Motor racing-FIA compliance probe kicks up a storm in F1

FILE PHOTO: Formula One F1 - Italian Grand Prix - Circuit of Monza, Monza, Italy - August 30, 2018 General view of the FiA logo REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) -Formula One's governing body announced a compliance probe on Tuesday that drew a furious response from the sport's owners, top team Mercedes and one of the most senior women in motorsport.

The storm broke after the FIA issued a surprise 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 governing body said in a statement.

"The FIA compliance department is looking into the matter."

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 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 One 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, editing by Toby Davis)

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