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F1 in danger of being undermined by political controversies

A number of bad news stories have overtaken the on-track activities at the start of the season. So how much will this threaten F1's long-term future?

Horner Ben Sulayem Bahrain
To news overview © XPBimages

F1's new season may be underway but the on-track headlines have been dwarfed my a number of issues off it.

Political issues have threatened to destabilise the sport since December and any hope of things being evened out before racing began fell well short.

It leaves F1 facing a pivotal period to ensure the work to grow over the past half a decade is not thrown away. Here's a look at all the issues that pose such a threat.

Toto and Susie Wolff investigation

Following the end of the 2023 season, the FIA announced that Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff and wife Susie, who is the F1 Academy managing director, were under investigation for a potential conflict of interest.

That followed a report by BusinessF1 that suggested rival F1 teams had allegedly made complaints over the passing of confidential information between the Wolffs.

It was claimed Toto had access to information from FOM meetings from Susie that was otherwise inaccessible to rival team principals, and vice-versa, with Susie privy to team principal discussions.

The rival teams, however, came to the defence of the Wolffs, with each releasing an identical statement on social media, leading to the FIA soon dropping its investigation.

The situation was, however, a sour note on which to begin the winter break. Unfortunately, not much good news has since followed.

Andretti entry denied

Andretti bidding to enter F1 could have been the good news story the sport needed.

The American team had passed the initial two phases of the entry process with the FIA but still needed commercial ratification from F1.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the opposition from the incumbent teams across the past 12 months, the bid was rejected - though not permanently - but with seemingly no chance of joining in the next two years.

It was a blow for both Andretti, General Motors and its brand Cadillac, as well as for F1 fans - who had been calling for an extra team - and the US marketplace, which would have been firmly behind one of its most successful enterprises.

But the most damaging part of the saga for F1's image was the wording of the decision document, particularly the way it suggested Andretti could not provide sufficient value.

There was an air of arrogance to the statement and that did not go down well with the swathes of fans on social media, during a time when the newest members of the audience, picked up during the excitement of the 2021 title battle, are beginning to switch off because of the on-track dominance of Red Bull.

It felt like the sport was shooting itself in the foot, even if there were plenty of valid, commercial reasons to deny the entry.

			© XPBimages
	© XPBimages

Horner allegations and Red Bull turmoil

The story that has stolen the headlines since February continues to rumble on ahead of this weekend's Australian Grand Prix.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has been forced to vehemently defend himself after allegations emerged of inappropriate behaviour following a complaint aired against by a female member of the team.

Parent company, Red Bull GmbH, launched an investigation into Horner but, ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix, the 'grievance' was dismissed.

That, though, was not the end of the matter as an anonymous email source leaked alleged evidence from the case to rival team principals, F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali, FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem, Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei and senior members of the media.

Whilst the veracity of the documents has not yet been confirmed, it placed Horner on the defensive again, with a statement released denying any wrongdoing.

But the fallout has resulted in turmoil within the Red Bull ranks, with Verstappen's father Jos and motorsport advisor Helmut Marko also embroiled in the scandal.

The latest is that the accuser is set to appeal the verdict, whilst the FIA has responded to a claim that a letter of complaint was written by the woman.

There is a matter still far from resolved, and which has hugely overshadowed the action on track at the start of the season.

FIA whistleblower

Whilst the Horner saga has been simmering, a report from the BBC revealed claims from a whistleblower against Ben Sulayem.

Claim one highlighted potential race tampering, suggesting Ben Sulayem had contacted FIA representatives to overturn a penalty handed to Aston Martin driver Fernando Alonso at last year's Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

The second claimed Ben Sulayem had sought ways to deny the Las Vegas Street Circuit the necessary certification for an F1 race to be held there.

As we know, the event did go ahead in November but the accusation is that, had Ben Sulayem had his way, the circuit homologation would have failed due to whatever reasoning could be presented by the FIA officials.

There is nothing to suggest that the accusations are either right or wrong but an investigation by the Ethics Committee is underway.

			© XPBimages
	© XPBimages

Where does F1 go from here?

This is without doubt a turbulent period for the sport, with several controversies garnering unwanted headlines, whether it is from the competitors, the sport itself or the governing body.

The most troubling aspect has been the lack of transparency in each case. Whilst some are more complex, and confidentiality has to be respected, there is still an amount of information that should be made available to offer clarity and allow the sport to be seen as reacting responsibly.

It is important to stress that so far no wrongdoing has been proven in any situation. But the continuous off-track noise is in danger of completely undermining all the work thousands of people have done in factories over the past six months to prepare for the new campaign.

For any new fans entering the sport, we should be showing off the cars and the racing, rather than becoming bogged down by squallid wranglings. Off track, F1 simply must improve.

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