The row erupting at the Formula One Singapore GP saw Toto Wolff incandescent over the budget cap breaches he alleged Red Bull Racing had made in 2021. Red Bull appeared flabbergasted at the claims of their “massive” overspend and even threatened Mercedes and Wolff with legal action for defamation.
The final [play in the Wolff/Horner war of words came from the Red Bull boss on Sunday as he questioned how Toto Wolff could have so much detailed information about their private and confidential submission made to the FIA.
Such was the heat of the war of words between Mercedes and Red Bull the FIA intervened to clarify the position.
“The FIA is currently finalising the assessment of the 2021 financial data submitted by all Formula 1 teams,” the organisation said in a statement on Friday night. “Alleged breaches of the Financial Regulations, if any, will be dealt with according to the formal process set out in the regulations.
“The FIA notes significant and unsubstantiated speculation and conjecture in relation to this matter, and reiterates that the assessment is ongoing and due process will be followed without consideration to any external discussion.”
FIA supports Horner
This appeared to support Christian Horner’s position that the “six month” investigation Toto Wolff had suggested Red bull had been suffering was in fact just all part of the process which will conclude in a couple of days time.
Yet the lingering element of the budget cap row in Singapore was how did Toto Wolff know so much about the Red Bull Racing’s budget cap position for 2021?
“As a matter of fact all of us have been investigated diligently and, as far as we understand, there is a team… that is fundamentally and massively over[ the budget cap]. That is being still looked at so that’s an open secret in the paddock.”
Given no other senior paddock players were prepared to make this claim, Wolff’s assertion it was an open secret is open to question. Paddock rows usually have more than one player picking on the ‘victim’ and no other team bosses were accusing Red Bull as did Toto.
So where did Toto get his information that Red Bull was “massively over” the 2021 budget cap?
Ex Red Bull employees spill the beans?
Sky anchor Simon Lazenby asked him whether he’d received it from a few employers who have moved from Red Bull to Mercedes.
Yet Wolff was emphatic – “No” he replied.
Of course ex Red Bull Racing employees would have signed non-disclosure agreements which would mean anything they knew about the Milton Keynes operation was strictly confidential. Had Wolff admitted it was they who spilled the beans, then presumably Red Bull would sue them.
In the hunt for the Mercedes ‘mole’ the focus now shifts to a subject TJ13 covered earlier in the summer.
FIA appointment under suspicion
Shaila-Ann Rao, a former legal director of the Mercedes F1 Team and special advisor to Toto Wolff, was confirmed in June as the interim replacement for Peter Bayer at the FIA, following his departure as the Secretary General for Sport.
At the tie Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto expressed his concern over the potential for conflict of interests and improper information flows between Mercedes and Rao.
“I think it’s down to the FIA to make sure that there will be no conflicts of interest at all, to behave properly and it’s down to the president to ensure that,” said the Ferrari boss.
As the teams move on to Japan attention is being focused on whether Rao could have leaked information to Toto Wolff about the Red Bull budget cap situation.
Marko: Wolff is still bitter
Helmut Marko came out clearly stating he believes there is a “mole” in the FIA.
“First of all, it’s surprising. We have no information so far [about whether we are in breach],” said Austrian to ORF.
“So where does this detailed information, which Toto Wolff used for his allegation, come from?
“That is the first thing to clarify.”
Marko believes Wolff’s vociferous attacks on Red Bull over the weekend are because he is still bitter about how the 2021 season finished in Abu Dhabi with Hamilton losing a last lap shootout for the title.
“Abu Dhabi is long gone,” he said. “It’s a bit strange that he still hasn’t gotten over it.”
Wolff talks of the effect on the past
Wolff had earlier in the weekend explained in detail how a big overspend would affect not just the outcome of the 2021 championships but into 2022 and 2023.
Sky’s anchor at the time asked him whether Max should forfeit the 2021 drivers’ title, however Wolff merely deferred to the FIA as the “judge” though admitted it was a penalty available to them should the over spend be significant as the Mercedes boss was claiming.
In certain quarters of the British press who blindly support Lewis Hamilton whatever, it did create somewhat of a frenzy with headlines suggesting Hamilton was imminently to be crowned retrospectively.
Marko concludes, “It’s more than amazing how he came up with these numbers. He talks about a massive overspend – there must be a mole somewhere at the FIA.”
Ralf Schumacher calls out FIA official
Despite the FIA intervention this weekend where they condemned the “significant and unsubstantiated speculation and conjecture” about the budget cap breaches yet Ralf Schumacher believes there is a case for them to answer.
“We all know that a close confidante and former employee of Toto Wolff is now working in a very high position at the FIA,” he told Sky Deutschland. Ralf refers of course to Shaila-Ann Rao
“The FIA has to undergo an investigation into itself, because this information simply must not slip out. It only harms Formula 1 and only the FIA can be to blame.
“But no matter what comes out on Wednesday, for me Toto Wolff with his harsh criticism is a bad loser who still hasn’t digested the fact that he lost a title.”
Red Bull will be fined
Dutch broadcaster ZiggoSport is reporting that both Red Bull and Aston Martin will suffer $7.5m fines on Wednesday when the certificates of budget cap compliance are issued by the FIA. They will receive further wind tunnel restrictions.
The problem the FIA will have if any team is in breach is simple. They have only bullet point penalties and no real specific rule book to properly ensure the punishment fits the crime appropriately.
Helmut Marko admits there were 6 points of query from the FIA over how Red Bull had allocated certain items of spend, but;
“There is no final report to date, no specific figures [we have],” he said.
“But there are a few points where we see the situation differently than the FIA in terms of interpretation. We sent a report to the FIA and so far there is no answer.
“But if only two of our six points are taken into account, we are under the cap.
“Everything else that is floating around is complete nonsense.”
Leak to backfire on the FIA
However, 6 points of query on an audit of a $140m business is in fact a minuscule review from the oversight officer.
Yet the FIA is now in a bind. If Red Bull have significantly overspent the finger of suspicion will move the formula One’s governing organisation and Red Bull Racing and other teas will surely demand an investigation into how Wolff knew this was incoming.
Regardless, in prime position billed as the FIA ‘mole’, has to be Shaila-Ann Rao.
A rocket-start for the lion of Singapore, Sebastian Vettel 🦁
— Formula 1 (@F1) October 2, 2022