The Formula One team principal’s press conference in Austin at the US GP was a tense affair. Zak Brown had written what became an open letter to the FIA demanding any team in breach of the spending limit be punished hard. Brown labeled cost cap breaches as “cheating” which an irate Christian Horner called “appalling”.
The entire paddock uproar began over three weeks ago at the Singapore GP when a ‘leak’ from the FIA that Red Bull had overspent the 2021 budget cap caught like wildfire among teams and F1 observers alike.
Toto Wolff accused Red Bull of obtaining a “massive” advantage implying the 2021 title won by Max Verstappen was due to financial irregularity.
FIA create an F1 storm
Lewis Hamilton added his two penn’th stating another “$300,000” would have delivered his Mercedes enough title winning performance to have changed the historical result of the F1 drivers’ title last season.
The British media were baying for Red bull and Verstappen to suffer a points deduction and Hamilton crowned with his 8th F1 drivers’ championship.
The rumoured number being bandied around was a breach by Red Bull in the region of $10m, yet it was 10 days later before the FIA revealed the day after the Japanese GP the Milton Keynes were in fact guilty of a “minor overspend”. This would be up to $7.25m
Red Bull overspend “a couple of 100,000 dollars”
During the standoff between Brown and Horner in Austin, the Red Bull boss revealed the disputed amount with the FIA was in fact just “a couple of hundred thousand dollars”.
The FIA were believed to have made Red Bull a “settlement offer” where the team accepts the amount of the breach and a subsequent penalty, however Christian Horner made it clear the team stood by their claims they had not in fact overspent.
The dispute appears to be over items Red Bull do not accept fall within the cost cap spending restrictions and they claim the FIA changed the interpretation over unused parts after their submission was complete in march this year.
Poor regulations from the FIA
Even for a minor overspend, the FIA penalties are extremely diverse ranging from a public reprimand to championship points deductions. The range of the “minor spend” amount and the diversity of the punishments has been criticised by most observers and the consensus is the FIA need to address this issue going forward.
Nico Rosberg speaking on Any Driven Monday appears to suggest the “cheating” rhetoric is inappropriate and criticise the FIA for their handling of the issue. When asked about appropriate penalties, the 2016 F1 world champion replied, “we don’t have all the details on how [the cost cap] was breached”.
This makes it “difficult to judge it from the outside and that needs to be taken into consideration. It’s “best that we have to wait and be patient.”
Rosberg FIA “lose-lose”
Rosberg believes despite calls from team bosses and F1 pundits like Martin Brundle for “hard” penalties, the FIA must take act in a considered fashion.
He added: “If they take points away for last year’s Championship, that would be really bad for everybody. But if [Red Bull] did a serious cost cap breach and it really gave them a performance advantage – if they don’t go in hard and aggressive then it’s another lose-lose.
“I hope that the FIA find the fine line and get it right, we need to wait and see though.”
Of course last seasons title was decided by the finest of margins to which Rosberg refers. “The horrible thing in this is that the Championship was decided by a gap of one second on the last lap of the last race.
“So the whole Championship was tightly contested. To have this come about now is just horrible. I don’t know how they’re going to figure this out. It’s not good.”
FIA requires reform
Not only did the FIA leak their findings that Red Bull have been I breach of the 2021 financial regulations, but they failed to complete their audit in the allotted time. In fact those working on the cost cap submissions from the F1 teams should have completed their studies by June this year.
With just 3 races left this season and Mexico up next, the FIA will wipe the matter is put to bed as soon as possible.
This means they will have to find wording for the “settlement agreement” that Red Bull are prepared to agree to.
Horner has repeatedly insisted the breach has “zero impact on performance” and that the overspend is down to a matter of interpretation.
Red Bull have the upper hand
It appears Red Bull have the upper hand in the negotiations because they are prepared to defend their integrity and proceed all the way to the International Court of Appeal next year if necessary.
The FIA have everything to lose in terms of their reputation if the matter drags on and on. This will only highlight further the poor regulations, improper timescales of the audit process and an enquiry into ‘leaks’ of confidential information prior to them being revealed at the proper time and in the proper manner.
"It's difficult to judge from the outside"
Nico Rosberg discusses the recent cost cap row! 💬 pic.twitter.com/hqZ4uARzaJ
— Sky Sports F1 (@SkySportsF1) October 24, 2022