remained with the Mercedes DTM programme, with little success, for seven years before quitting to join the Williams F1 team as a test driver on 11 April 2012. In January 2013, Toto departed the Grove outfit to become executive director of the Mercedes Formula 1 Team.
On 4 November 2015, Susie ‘retired’ from F1 and all forms of race driving, but stayed on as Mercedes ambassador in 2016, getting to test the Mercedes-AMG One as a reward.
In 2018, Susie became a shareholder and team principal of Venturi Racing in Formula E as Team Principal and also became a shareholder in the team, which entered into a powertrain supply deal with Mercedes at the time.
Susie remained with the outfit until departing as CEO of Venturi, when the Monaco-HQed team opted to rebrand to Maserati MSG Racing and ditch the Mercedes connection they previously had.
On 1 March 2023, Susie was appointed managing director of the newly launched all-female F1 Academy racing series under F1 management. And now we have a ‘conflict of interest’ hornet’s nest.
Driver, team owner, series organiser… What next for Susie? Smells to me as if the Wolffs are planning a siege of the FIA presidency sometime in the future, not for the hubby though! And not merely to dethrone Ben Sulayem but also to beat Fabiana Ecclestone, yes her!
Some say P1 of the FIA is her endgame. And to be brutally honest, 46-year-old Fabiana could be needing something to do when 92-year-old Bernie expires. I digress…
In the spotlight is Susie Wolff’s role as F1 Academy boss
Why the Susie bio? To set the background. The first question that pops to mind is, were there “conflicts of interest” ever in her time as a Mercedes driver? Did Susie get the nod because of who she knew or how fast she was?
One could go on and on, asking a multitude of questions that simply need clarifying (that’s all) that there indeed was no “conflict of interests” at Williams, as Mercedes Ambassador at Venturi etc etc
The all-female F1 Academy series (F4 level cars) was funded, ultimately by Liberty Media to push the all-inclusive agenda for the pinnacle of the sport. One imagines Susie signed on to the F1 management team by CEO Stefano Domenicali.
Before the Brit-media-led lynch mob blames the FIA and its President Mohammed Ben Sulayem for meddling in F1, be 100% sure this Toto-Susie Wolff “conflict of interest” saga is not something the Federation detectives unearthed. The tip-off came from rival F1 team bosses. Yes, plural of that. Of course, they will deny it on mass. What whistleblowers put up their hands when the flames are hot? This will come out in a book at some point.
Armed with concerns they claim aired by Wolff’s peers in the F1 paddock (that’s why it’s called a Piranha Pool!) the FIA has to act. Has to investigate. That’s their job as the governing body and owners of the sport. As mentioned, a dirty task but one that has to be done. If they did not investigate that, and the raft of other ‘grey areas’ that need clarifying, it would be a dereliction of duty.
It’s clear that under Ben Sulayem the FIA is playing by the book. As they did calling out Wolff for his behaviour towards journalists, one, in particular, got a totally uncalled-for tirade from the Mercedes boss, clearly a student of ‘Shoot The Messenger School of Media Management’ and deserved a hefty fine and an apology too.
Was the F1 Academy boss a ‘jobs for pals’ scheme? Other candidates?
That the FIA took him to task is commendable but also their duty to deal with workplace bullying. But I want to believe Toto got the warning not because he said the f@ck-word, but because of the disrespect he showed to a seasoned journalist simply doing his job. Aka answering not-so-comfortable questions that make Toto squirm, or trip out in anger. The truth hurts is true.
At one point Wolff warned his counterpart: “You’re putting yourself in more trouble…”
Really? Megalomania immediately sprung to my mind. Too much uncontrolled power. Therein lies the problem. Sure F1 TPs all have business interests and ventures to a degree, and hopefully more and more will be investigated or exposed in biographies and the like.
But the Wolffs are on another level. With many, many questions to answer while F1 – Domenicali – has to explain how the appointment of Susie Wolff to F1 Academy boss came about. Was this position advertised? Who were the other candidates? Is this a ‘job for pals’ scheme?
Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely
For us running an F1 news site with little interest in what was an F4 series for females, the W-Series was in essence the same thing as F1 Academy.
Different names and different paint jobs. Prompting questions: Why did they kill one to create the exact same thing all over again? Why not invest to save the original W-Series? Where is Catherine Bond Muir?
Susie and Toto probably have simple and easily explained answers to all the questions. This is good because we (plus Ferrari, Haas, Sauber, Red Bull, AlphaTauri, Alpine etc) have a right to ask for explanations and they’re obligated to answer as
For some reason at this point of the tale my brain borrowed from John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton, 13th Marquess of Groppoli: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Of course, we expect there is no “conflict of interest” in this saga. However, for it to go away forever, all we need is for The Wolffs of F1 Street to simply clarify so we all understand. And that’s where the FIA come in. So over to them and let light be shed, and do the dirty work for us.
Big Question: Is Toto Wolff too powerful for the good of Formula 1?