The Formula One row over Red Bull Racing’s budget cap breach appears to be on the wane. The team were fined $7m and forced to reduce their aero testing time by 10% for 12 months as punishment for an overspend in 2021 of just under $500,000.
Yet the hugely damaging saga dragged Formula One and Red Bull through the mire for weeks before an agreement was announced during the recent Mexican GP weekend.
F1 lessons must be learned
Formula One needs to learn lessons from the controversial matter. First of which is that the teams who all agreed the rules for a ‘minor breach’ which Red Bull was guilty of, need to sit down with the FIA and decide if they all agree on a change to the regulations.
Secondly, the FIA needs to take a long hard look at itself and decide if the process can be handled better in future.
The fact was leaked during the Singapore GP that Red Bull Racing had exceeded the 2021 cost cap, though the FIA had made no formal announcement as to whether any or all the teams had complied with the financial regulations.
This led to Toto Wolff accusing Red Bull of gaining a “massive” advantage over their competitors despite nobody knowing whether Red Bull had overspent by a mere few hundred dollars.
FIA must be seen to be unbiased
In July this season the FIA appointed Shaila-Ann Rao – an ex-Mercedes executive – as a replacement to the twin roles of secretary general for sport and F1 executive director.
At the time Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto expressed concerns that there may be a conflict of interest.
“Yes, certainly it’s a concern,” said Binotto. “I think she’s a great person. She’s got a lot of experience, she will certainly be capable of doing the job. I’m pretty sure on that.
“It’s a concern, but it’s only a concern. I think it’s down to them [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 it. I’ve got the trust that they will do it.
“As Ferrari we are concerned, but I’m pretty sure that that through the behaviours, through the decisions, they will prove it’s a wrong concern.”
Is there a ‘mole’ in the FIA?
In Singapore once the ‘leak’ had been made public the finger of suspicion as to how the Mercedes boss knew about the breach quickly pointed towards Rao.
The Red Bull overspend was deemed ‘minor’ and given it was around the price of a new front and rear wing, the matter was indeed seen by many as minor.
Alpine boss Otmar Szafneur told Sky Sports in Mexico that the matter was now closed, saying that the punishment meted out is a ‘good one’. He said:
“They are marginally over from what I can tell by reading all the releases and listening to Christian (Horner), but over is over. If we are a half kilogram underweight on track, we are excluded from that particular race, so I believe the punishment is a good one.”
“The process was followed. I’m happy both the FIA and Red Bull have come to their conclusion. They are happy to move forward, and so are we.”
The FIA must investigate themselves too
Yet Christian Horner believes there is an outstanding matter for attention stating, “The accusations made in Singapore were extremely upsetting for every single member of staff, all our partners, everyone involved within Red Bull.”
“Obviously, any form of leakage is hugely worrying. It’s something that we expect to be followed up.”
Red Bull consultant Helmut Marko admitted he was “amazed” over the information swarming around the paddock since Singapore, telling Sky Deutschland: “The FIA says they don’t know how this came out, but it’s weird that certain things from an ongoing process are being exposed. That’s defamatory. I just find it amazing that something like this gets public.”
The FIA issuing an early statement claiming “any suggestion that FIA personnel have disclosed sensitive information is equally baseless.”
Yet clearly the information could only have come from the FIA.
Ex Red Bull employees could have leaked
There was a suggestion that Mercedes had recruited a number of Reed Bull personnel and it may be they who had divulged the information.
However, Toto Wolff categorically refuted this and further even personnel working within a team or a company when being audited should have no knowledge of the auditors position.
In the UK, companies are in a “closed period” during their audit because any sensitive information released over the ongoing financial checks could affect the quoted share price.
So the leak which was specific in that only Red Bull Racing had overspent must have come from somewhere within the FIA’s financial regulation officers.
Red Bull ducked FIA’s regulation dry run
Most of the teams did a ‘dry run’ during the 2020 season on the impending new financial regulations for 2021, however Red bull Racing refused to participate.
It could be the FIA was miffed because of this and determined to make an example of them. As Christian Horner stated in his press conference in Mexico:
“I’m astounded no other teams have found themselves in this position but good for them that eight have fully complied.”
The FIA has not performed well this season for Formula One. A litany of inconsistent decisions have seen repeated spats between the teams and F1’s governing body.
More competence and professionalism required from the FIA
The most recent saw the farce of Alonso driving for almost half the race in Austin with a dangerously loose body part on his Alpine, yet never receiving the black and ornate flag to pit and have it repaired.
Haas F1 were irritated by this and referred the matter to the stewards. Alonso was initially given a 30 second penalty post the race and relegated from P6 to P15.
However, because the FIA did not follow their own rules for the Haas protest properly, they were forced to remind this a week later in Mexico which had the optics of an organisation who didn’t even know their own rules.
The FIA must take seriously the leak over Red Bull’s cost cap breach if they are to retain their independent position as the regulator of Formula One.
Has Lewis Hamilton missed his chance to win a race this season?! 🤔 pic.twitter.com/NWJkMIcF5h
— Sky Sports F1 (@SkySportsF1) October 31, 2022