Motor racing-F1 teams deny complaining to FIA about the Wolffs

FILE PHOTO: Formula One F1 - Mexico City Grand Prix - Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, Mexico City, Mexico - October 28, 2023 Red Bull team principal Christian Horner before qualifying REUTERS/Andres Stapff/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) -Formula One teams on Wednesday denied complaining to the governing body about Mercedes principal Toto Wolff and his wife Susie, who runs the sport's all-female F1 Academy series.

The paddock's power couple were in the spotlight after the FIA issued a surprise statement on Tuesday announcing its compliance department was looking into media speculation about a potential conflict of interest.

According to a report in Business F1 magazine, some team principals had raised concerns about possible leaks of information from private meetings.

Nine of the 10 teams, all except Mercedes who issued their reaction on Tuesday, published almost identical statements via social media that effectively undermined the premise of the investigation.

"We can confirm that we have not made any complaint to the FIA regarding the allegation of information of a confidential nature being passed between an F1 Team Principal and a member of FOM staff," they said.

"We are pleased and proud to support F1 Academy and its managing director through our commitment to sponsor an entrant in our liveries from next season."

The F1 Academy aims to help women climb the motorsport ladder to Formula One and is supporting seven grands prix next season.

All 10 teams each nominate a driver and will have their livery on a car.

Susie Wolff, a former racer who reports to Formula One chief executive Stefano Domenicali and is one of the most senior women in motorsport, issued her own statement on Tuesday saying she felt "deeply insulted" to have her integrity questioned.

She spoke also of "intimidatory and misogynistic behaviour" that was "focused on my marital status rather than my abilities".

Her wording acquired particular resonance in the light of FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem being embroiled in a controversy last January over decades-old sexist comments attributed to him that appeared on an old personal website.

Mercedes also rejected allegations against Toto that it said "wrongly impinges on the integrity and compliance of our team principal."

Liberty Media-owned Formula One meanwhile expressed "complete confidence that the allegations are wrong".

Red Bull boss Christian Horner said his dominant team had a big rivalry on track with championship runners-up Mercedes but had not raised any official complaint against Susie, Toto or Mercedes to the FIA.

"In fact, Red Bull has been the team that has got most involved with Formula One Academy from its inception, to the point that between the two Red Bull-owned teams we'll be entering three cars," he told Sky Sports television.

"I think we, like others, were quite surprised (by) the statement that came out last night. It certainly wasn't instigated or required or set off by Red Bull."

"This is an FIA thing. They've taken this action but certainly nothing to do with Red Bull," he added.

Toto Wolff and Horner have had a fierce, and sometimes almost theatrical, rivalry over the years fuelled by the popular Netflix docu-series 'Drive to Survive'.

Formula One and the FIA have also been at loggerheads repeatedly since Ben Sulayem took the helm at the end of 2021, with the possible addition of U.S.-based Andretti as an 11th team the latest sticking point.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis)

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