F1 bosses hit out at FIA: We’re living in 2024, not 1984

Formula 1's governing body is in the midst of juggling three different controversies at once

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McLaren’s Zak Brown and Ferrari’s Frederic Vasseur have called on the FIA to become more transparent in the wake of recent controversies surrounding the governing body for car-based motorsport in racing.

In recent weeks, the FIA has had to navigate claims that its president was attempting to interfere with a race result, a managing director of a racing series suing the organisation and a second reception of a formal compliant against Christian Horner, after two previous attempts were ignored, as the body catches negative press.

As a result, for the third Grand Prix in a row this season, much of the chatter has been about scandals connected to figures away from the 20 men who will climb into the cars and race each other around the world leaving bosses lamenting the poor state of affairs.

“Look, all the items that have come to light here in recent times are very serious situations,” Brown, McLaren CEO, said to media at the 2024 Australian GP. “I think we’re living in 2024 not 1984 which means total transparency.

“I think the three situations are different, but all very serious and I think we need to make sure that things are done in a transparent, truly independent manner. I think everyone should welcome transparency.

“Everyone would like these various topics to enable us to go back to motor racing, but I think until all the unanswered questions are answered, people will continue to ask questions. So, I don’t think it’s a great situation that we’re in that we’re three races into the calendar and we’re still talking about these issues.

“But there’s not been in the level of transparency and need to make sure that everyone has an equal opportunity to speak up.”

Whilst Vasseur agreed that more clarity is needed, his frustration at the affair detracting from the racing was clear in his language as he also stressed that the FIA must be given the freedom, time and privacy to conduct their own investigations too.

He hit out at journalists looking for comments on the FIA’s internal affairs by suggesting that they are commenting on hearsay instead of evidence-based matters.

“Transparency is key, and we have to trust the governance for this,” Vasseur added to media at the Albert Park Circuit. “But don’t ask us to make any comments because that we don’t have access to evidence.

“I think to make comments just based on gossips, rumours and so, just creates another layer of… I won’t say the word because I’ll have to go to the stewards… I think at one stage that we just have to trust the governing body.

“Perhaps I’m a bit naive, but I think that we have to give them the responsibility to do the job.”

Zak Brown, Peter Bayer, Frederic Vasseur and Alessandro Alunni Bravi face questions for McLaren, RB, Ferrari and Sauber at the team representatives press conference before the 2024 Australian GP| Robert Cianflone/Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool
Zak Brown, Peter Bayer, Frederic Vasseur and Alessandro Alunni Bravi face questions for McLaren, RB, Ferrari and Sauber at the team representatives press conference before the 2024 Australian GP| Robert Cianflone/Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Bayer warns the risks of blind transparency

One interesting figure present to get an answer from is Peter Bayer, who served as the former general secretary for the FIA before leaving in 2022 before taking up a role as the CEO of AlphaTauri, who are now RB.

With knowledge of how the FIA works itself and the risk of speaking out against someone employed by the same conglomerate at Red Bull GmbH, the 52-year-old called for transparency too but reminded everyone that whistleblowers must also be private and protected.

“We will have to try and understand where we can have transparency,” Bayer said to press. “Because when it’s about individual topics or complaints coming through a whistleblowing hotline, you have to make sure that there is the absolute guarantee and protection of the people doing whistleblowing.

“When it’s about employment and contracts, those are, I think anywhere on the planet, not meant to be to be shared with anyone. So, it’s difficult but I think you know, as a sport we have to learn and grow through these processes and processes and hopefully we can come back and focus on racing.”

Bayer did also remind the world that the FIA does actually have procedures in place to manage these things, with specifically selected members of the Ethics Committee and Compliance Officers meaning that the FIA takes the issues seriously and doesn’t just try to handle them on the fly.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner talks with Mohammed ben Sulayem, FIA President, in the paddock during practice ahead of the 2023 Abu Dhabi GP | Mark Thompson/Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner talks with Mohammed ben Sulayem, FIA President, in the paddock during practice ahead of the 2023 Abu Dhabi GP | Mark Thompson/Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

What has actually happened with the FIA?

Firstly, Mohammed Ben Sulayem was accused of trying to tamper with a penalty applied to Fernando Alonso at the 2023 Saudi Arabian GP for being outside of the designated area to begin the race on March 4.

He was also said to have attempted to block the Las Vegas Street Circuit from being certified, but the FIA Ethics Committee ruled there is no evidence to support either after 17 days of radio silence.

Then the woman who has accused Horner of misconduct and inappropriate behaviour filed a formal complaint against the Red Bull boss with the FIA on March 17. It then transpired that she had actually filed two earlier complaints via the whistleblower hotline and one to Ben Sulayem, but neither had been acted upon.

The first complaint came on February 2, whilst the second came on March 6 just 24 hours before a Google Drive containing the alleged evidence against Horner was leaked to the public, something that the whistleblower threatened to do in the complaint.

And now Susie Wolff, F1 Academy’s managing director, has filed a criminal complaint against the FIA in the French court system following an investigation into her credibility and integrity by the body,

It comes after a news article claimed she was passing insider information to her husband, Toto Wolff, the Mercedes team principal, prompting the FIA to open an investigation which they quickly ended due to the public reception.

Wolff insists the FIA has not taken “any transparency or accountability in the relation to the conduct of the FIA and its personnel in this matter,” leaving her reputation suffering a hit. She filed the action on March 4.

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