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The lingering questions that remain from the unnecessary FIA/Wolff saga

The FIA's decision to back away from its compliance probe into Mercedes boss Toto Wolff and wife Susie brought an end to an explosive 48 hours for Formula 1.

Toto Wolff, Team Principal and CEO, Mercedes AMG, wife and Susie

But the shockwaves from the FIA's decision to declare that it was looking into a potential conflict of interest over the passing of confidential information between the Wolffs are going to stick around for a while.

There remains a bitter aftertaste to all that has happened because no parties have come out of the events of the week looking good.

PLUS: How the FIA/Wolff case could shape F1's political landscape

The Wolffs, Mercedes and FOM have had their reputations sullied by the allegations, the media has been caught up in a misinformation fog of war, and the FIA's actions have led to it being on the receiving end of heavy criticism.

The events of the week were entirely avoidable, as the whole thing could have been conducted in private and settled without the need for anyone in the outside world to even know about it.

But it's the fact that matters went so public, and the disparity between the FIA's view of there being team complaints and all of Mercedes' rivals insisting that is not the case, that has left some lingering questions about the whole affair.

Here we dig down into the key issues that still stand out.

What prompted the probe in the first place?

One of the most confusing aspects of the whole case remains the suggestions of team complaints about the confidential information being passed on to Toto Wolff.

While FIA sources were adamant that some F1 team principals were in contact over the situation – and this information appeared to have been briefed to many media outlets – the nine team statements from Mercedes' rivals suggest that was not the case.

This is the biggest disconnect of the whole saga.

There is obviously a world of difference between a team lodging an official formal complaint over the behaviour of a rival, and a boss having a quiet moan during paddock chatter. But the latter is not normally grounds to go big on investigations.

Toto Wolff, Team Principal and CEO, Mercedes-AMG, Imola trophies for Charity

Photo by: Formula 1

Toto Wolff, Team Principal and CEO, Mercedes-AMG, Imola trophies for Charity

So what conversations really took place and with whom?

And if there were no formal complaints about the situation, was a single news story in a magazine – even if it prompted a few media inquiries – enough to justify going so big on the probe?

Ultimately, it is the FIA's duty to ensure that regulations are upheld; it even talked about integrity and fairness in its statement announcing the inquiry was over.

But equally, there is a world of difference between going through due process to look at something in private to confirm everything is above board, and then going public and making a huge deal out of it.

Why was the FIA so eager to go public?

Perhaps the most baffling aspect of the whole sorry affair is why the FIA felt the need to go so public that its compliance department was looking into the situation.

Such a statement would normally only come if there was strong evidence to suggest that a rules breach had taken place and there was a case to be answered.

Normally such situations are expected to be dealt with behind closed doors – even in private phone calls between the FIA and individuals involved – before there is any hint of it reaching the public domain.

So, the FIA's decision to issue its statement, before even Mercedes, the Wolffs and FOM knew anything about it, remains quite difficult to understand.

That is even more true considering that there seemed to be almost nothing to base the case on.

The FIA's announcement on Thursday that it was calling off its inquiry said the decision was made after a simple review of documents, so there was never actually a proper investigation of events in the first place

It said: "Formula One Management's F1 Code of Conduct and F1 Conflict of Interest Policy and confirmation that appropriate protective measures are in place to mitigate any potential conflicts.

"The FIA is satisfied that FOM's compliance management system is robust enough to prevent any unauthorised disclosure of confidential information.

This is something that could and should have been done well before the need to go public. In its statement on Thursday night, the FIA said it reaffirmed its commitment to 'integrity and fairness'.

But it cannot be lost on the governing body that going public with the compliance department's involvement was not especially 'fair' to the Wolffs, Mercedes or FOM in throwing suspicions out there that ultimately proved to be false.

Is there a private agenda at play?

Mohammed bin Sulayem, President, FIA

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

Mohammed bin Sulayem, President, FIA

The FIA's decision to go public with the compliance department's involvement has been viewed by some as part of an agenda that its president Mohammed Ben Sulayem has against Wolff.

It has been linked to Lewis Hamilton being investigated for crossing the track in Qatar, and to Wolff being summoned for swearing in a press conference in Las Vegas.

But while there may be suspicions of this being part of a Machiavellian plot, the reality may be that the latest affair follows more the pattern of Ben Sulayem simply being aggressive and committed to following what he thinks is the right thing to do: even if it is at odds with what others perceive is right.

All his controversial moments – think of the comments about a potential Saudi buyout of F1, the jewellery ban, talk about bringing Michael Masi back to F1 – all come from him pursuing what he thinks right at that moment in time, without considering longer term consequences and implications.

This is a very different approach from previous FIA presidents who have focused more on the bigger picture and longer-term implications.

Ben Sulayem may have viewed publicly declaring the Wolff case as simple evidence of the FIA's transparency, and that it was willing to go the extra mile to investigate any suspicion of rule breaches – rather than holding back and realizing the potential damage it could cause.

Few (even likely within the FIA) now doubt that the better thing to have done would have been to address it all in private rather than stir up the storm it did.

What happens next?

While the FIA may hope that calling off its probe will be an end to the matter, that will almost certainly not be the case.

From Wolff and Mercedes' perspective, after a week where reputations have taken a battering, this is not something that can be quickly forgotten.

It is understood that discussions are ongoing between the FIA and Mercedes about the fallout, and that will likely include how to redress any potential to reputation that may have occurred.

Toto Wolff, Team Principal and CEO, Mercedes-AMG

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

Toto Wolff, Team Principal and CEO, Mercedes-AMG

It will be interesting to see if there is any public apology or declaration of remorse for the FIA or Ben Sulayem over how things were handled this week.

Going forward, it is clear that the FIA has to learn some critical lessons in how it deals with such matters in the future.

Getting the compliance department to check that everyone is following the letter of the law is one thing, but dragging such matters into the public domain is another.

Knowing full well that this whole Wolff saga could have been dealt with in a few phone calls and emails – rather than being fed to and exploding in the media – should hopefully act as a guide for where improvements must be made in the future.

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