Despite being over 3 months late, last week the FIA finally issued its certificates of compliance to Formula One teams who were not in breach of the 2021 Budget cap regulations. Red Bull Racing having been found to be in a ‘minor overspend’ breach did not receive one.
The FIA and Red Bull will now enter a period of consultation over the alleged overspend in an attempt to arrive at a “settlement agreement”.
Red Bull Racing insist their submission was below the cost cap limit of $145m so clearly the FIA believe certain items of spending were excluded improperly by Red Bull which now places them in breach of the rules.
Red Bull and FIA to “negotiate” a settlement
During the negotiations Red Bull will argue that the FIA’s inclusion of spend not in the team’s original submission in fact relates to other areas of the Red Bull group of companies and is not applicable for inclusion within the racing team’s budget.
Yet even before the FIA have released the amount of the Red Bull overspend, there has been uproar in the paddock.
During the Singapore GP Toto Wolff speculated Red Bull’s budget breach was “massive”. Clearly this is not the case as the Milton Keynes team has only been cited as having a ‘minor breach’ of the financial regulations.
McLaren says categorisation errors no excuse
Zak Brown has now joined the melee having written to the FIA accusing Red Bull Racing of “cheating. In a letter obtained by the BBC the McLaren boss has the following to say.
“The overspend breach, and possibly the procedural breaches, constitute cheating by offering a significant advantage across technical, sporting and financial regulations.”
Brown believes Red Bull’s claims that the matter is merely a spending categorisation dispute is disingenuous, despite Christian Horner revealing at the Japanese GP he was “surprised” at the outcome of the FIA audit.
”The FIA has run an extremely thorough, collaborative and open process. We have even been given a one-year dress rehearsal [in 2020], with ample opportunity to seek any clarification if details were unclear. So, there is no reason for any team to now say they are surprised.”
“The bottom line is any team who has overspent has gained an unfair advantage both in the current and following year’s car development.”
More than a financial penalty for Red Bull
Brown is clearly seeking to influence the FIA ahead of their “settlement” discussions with Red Bull Racing. The McLaren boss is demanding Formula one’s governing body does not merely issue a financial penalty.
“We don’t feel a financial penalty alone would be a suitable penalty for an overspend breach or a serious procedural breach,” Brown continued.
“There clearly needs to be a sporting penalty in these instances, as determined by the FIA.
Sporting penalties applied
Zak Brown believes the breach should carry a sporting penalty and amid speculation the Red Bull overspend is in the region of $2m.
“We suggest that the overspend should be penalised by way of a reduction to the team’s cost cap in the year following the ruling, and the penalty should be equal to the overspend plus a further fine – ie an overspend of $2m in 2021, which is identified in 2022, would result in a $4m deduction in 2023 [$2m to offset the overspend plus $2m fine].
“For context, $2m is (a) 25-50% upgrade to (an) annual car-development budget and hence would have a significant positive and long-lasting benefit.
“In addition, we believe there should be minor overspend sporting penalties of a 20% reduction in CFD and wind tunnel time.
“These should be enforced in the following year, to mitigate against the unfair advantage the team has and will continue to benefit from.”
Of course nobody really knows how much the Red Bull overspend really is and despite calls from Ferrari’s Mattia Binotto for “transparency” the process the FIA and Red Bull are engaging in at present has no guarantee of the outcome being made public.
Ferrari of course were believed to be running illegal fuel in 2019 and despite the FIA investigating the matter, a behind doors settlement fine of around $15m was believed to have been imposed on the Scuderia.
Red Bull to receive a ‘slap on the wrist’
The fact that the FIA left the “minor overspend” breach categorisation so wide (from 0.1 cent to $7.25m) together with the vague nature of how the penalties would be applied, means in all likelihood Red Bull will receive only a metaphoric slap on the wrist with financial penalty.
One sanction possible would be to reduce the Red Bull budget for the following year, but because the FIA have taken 7 months to deliver their first financial audit on the F1 teams, the spend for this season is now probably locked in.
Gary Anderson has a novel solution as to how these matters could be decided.
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) October 17, 2022