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The FIA is facing intense scrutiny as indictments overshadow the current season, according to Giles Richards.
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The FIA is facing intense scrutiny as indictments overshadow the current season, according to Giles Richards.

It is often said that the most effective sporting governing bodies are those that work behind the scenes, without drawing attention to themselves. They strive to gain the approval of both participants and fans, and any signs of discontent, criticism, public complaints, or lack of trust are clear indications of trouble. This week in Formula One, such signs have spread throughout the paddock, signaling a chaotic time for the sport’s regulator, the FIA, which seems to have lost the respect and support of everyone involved.

As we approach the Australian Grand Prix this weekend, the FIA may have anticipated an uncomplicated weekend under the sunny Melbourne skies. They may have predicted that the statement clearing FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem of any involvement in two grand prix events, without providing specific information on the investigation, would be overshadowed by the ongoing controversy surrounding Christian Horner and Red Bull.

Unfortunately, the FIA has faced criticism and accusations on every front, which could be seen as a combination of bad fortune and poor decision-making. Rather than being commended, the organization has faced a string of harsh criticisms, as its every move and lack thereof has been thoroughly examined.

Just hours after Ben Sulayem was vindicated on Wednesday, Susie Wolff, who manages the all-female F1 Academy series, announced that she would be filing a criminal complaint against the FIA. This complaint is in regards to the conflict of interest investigation that the FIA conducted against Susie and her husband, Toto Wolff, who is the principal of the Mercedes team. The investigation was carried out in December of last year and it was found that the allegations were baseless and neither party had any wrongdoing.

Wolff was extremely angry about the harm to their reputation that was caused and the intimidating and misogynistic behavior that she believed was exhibited. Even more concerning, the FIA did not provide any justification for starting the investigation, which seemed to be based on one unsupported media report, or share its discoveries and results.

Her husband in Australia expressed the crucial importance of having the support and empathy of the entire paddock. His words were among the many aimed at the FIA since Wednesday.

“She is most concerned with uncovering the truth and holding people accountable and responsible, instead of sweeping things under the rug,” he stated. “As a sport, it is crucial for us to do this in every aspect, whether it is in Susie’s case or similar cases with other teams.”

The day following Wolff’s announcement of her lawsuit, Lewis Hamilton directly expressed his lack of faith in Ben Sulayem. This was a particularly damaging criticism, coming from the most prominent and well-known driver in the sport. Hamilton criticized the lack of responsibility within both the FIA and the world of racing, pointing out that without it, fans would lose faith in the credibility of the sport’s management.

Susie Wolff

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The words of the seven-time champion hold great weight and appear to have been brewing for quite some time. In 2022, following Ben Sulayem’s appointment as FIA president, Hamilton was specifically targeted and reprimanded for wearing jewelry while driving. Many felt this action was excessive and almost comical, likened to crushing a small insect with a large wheel. Hamilton expressed his belief that it was silly, a sentiment shared by fellow drivers and onlookers.

He stated that, in comparison to larger problems and causes we should be addressing, the disagreement during the Miami GP that year was insignificant, likening our actions to playing a sport.

At the time, he publicly stated that he thought he could collaborate with Ben Sulayem, but he was already quite frustrated. His comments in Melbourne indicate that he was possibly just trying to be diplomatic at the time. Now, two years later, it’s clear that he has lost his patience.

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He was not the only one facing challenges. On Friday, there were continuous criticisms. The majority of the inquiries during the team principals’ press conference were about the FIA, its responsibility, its clearness, its efficiency, and if anyone could trust its methods.

McLaren’s CEO, Zak Brown, echoed what was becoming a tsunami of discontent. Of the FIA marking its own homework in its investigation into Ben Sulayem he pointedly noted they had not even shown their working. “Nothing was kind of explained to us, both on the front end and on the back end,” he said.

“According to the speaker, we are currently living in 2024, not 1984, and this demands complete transparency. Although we all desire for these different issues to be resolved so we can resume motor racing, unanswered questions will continue to prompt further inquiries.”

Ben Sulayem, who has already experienced his fair share of controversy and confrontation during his presidency, now bears the burden of dealing with this pressure. The weekend’s events have also cast doubt on his position.

As of Friday evening, the FIA had not made any statement regarding Wolff’s legal proceedings, Hamilton’s comments, or the scrutiny surrounding its own investigation. These events have brought attention to underlying concerns about the organization and its operations. It is reminiscent of a dejected manager, visibly worn out, retreating to the sidelines as his team passes by, seemingly unimpressed, and yet another important match is lost.

Source: theguardian.com