Motor racing-Hamilton calls for change at FIA after Wolff storm

FILE PHOTO: Formula One F1 - Saudi Arabia Grand Prix - Jeddah Corniche Circuit, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia - March 26, 2022 Mercedes' team principal Toto Wolff and wife Susie Wolff REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

(Reuters) -Lewis Hamilton called for change at Formula One's governing body on Friday after what he said was "unacceptable" treatment of his Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff's wife Susie over an alleged confidentiality breach.

The sport's most successful driver, a seven-times world champion who finished third overall this season, spoke out at a press conference ahead of the FIA's end-of-year prizegiving gala in Azerbaijan.

"A disappointing week really to see that the governing body of our sport has sought to question the integrity of one of the most incredible female leaders we've ever had in our sport," said the Briton.

"Without questioning, without any evidence. And then just saying sorry at the end, and that's just unacceptable.

"There is a constant fight to really improve diversity and inclusion within the industry but it seems that there are certain individuals in the leadership within the FIA that, every time we try to make a step forward, they try to pull us back, and that has to change."

Susie Wolff runs the all-female F1 Academy series, which involves all the F1 teams, and reports directly to Formula One chief executive Stefano Domenicali.

She said she had received online abuse after the FIA announced it was looking into media speculation about the transfer of confidential information between a team principal and a Formula One employee.

The governing body backed down on Thursday, after the Wolffs had been publicly identified as those involved and after Mercedes' rivals had denied making any complaint against either of them.

Toto Wolff said in a statement issued through Mercedes that there was an ongoing legal exchange with the FIA.

"We await full transparency about what took place and why, and have expressly reserved all legal rights," added the Austrian.

The FIA declared on Thursday there was "no ongoing investigation in terms of ethical or disciplinary inquiries involving any individuals."

The episode was widely interpreted as part of a greater power struggle between the FIA, run by emirati Mohammed Ben Sulayem, and Liberty Media-owned Formula One Management (FOM) and the teams.

Ben Sulayem took over at the end of 2021 and there have been numerous clashes with the commercial rights holder since then, notably the FIA backing U.S.-based Andretti's bid to be an 11th team in the face of opposition from Formula One and teams.

In a fresh twist, Ben Sulayem had been due to address the media in Baku on Friday but an FIA spokesman said the president had taken ill several days ago and suffered a fall and concussion.

"He received care in hospital and will make a full recovery," he added.

Susie Wolff, who raced in German touring cars and is an ex-Formula E team boss, said nobody from the FIA had spoken to her directly after two days of insinuations about her integrity.

"I might have been collateral damage in an unsuccessful attack on somebody else, or the target of a failed attempt to discredit me personally, but I have worked too hard to have my reputation called into question by an unfounded press release," she said.

"I will not allow myself to be intimidated and intend to follow up until I have found out who has instigated this campaign and misled the media.

"What happened this week is simply not good enough. As a sport, we must demand, and we deserve, better."

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Christian Radnedge)

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