Lewis Hamilton: Susie Wolff’s stand vital to regain trust in F1

Susie Wolff has made acriminal complaint against governing body the FIA (Picture: Shutterstock)

Formula One is Down Under for round three of the season, with Max Verstappen hoping to repeat a record tenth consecutive win.

With the Dutchman threatening to steamroller the championship once again, the focus in the paddock remains on a growing list of controversies affecting some of the most powerful people in the sport.

The FIA finds itself the target of a criminal complaint launched by Susie Wolff, the managing director of the all-female F1 Academy and wife of Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff, following the governing body’s short-lived conflict of interest inquiry into the Wolffs in December.

The probe arose after a report in trade magazine Business F1 claimed other team principals had alleged Susie, who is employed by F1’s commercial rights holder, was slipping Toto insider information. At the time, she described the allegations as ‘intimidatory and misogynistic’. The case was dropped, with every team putting out a statement denying they had complained about the Wolffs.

The couple feel the FIA’s actions were unwarranted and tarnished their reputations. On Wednesday, Susie issued a statement: ‘There has still not been any transparency or accountability in relation to the conduct of the FIA and its personnel in this matter. Whilst some may think silence absolves them of responsibility, it does not.’

FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem was cleared by his own organisation’s ethics committee this week after he was accused of meddling with the result of last year’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix and attempting to block the certification of the Las Vegas GP circuit back in November.

But, with widespread criticism of his temperament, pressure is mounting on the FIA membership to select a new leader when the Emirati’s four-year term ends in December 2025. Now Lewis Hamilton has added his voice to the chorus that Ben Sulayem should go.

He says he has never supported the FIA chief, and believes the sport is sending out a ‘message that if you file a complaint, you will be fired’ amid the ongoing Christian Horner controversy.

Lewis Hamilton in Australia, where he has spoken out on F1's big issues

Lewis Hamilton in Australia, where he spoke out on F1’s big issues (Picture: Getty Images)

The woman who made allegations of inappropriate and controlling behaviour concerning the Red Bull team principal – which he denies and was cleared of – remains suspended on full pay and is appealing the company’s decision to dismiss her complaint.

Asked if Ben Sulayem remains the right person to lead the FIA and if he still had his backing, Hamilton replied: ‘He never has.’

He added: ‘There is a real lack of accountability here, within the sport. There are things happening behind closed doors, there is no transparency, there is really no accountability and we need that. The fans need that.

‘How can you trust the sport if you don’t have that?

‘So, hopefully this stand that [Susie’s] taking will have a positive impact, especially for women. It is still a male-dominated sport and we’re living in a time where the message is if you file a complaint, you will be fired. That is a terrible narrative to be projecting to the world, especially when we’re talking about inclusivity in the sport.’

That is something the Formula One Group has been keen to communicate and, with the FIA president and Red Bull’s senior management seeming to cause reputational strife, it would not be a surprise if owners Liberty will soon be leaning on key stakeholders to show Horner and Ben Sulayem the door.

Max Verstappen (centre) and his manager Raymond Vermeulen (right) talk with Red Bull chief Christian Horner ahead of the Australian Grand Prix (Picture: AFP via Getty)

Max Verstappen is flattered by Mercedes interest but would rather keep it in the family

Max Verstappen has slightly rowed back on his threat to leave Red Bull Racing should the team’s internal management tussle result in the deposing of his mentor, Helmut Marko.

With the revelation his contract contains a break clause if Dr Marko leaves Red Bull, there has been fevered speculation Mercedes might recruit him to take over from Lewis Hamilton next season. Toto Wolff said he would ‘love’ to sign the triple world champion.

‘It’s always nice to hear that,’ responded Verstappen in Melbourne yesterday. ‘From my side, it doesn’t change anything.

‘I don’t know what will happen after 2028 [when his contract ends], if I will stay in F1 or sign a new deal. I am happy within the team. It is my intention to be here in the end.’

There is speculation Red Bull may be at a powertrain disadvantage from 2026 onwards, which may have spooked Verstappen into considering his options. Tellingly, he said yesterday, ‘if I didn’t perform, I wouldn’t be sitting here’.

He added it is important for Red Bull to retain talent across the board if they are to continue to dominate, which likely includes both Marko and Christian Horner. ‘For me, it is a second family,’ he said.

‘In a family, there might sometimes be disagreements. A lot of people have contributed to the success of this team and that has to be respected. It’s important to keep them together, happy and in the same roles.’

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