Lewis Hamilton: What i mean by FIA head Mohammed Ben Sulayem has never had my backing

Lewis Hamilton has delivered a damning assessment of the leader of Formula One’s governing body, stating he has never had confidence in Mohammed Ben Sulayem and lambasting the FIA and F1 for a lack of accountability.

Speaking before this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix, Hamilton criticised the sport’s male-dominated culture and praised Susie Wolff, the managing director of the all-female series the F1 Academy, for standing up for herself in filing a criminal complaint against the governing body over its handling of an investigation into a potential conflict of interest.

Wolff and her husband, the Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff, were investigated in December 2023 after an allegation that confidential information was passed between an employee of the sport’s owners Formula One Management (FOM) and a team member. The F1 Academy, which Wolff runs, is owned and run by FOM

The Wolffs denied the allegations and within two days the FIA adjudged neither party had a case to answer with no explanation of the rationale behind their investigation, its findings or how it reached its conclusions.

In Melbourne, after Wolff had made public that she had filed a complaint in early March, Hamilton was asked if Ben Sulayem, who has been president since December 2021, was the right person to be in charge of the FIA and if he enjoyed the British driver’s backing. His answer was unequivocal.

“He never has,” Hamilton stated bluntly. The seven-time world champion continued, expressing his disenchantment with how the sport was dealing with what it deems are internal issues and warned it was damaging the reputation of F1.

“There is a real lack of accountability here, within this sport, within the FIA,” he said. “There are things that are 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 and what is happening here if you don’t have that?”

When Susie Wolff was investigated last year she condemned it as causing huge reputational damage to her and her husband describing it as “insulting” and rooted “in intimidatory and misogynistic behaviour”. She made clear her intent to defend herself robustly.

“I’m incredibly proud of Susie,” Hamilton added. “I think she is so brave, and she stands for such great values. She’s such a leader and in a world where often people are silenced, for her to be standing up sends such a great message.

“So, hopefully this stand that she’s taking now will create change, will have a positive impact, and 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, and that is a terrible narrative to be projecting to the world, especially when we’re talking about inclusivity here in the sport. We need to make sure we stay true to the core values.”

The sport has been the subject of intense scrutiny in it deals with complaints, allegations and grievances, over question marks in transparency and process, which have been impossible to ignore in recent weeks.

On Wednesday Ben Sulayem was cleared after an investigation by the FIA’s own ethics committee into allegations made by a whistleblower that he had interfered in the result of the 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix and the homologation of the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix last year. No details of the allegations were released however, nor of the evidence presented to refute the claims.

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For two months the Red Bull team principal, Christian Horner, has been embroiled in a controversy over allegations of inappropriate behaviour made against him by a female employee. The grievances were dismissed by an independent investigation launched by Red Bull’s parent company and the employee in question has since been suspended by Red Bull Racing. Once more no details of the reason for the suspension, the inquiry, its evidence or its conclusions and how they were reached have been made public.

Wolff’s decision to launch a criminal complaint has ratcheted up the scrutiny on the FIA even further. The governing body will now have to account for its actions against the Wolffs publicly in a court in France, to explain who initiated the investigation, where the complaint originated and why.

At the time it appeared to have been instigated by a single unsubstantiated media report, insufficient alone to justify any inquiry, while all the other nine F1 teams made a unanimous statement in support stating they had not made any complaints against the Wolffs.

The FIA has yet to make any comment on Hamilton’s comments or Wolff’s legal action.


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