The Formula One back story that is likely to run to the end of the season is how the Red Bull budget cap overspend will be treated by the FIA. Toto Wolff was enraged in Singapore over the leaked news Red Bull had overspent and accused the team of a “massive” breach of the budget cap rules.
Despite no official confirmation of the amount Red Bull have exceed the cost cap by, speculation now settles around the number being between $1.5 and $2m.
Even without knowing the details of the overspend, McLaren’s boss Zak Brown has written to the FIA in an attempt to influence them over the sanction they issue to Red Bull Racing
Red Bull Racing completed a submission for their 2021 spend to the FIA in due time before the March 2022 deadline. As Christian Horner has stated repeatedly the details of the submission were under the $145m spending allowance for the year.
However, the FIA have now sought to introduce extra spend back into the original submission which sees Red Bull over the legally allowed budget cap allowed.
Red Bull will obviously dispute these extraneous items and the current process ongoing is a ‘sit down’ between Red Bull and the FIA to debate the F1 governing bodies opinion on the matter.
FIA secret deal with Red Bull over budget cap breach
Either the FIA and Red Bull will compromise over the matter and agree a settlement outcome, or the matter will be referred to the FIA’s court of arbitration.
There are no stipulations in the financial regulations that force either the FIA or Red Bull Racing to disclose the results of a settlement.
So we may never know how much – if at all – Red Bull have overspent and what the eventual penalty would be.
Toto Wolff who has been a huge critic of the Red Bull overspend saga has now surprisingly demonstrated sympathy towards how Max Verstappen may be treated as a result of Red Bull Racing’s alleged overspend.
FIA budget cap breach penalties absurd
Even for a ‘minor overspend’ the FIA reserve the right to deduct previous season points which could see Verstappen relegated from his 2021 F1 drivers’ world title.
“I tell you, I don’t want to be in the shoes of the judges to judge on that,” Wolff admits.
“Drivers are driving their guts out in order to be on top. There are decisions that the team takes that they are not involved in.
Despite during the era of Mercedes dominance where the Brackley and Brixton built engines and chassis that were all dominant and Hamilton benefitted from this with his 6 world titles, Wolff admits that the driver is in fact dependant on the machinery he is given.
Wolff admits penalising drivers is harsh
“But still, in the end, you sit in a car that is made on steroids. It’s such a tough call and I wouldn’t want to make a judgement call.
“To be honest, my thinking isn’t so far, it’s more about the principle of how this is going to pan out in the future. How robust are these regulations? How are they being enforced and policed? How is the governance process going to run?”
The Mercedes boss raises a fair point in that frequently when F1 have introduced new regulations there are grey areas. The double diffuser for Brawn in 2009 is but one example and the financial regulations are another example of a work in progress.
FIA financial regulations a ‘learning curve’
Toto accepts this is a learning curve and the decisions made by the FIA will set precedents for how the currently loosely written regulations will be interpreted in future years.
“Because we don’t know, when it goes to the adjudication panel, how the judges will decide and then it is a learning by doing for all of us.”
The venom expressed by certain members of the paddock over the Red Bull overspend has unfortunately hyped the issue to a point where the FIA could in fact overreact to calm public opinion.
Yet the reality is that this like all regulations changes in F1 this is a process of evolution and as Martin Brundle said this week, “all the teams are are gaming the system”.
Ferrari style secret deal not an option
If Red Bull are in secret able to do a deal with the FIA, it will benefit no none. The teams need to understand the exact penalties for a more detailed prescription of overspend. The range of 1 cent to $7.25m is clearly too wide.
For this reason alone, the FIA needs to use the process of “settlement agreement” with Red Bull Racing to specify in detail the penalties applicable in future for the varying degrees of financial regulation breaches.
The process should be transparent unlike the Ferrari deal in 2019 where their alleged use of illegal fuel was dealt with by the FIA behind closed doors, and the alleged penalty of $15m never confirmed.
FIA need to tighten the rules to stop a free for all
Mercedes themselves have threatened if the sanction Red Bull receives is merely a financial penalty, then they will consider spending up to the 5% variance over the budget cap in future years.
It is inconceivable the FIA will deduct points from Verstappen for the 2021 drivers’ title race, because this opens the door to a constant re-writing of Formula one history.
Sporting penalties have always been forward looking and so if this is how the FIA decide to deal with the Red Bull overspend, it should be a principal; that becomes enshrined in the F1 financial regulations.
Some close racing at Circuit of The Americas. 🇺🇲😳 Tasty! 🥪😋 pic.twitter.com/91KuIEjt3i
— McLaren (@McLarenF1) October 17, 2022