Formula One lives in a permanent state of controversy and for that we have been thankful. With on track racing action less than exciting at times and the predictable nature of each season’s winners for the best part of a decade, it has been the intrigue which has kept the fans logging on for their F1 fix.
We’ve had Flexi wings which pass the FIA tests but are still declared illegal and Flexi floors perfectly legal but deemed requiring change by the FIA and next up without a doubt is the budget cap.
The FIA and Formula One rights owners finally realised that allowing a global car manufacturer like Mercedes to have an unlimited budget compete against teams like Williams and Sauber was not good for the sport. So a budget cap was introduced to prevent the larger teams just buying performance at the expense of the competition.
In its infancy the budget cap has already been the source of controversy. Originally set at $175m this was reduced with the agreement of all the teams during the pandemic when it was thought certain competitors might go bust ‘chasing the dream’.
This year it was set at $140m and whilst it restricts the bigger teams spend a number of lower order and midfield outfits still have too little funds to breach this upper limit.
Rampant global inflation together with fixed costs for the bigger teams saw Red Bull and Mercedes amongst others petition the FIA to increase the limit.
The FIA agreed an increase to $145m and Red Bull team boss Christian Horner commented, “It’s not enough for us, and it’s too much for the little teams. So it’s a compromise, and a consensus was found in the end.”
Now Ferrari are calling for the FIA to police the budget cap better as they believe Red Bull in particular is in breach of the limit. Red Bull are believed to be soon introducing a lighter chassis which will save around 4kg and times by up to 1.4 seconds a lap.
“The number of people in the FIA monitoring it is very little,” Ferrari’s boss Mattia Binotto told BBC Sport.
“It has to improve for the future because it would be really bad if somehow a championship was dictated by a financial regulation and not technical or sporting
“I cannot know what they [Red Bull] are doing, if they have a [lighter] chassis or not, but the budget cap is always a concern.”
Binotto believes the Milton Keynes outfit may be exploiting grey areas in the budget cap regulations.
“The financial regulations can make differences between teams in the way they are interpreting and somehow executing it.
“And we know we need a very strong FIA to make sure they are properly focusing, otherwise the regulations will not be fair and equitable.
“Ferrari would never be capable of introducing a lightweight chassis or a different chassis through a season simply [because of the] budget cap, and I would be very surprised if a team is capable of doing it.
“If they are, it is back to the regulation itself – is it fair enough, is it equitable enough, is the policing sufficient?”
Mercedes too have questioned Red Bull’s ability to introduced such an upgrade.
“That would be far too expensive,” a team representative told Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport. “Not just because of the crash tests. You have to build three new chassis, and they cost you two million extra.”
When asked whether his team could afford the upgrades, Red Bull boss Christian Horner, retorted. “Yes, because we have had less upgrades than Ferrari and Mercedes.”
Mercedes in particular have trumpeted big upgrade packages in Barcelona, Silverstone and again at the recent Belgian GP.
The Brackley team boss recently revealed the process by which Mercedes track the costs of their in season spend.
“I can speak for us. We have a tracker with the financial engineers that keeps track of every single process and every single component that is fitted to the single-seaters,” Wolff told the Italian edition of Motorsport.com.
“So when we unload things from the truck, the financial engineer takes note of the value, and when it is used it is counted.
“We are moving forward with the method we planned, at the beginning of the season for many reasons we didn’t bring many updates, now we are moving forward with the development programme.”
The budget cap police work is something new for the FIA to oversea and admits their policing of it may not yet be up to standard.
An FIA spokesperson recently revealed, “The FIA is committed to robust monitoring processes and will continue to strengthen, develop and refine all areas of its activities in this new era of Formula 1.”
Certain spend from the teams is outside the remit of the budget cap, like driver salaries and power units, but there is always the suspicion a team like Mercedes, McLaren and Ferrari with their global car manufacturing divisions could be performing research and development away from the F1 team itself.
Given the spend the FIA must monitor is over $1bn across 10 teams, the handful of individuals monitoring this is probably insufficient.