Transparency is key in F1’s latest controversies

Formula 1 really doesn’t know how to do a quiet day at the moment, does it?

At least, not as a sport it doesn’t. You do wonder how those at Formula One Management in London are really feeling about the headlines the sport has been generating in recent weeks…

  • Investigation into Christian Horner’s behavior

  • Red Bull dominance continuing

  • Allegations against the president of the FIA

The latter point might well have been greeted with a wry smile at some stage during Mohammed Ben Sulayem’s tenure given the running battle that has gone on between FOM and the FIA, and maybe it still has been. But it adds to the pile of negativity that has been keeping F1 front and center of the news cycle.


The BBC was first to report the allegations against Ben Sulayem after having seen a report that includes claims from a whistleblower that the FIA president tried to make clear to officials in Saudi Arabia last year that he was expecting to see Fernando Alonso’s post-race penalty, which would have cost him third place, overturned.

It’s a report that I haven’t seen myself, but the fact that a rival team principal confirmed to me that they were aware of the allegation prior to the publication of the BBC story made it clear that there had already been some concern.

The FIA did not deny the report’s contents on Monday, and simply confirmed that the matter is being discussed internally.

When the next allegation of instructing FIA personnel not to sign off on the Las Vegas Grand Prix circuit’s license was published less than 24 hours later, there was again nothing further to add in response other than context to the homologation timeline last year.

And then a number of hours later came the acknowledgement:

“The FIA confirms that the Compliance Officer has received a report detailing potential allegations involving certain members of its governing bodies. The Compliance Department is assessing these concerns, as is common practice in these matters, to ensure that due process is meticulously followed.”

It’s obviously a tricky situation for the FIA, because while the allegations appear to not be limited to Ben Sulayem, it is still now looking into its own president.

And much like the situation that faced Red Bull with Horner, it won’t take long for questions about transparency to emerge if details are not provided. The fact none of those facing allegations were named within the FIA statement suggests a similar path is being followed for now.

“We want to see all of the facts and just have total transparency,” George Russell said on Wednesday in Jeddah. “We are all racing here, we want a fair and level playing field for us to showcase what we can do.

“I can’t really comment further… we were surprised a year ago when the result got overturned as the legal team at Mercedes thought they did a great job of presenting our case initially, winning and then losing it thereafter. We just want to see transparency and have that opportunity to race on a fair playing field.”

There have been a number of high-profile departures from the FIA in recent months including Steve Nielsen, who left his role as sporting director less than a year after joining. It hardly paints a picture of a stable governing body, and so the way it handles the current situation is crucial.

Should it fail to directly address the allegations, and explain the process and outcome, then even more faith is likely to be lost from the teams and drivers, on top of a fanbase that a large portion of has already become disillusioned due to many recent incidents.

It’s yet another off-track controversy at a time when F1 has been serving them up with alarming regularity.

“I feel that the racing needs to be at the forefront of everything, and this is what we all love and what we’re here to fight for, and it’s a shame when that isn’t the forefront of the media attention,” Russell said.

“But equally, Formula 1 is at the forefront of technology. From an entertainment standpoint I think we’ve been really been pushing the boundaries in the last few years, and we do need to create an environment that is inclusive for everybody.

“We’re seeing the demographic change over the past couple of years and it does need to be inclusive. Unfortunately, you need to have these hard conversations and questions. And going back to the earlier point you want to see transparency in all of these reports because ultimately until we see the facts we can’t really comment.”

In many ways, Lance Stroll summed up the wider mood among the drivers when he stated “I just like driving cars!”, but his teammate puts the focus on controversies down to the levels of Red Bull dominance at the present time.

“There is too much talk off-track because on-track activities are not very exciting at the moment,” Alonso said. “There is one car winning for the last 72 grands prix, more or less dominating three years. So, when this happens in a sport, there is always a lot of activity off-track.

“From what concerns [the Ben Sulayem allegations], is not a problem (for Aston Martin), it’s more an FIA investigation that we have to respect and see the outcome. We are happy with all the evidence and all the proof that we showed last year, so it was quite a clear resolution for us. So let’s see what FIA says on their own investigation, but it’s not really up to us, to Aston Martin.”

There are different kinds of off-track talk, however. The kind that gets people excited – like Lewis Hamilton joining Ferrari, or even Max Verstappen being linked with Mercedes – and the kind, such as the Horner and FIA topics, that are founded in a negative topic.

Valtteri Bottas admitted that this year the talk “off-track may be a bit much”, and while many of his contemporaries were keen to say as little as possible, the majority stated a desire to see the focus return to the actual sport at the center of their jobs.

“As someone who loves the sport it’s definitely disappointing to see what’s going on right now and it definitely doesn’t look good to the outside world, from the outside looking in, and it doesn’t look good looking in,” Lewis Hamilton said.

The off-track intrigue and political maneuvering has forever been a fascinating part of F1, but if the controversies keep adding up then at some stage they will become overpowering. And if there isn’t a compelling fight on track to balance against them, the sport might just find itself wishing it wasn’t in the headlines for once.

Story originally appeared on Racer