Differentiating curiosity and transparency; why the latter is important for F1

2024 Australian Grand Prix: Fast Facts
2024 Australian Grand Prix: Fast Facts

Once again, the ongoing turmoil surrounding Formula One’s governing body in the FIA was a topic of contention during the Australian Grand Prix weekend, as further scrutiny was put upon the sport’s arbiters and its President in Mohammed Ben Sulayem.

During the team representative’s press conference, the quartet of bosses were all grilled regarding the matter of transparency and whether they felt a lack of it from the FIA. The unified consensus gleaned was indeed the lack of it coming from the Federation.

While the united message from the team bosses in wanting transparency from the FIA was consistent, RB’s CEO and former FIA appointed F1 Executive Director in Peter Bayer – cautioned understanding the difference between transparency and curiosity.

“Transparency may not be confused with curiosity. You know, I think probably a lot of people want to know things because, you know, everything’s in the public nowadays. But transparency really is about the process and the process is being respected.”

Being inquisitive is well within human nature though as Bayer opined, the process which the FIA are carrying out needs to be respected. But what if alarmingly, that process cannot be trusted?

Susie Wolff’s criminal complaint

Ahead of the race weekend in Melbourne, F1 Academy Director Susie Wolff took to social media that she had lodged a criminal complaint against the FIA on March 4. This was following the conflict of interest inquiry launched by the Federation late last year into her and husband in Mercedes team principal Toto.

This was ironically, announced the same day as the FIA ethics committee had issued a statement which cleared Ben Sulayem of claims that he interfered with the Saudi Arabian and Las Vegas Grands Prix in 2023.

“There still has not been any transparency or accountability in the relation to the conduct of the FIA and its personnel in this matter,” Wolff wrote.

“I feel more than ever it is important to stand up, call out improper behaviour and make sure people are held to account. While some people may think silence absolves them from responsibility – it does not.”

Wolff’s stand was lauded by Mercedes driver and seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, who in the open media call at Albert Park said that the 41-year old is “so brave and stands for such great values and is such a leader.”

“In a world where often people are silenced, for her to be standing up sends such a great message. I love that she has taken it out of this [F1] world and is fighting it from the outside,” added Hamilton.

Fellow Mercedes driver George Russell also spoke on the matter saying, “when we don’t have the facts and figures and there is no transparency, you always think there is something being hidden. That’s why I think it is so important for the sport to send the right message.”

Lewis Hamilton
2023 Hungarian Grand Prix, Thursday – Lewis Hamilton

‘It’s 2024, not 1984’

McLaren CEO Zak Brown during the team representative’s press conference delivered this key line in acknowledging the day and age we are living in. That was also echoed in Hamilton’s view that F1 “is still a male-dominated sport”.

“We are 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.”

A damning indictment of a sport that claims to be the pinnacle of racing but is failing to be the pinnacle or even pioneer a change of culture to something other than having a fear of being fired should you speak up.

Sobering was hearing sophomore Williams team principal James Vowles speak to Bloomberg ahead of the pre-season, about the positive changes within the sport over the past two decades. “The best ideas don’t come from being a closed group of individuals. It comes from diversity.”

“The sport itself, wind back 20-years ago, male-dominated without question. If you had to ask me what makes up a team, it would be white, more than likely – male – more than likely 40-years old… something likely in that ballpark. That’s changing and it’s only a positive that’s changing that result,” Vowles eloquently surmised.

If that indeed are the positive changes within one organisation, then it should be seen across the board. Particularly right at the peak of the summit, upon which regulators and governors such as the FIA sit.

Curiosity vs transparency

It would be all good and well to brush this off as mere curiosity and like Ferrari team principal Fred Vasseur say, “I’m probably too naïve, but we have to be confident in with the system.”

But when the sport’s most influential and inspiring figures such as Susie Wolff and Hamilton are calling for answers and transparency – then it is incumbent upon those tasked to regulating the sport to deliver such satisfactorily.

At the end of the day, it shouldn’t be about sharpening pitchforks or going on a proverbial witch-hunt. It is about upholding an ethical standard, to which all stakeholders can aspire too and also be held accountable to. That is what leadership is.

And in returning to Vasseur’s sentiments, the spectacle of racing indeed could easily be thrown over these issues like a veil. Though even with that, since the outcome of the 2021 world championship, the matter of transparency would be traversing as much a moral wilderness as the issues opined here upon. 

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