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Toto Wolff

What exactly is going on with the FIA's investigation into Toto and Susie Wolff?

Just what is going on with the FIA's investigation into Toto and Susie Wolff - and what is the back-drop against it?

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Analysis
To news overview © XPBimages

To make sense of why the FIA's investigation into Toto and Susie Wolff for an alleged conflict of interest matters, first we must go back to basics.

Under the so-called 'franchise model' that has become the buzzword in recent times, the 10 teams on the grid are suppliers, who provide their product to the Commercial Rights Holder (Liberty Media, and by extension, Formula One Management (FOM)).

This product is then packaged and spruced up and passed on to consumers, broadcasters and fans.

By this, Toto Wolff provides his product to F1 which is then sold on, but he retains control of the product, with Mercedes a separate entity to F1.

Susie Wolff is a senior executive within F1 who reports to President and CEO Stefano Domenicali through her work running the in-house F1 Academy series, which launched earlier this year.

The claim against Toto Wolff is that in a recent meeting of Team Principals, he spoke of matters that the other bosses had no knowledge of, and which could only have come from within FOM.

Toto Wolff, in theory, could then use any information he has, that he should not, to his and Mercedes' advantage over rivals.

It is also suggested that Susie Wolff is also privy to information from team bosses that is advantageous to FOM - again a separate entity from the suppliers, the teams.

Susie Wolff, Mercedes and F1 all released statements on Tuesday evening following the short FIA statement confirming an investigation from the compliance unit into the alleged conflict of interest.

The allegations were flatly denied, with Wolff writing she was "deeply insulted" by the claims before stating her innocence.

On Wednesday evening, all nine of the other teams released co-ordinated statements denying their involvement in informing the FIA.

Clearly, Mercedes is not going to refer its own boss and his wife for investigation...

It should also be noted that in the FIA's original statement, it was claimed the information had come from a "member of FOM personnel."

It has not come from a team, if their statements are taken at face value, with the firm rejection of the FIA's statement, an in-direct message to President Mohammed Ben Sulayem - which is explored in detail below.

Is there any truth to the claims?

That is difficult to answer.

Most of the allegations stem from an article produced by a magazine.

In it, through multiple off-record sources from claimed team principals, Wolff's faux pas in revealing information he should not have had during a recent meeting is explained and how he immediately realised he had spoken of matters he should not have been privy to.

They are serious allegations, but at this point, remain firmly hearsay.

There is no concrete evidence against the Wolffs, but it must be said, that the FIA would not sanction a conflict of interest investigation into a senior employee and boss of a leading F1 team on a wing and a prayer.

Either way, it is right that the allegation is investigated, as is the Wolffs right to innocence throughout. Only if and when irrefutable evidence comes to light can the word 'guilty' be branded about.

It is not the first time Toto has found himself in hot water with the FIA, either.

In autumn 2022, he picked up the fact that Red Bull was in violation of the 2021 cost cap even before Red Bull was made aware, with the news first breaking during the Singapore Grand Prix weekend.

It was subsequently revealed that the information had come from Shaila-Ann Rao, a former Wolff secretary, with the FIA proceeding to hold an internal investigation into the leak. The results of that were never formally published, but Rao was fired by President Ben Sulayem.

			© XPBimages
	© XPBimages

The backdrop

This is playing out against a backdrop of increased tensions between the FIA and F1.

Let us not forget, it is the FIA Formula 1 World Championship and not the Formula 1 FIA World Championship.

The technical regulations are set by the FIA, who in effect provide the scope for cars and interested parties, while leasing out the commercial rights to Liberty Media and F1 itself to promote, advertise and put on the show.

The tug of war between the FIA and F1 has been rumbling for a while.

In the wreckage of Abu Dhabi 2021, an FIA official's (Michael Masi) mistake severely dented F1's reputation, and perhaps it will never recover given the high feelings the outcome have generated, especially amongst fans.

This power struggle is also being seen through the process in which Andretti is trying to get on the grid.

The FIA is well within its remit to open up the Expression of Interest process it did at the start of the year, with the Concorde Agreement - the document which F1 is governed by - allowing for 12 teams - or 24 cars.

Andretti has met all the FIA's criteria to be allowed to enter commercial discussions with F1 and other teams who firmly do not want another team and have to divide the pie 11 ways as opposed to 10.

Michael Andretti has effectively been used as a pawn in the scrum with the FIA attempting to assert its control over its championship and F1 - which has considered breaking away from FIA governance - firmly pulling back twice as hard.

F1, and Mercedes, also claimed that they were not made aware of the statement from the FIA announcing the investigation.

It is unclear what any sanctions against Toto or Susie Wolff would be if they are found guilty but the allegation is something not ideal to calming relations between the FIA and F1, especially with negotiations for the next Concorde Agreement - the ninth - on the horizon.

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