Hamilton: F1 president 'never' had his support

Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton said it is becoming increasingly difficult for fans to trust Formula One’s governing body, the FIA, adding that its president, Mohammed Ben Sulayem, has never had his support.

His comments follow several weeks of scandal and controversy in F1, which escalated further on Wednesday when Susie Wolff, the head of all-female racing series F1 Academy, revealed she had filed a criminal complaint against the FIA.

A few hours before Wolff went public over her legal action, the FIA announced an independent investigation by its compliance department had cleared Ben Sulayem of wrongdoing in a separate claim relating to whistleblower accusations of race interference and withholding Las Vegas’ circuit certification.

When Hamilton was asked by reporters during a news conference ahead of this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix if Ben Sulayem still had his backing as FIA president, he said: “He never has.”

Wolff’s legal action relates to a short-lived FIA investigation into an alleged conflict of interest between the head of the F1 Academy and her husband Toto, the team principal of the Mercedes F1 team.

Hamilton said he hoped Wolff’s decision to take her complaint out of the governing body’s jurisdiction and into the courts would force greater transparency and accountability from the FIA.

“Firstly, I’m incredibly proud of Susie,” the Mercedes driver said. “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.

“I love that she’s taken it out of this [F1] world, because there is a real lack of accountability here, within this sport, within the FIA, things that are happening behind closed doors, there is no transparency, there is really no accountability, and we need that.

“I think the fans need that. How can you trust the sport and what is happening here if you don’t have that?

“Hopefully this stand that she’s taking now will create change, will have a positive impact, and especially for women.”

George Russell, Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate who is also a director of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, agreed that greater transparency is needed from the governing body.

“As drivers we have a role within the teams, and you trust that the leaders in this sport have the best interests at their heart rather than their own interests,” Russell said. “I think it goes back to the transparency side of things.

“If things are transparent and we see the outcome of these cases, we all have a chance to judge for ourselves with all of the facts and figures in front of us. But when we don’t have the facts and figures, and there is no transparency, you always think there’s something being hidden.

“That’s why I think it’s so important for the sport now, as Lewis said, to send the right message to everybody who is supporting Formula One, watching Formula One, wants to be involved in Formula One, that things aren’t just swept under the carpet.”

Hamilton also appeared to reference the recent saga surrounding Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, which has dominated the sport’s headlines at the opening two races of the 2024 season.

Horner was accused of inappropriate behaviour by a female colleague but was cleared of wrongdoing by the F1 team’s parent company, Red Bull GmbH, following an independent investigation by a British lawyer earlier this year.

The woman who made the complaint has since been suspended by Red Bull but, according to reports, has appealed Red Bull GmbH’s original decision.

While Hamilton did not specifically refer to the Red Bull case, he said the sport was not sending out the right message to women fans.

“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,” Hamilton said.

“We need to make sure we stay true to the core values.”

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