The FIA: A Conflict of Interest?

by Catherine Bruce

From an unwarranted investigation of a major F1 figure to accusations of their own, the integrity of the governing body of motorsports, the FIA, has been brought into question once again.

Back in December, news broke that the FIA had launched an investigation into F1 Academy Managing Director Susie Wolff, due to a ‘conflict of interest’.

It’s no secret that Susie Wolff is married to Mercedes’ boss Toto Wolff, however, the motorsport world was shocked when the FIA blindsided them with an investigation, reportedly due to an allegation that confidential information had been passed between a member of F1 Management and an F1 Team Principal.

Susie denounced the allegations stating that it was rooted “in intimidatory and misogynistic behaviour”. This was accompanied by statements from all 10 F1 teams confirming none of them had submitted a complaint to the FIA regarding the allegations. F1 also expressed their discontent with the FIA, further deteriorating an already strained relationship. With no reason to continue, the FIA quickly dropped the investigation.

However, this week they’re back in the spotlight over their own potential conflict of interest, their relationship with AlphaTauri. The fashion brand just signed a 3-year deal with the FIA as its official clothing partner. From 2020-2023 AlphaTauri was the title sponsor of the sister team of Red Bull Racing and is owned by the Red Bull conglomerate.

This new partnership has struck up a fierce debate online about what the boundaries should be to maintain the fairness and integrity of the sport. One argument is that the FIA should not be allowed to partner with a company that is essentially a part of a team on the grid, as it will naturally create a bias in the FIA’s decision making. However, the other side is that it’s no different to the safety car being supplied by Aston Martin and Mercedes.

This extends into the wider conversation about Red Bull’s presence in the sport, with many calling for the FIA to intervene over Red Bull’s ownership of two teams. Many believe it could give them an unfair advantage, particularly now that their sister team Visa Cash App RB are becoming more technically close to the main car, inheriting key design components of last year’s record-breaking RB19. One of the most notable figures to call for a crack-down on regulations is McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown.

Other controversies in recent years for the FIA include the handling of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, in which the deployment of the safety car late in the race led to a controversial restart procedure that arguably favoured Verstappen over Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, influencing the outcome of the race and championship. This sparked significant criticism towards the FIA’s decision-making process and raised questions about impartiality and fairness in Formula 1 officiating.

In the era of Red Bull dominance, it seems only natural that this seemingly beneficial relationship is scrutinised by teams and fans alike, and begs the question, is there truly a conflict of interest?

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