Lewis Hamilton chimed in on this weekend’s saga involving Toto and Susie Wolff, saying that the FIA’s attitude towards the couple is “unacceptable”.
Earlier this week, the FIA said that its Compliance Department had initiated an investigation into a possible conflict of interest involving an F1 team principal and an employee of Formula One Management.
It was eventually determined that the Mercedes F1 team boss and Susie Wolff, his better half, who works for F1 as the managing director of Formula 1 Academy, were at the center of the FIA’s inquiry.
The couple furiously denied allegations of a conflict of interest or any wrongdoing, and they were supported by a united front offered by F1’s teams.
On Thursday evening, having given its inquiry a second thought, the FIA backtracked and released a statement in which it said that there was no ongoing inquiry into any individual in F1 regarding a potential conflict of interest issue.
But this seemingly casual dismissal did not go down well with the Wolffs, with Susie Wolff determined to hold the FIA accountable for its “misleading and unfounded” communication, while Toto Wolff announced that Mercedes was in an “active legal exchange” with the governing body.
In Baku on Friday, in a press conference held at the FIA’s prize-giving gala, Hamilton offered a staunch defence of Susie Wolff and incriminated motorsport’s governing body.
"It's been a challenging week," Hamilton said.
“I think a disappointing week really to see that the governing body of our sport has sought to question the integrity of one of the most incredible female leaders we've ever had in our sport, with Susie Wolff, without questioning, without any evidence, and then just saying 'sorry' at the end.
"And that's just unacceptable.”
While it was suggested that this week’s controversial events were just the latest installment in a series of escalating power struggles between F1 and FIA president Mohammed ben Sulayem, Hamilton added a diversity and inclusion layer to the debate.
“We've got a lot of great people within the sport that are doing amazing work. There is a constant fight to really improve diversity and inclusion within the industry,” he said.
"But it seems that there are certain individuals in the leadership within the FIA that every time we try and make a step forward, they're trying to pull us back. And that has to change."
Hamilton reiterated his view that motorsport and its constituents have a responsibility in promoting change.
"I think this is a global sport," he said. "And we have such an incredible opportunity and a natural responsibility to be leaders of change.
"And as we're travelling to all those countries around the world, we have a responsibility to make sure that we're pushing in the right direction.
"So I do want to acknowledge that there are a lot of people that are doing great work. But we need to make some changes to make sure that we're all pushing in the right direction."
Amid the challenges faced by Mercedes in the past two seasons, Hamilton commended Toto Wolff for his unwavering leadership during the difficult period.
"Toto is an amazing leader," he said. "I've known him for a long time. We joined the team at the same time.
"It's been an interesting journey for both of us to both grow with the team, to see his vision grow and progress within the structure of the team. He hasn't lost an ounce of his competitiveness he's massively competitive.
You see it on TV even when he's sitting at his little desk in the garage. Trying to find a balance in life of work life and family life I think he's done a really great job there.
"But I think just continuing to push everyone - yesterday again we were talking to the team together. He's a very, very approachable leader, and I think people can relate to him, to his emotions and just to his compassion, or his drive.
"He's very understanding. I think it's definitely not been easy for anybody in the team when you're working towards something, but it's not quite going the way you want it.
"I think there's been many lessons, and I've been really proud to see the progress that he's made just as an individual and as a human being as well."
Ben Sulayem was scheduled to hold a press conference of his own before the winners of the various FIA championships were celebrated at the Gala.
However, the presser was canceled due allegedly to "a fall and a light concussion" sustained by the FIA president earlier this week. Ben Sulayem was nevertheless present on the stage on Friday evening in Baku, although in a reduced role.