Hamilton admits “we’ve been caught off guard about the cost cap”

As so often is typical of the FIA, yet more delayed announcements over this season’s cost cap audit and the decision on the new team applications to join Formula One has the sport of Formula One waiting with baited breath.

One of the results of last season’s cost cap rows was a promise from the FIA to ensure they were more timely in communicating their financial regulatory audit findings in 2023. 



FIA late again with announcements

Yet here we are just over two weeks away from the Singapore Grand Prix where the first leaks about the Red Bull cost cap breach became public during the 2022 season.

The Andretti organisation claimed before the F1 Sumer break they believed the FIA were set to announce their decision over the new F1 team applications by the beginning of September and so the officials based in the Place de Concorde now have just two days before another deadline is missed.

This year there will be additional complications for teams to ensure they met the cost cap rules, given the FIA issued a technical directive demanding all expenditure from non-F1 projects run by associated companies – which relates to any intellectual property used by the F1 teams use be included in their cost cap submissions.

It is absolutely clear that this new regulation will mean a number of the larger teams with non-F1 associated companies with now in reality have less to spend on their F1 season than they did the previous year.

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Red Bull less spending than most

The challenge for the larger Formula One teams as the cost cap was introduced was to slim down their organisational structures which for the likes of Mercedes included over 500 more heads than for team’s like McLaren and Alpine.

This process has been ongoing for over two years and is another reason teams like McLaren and Aston Martin have been able to snatch ‘big hitters’ from the likes of Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes.

Of course for Red Bull Racing, the year where they breached the financial regulations by just 0.37% was in 2021 where they were fighting tooth and nail to beat a dominant Mercedes and build their RB18 to challenge under the new FIA ground effect design rules.

Last year and this, the world champion team have been so far ahead of the field, they have brought significantly less upgrades than their midfield challengers and as Christian Horner noted have suffered less damage than most due to Max Verstappen’s flawless driving.

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FIA extra scrutiny of Mercedes spending 

So it is unlikely the Red Bull team will be the centre of controversy when the FIA finally reveals which teams are certified compliant with the financial regulations and which are not.

However, Mercedes may well be sailing much closer to the wind given their desperation to catch Red Bull up has led to more upgrades both last year and this than most of their competition.

Toto Wolff revealed before the summer break that the FIA had this year exhaustively delved into Mercedes spending:

“The work that the FIA has put into auditing us was big work and big effort, and I have no doubt that they are going to do the same with the other teams. If someone has been cavalier or has cheated, then they’re going to find out,” he told Autosport at the Spanish Grand Prix.



Hamilton rant explained

Lewis Hamilton may have made an inadvertent admission this week in an interview where he discusses his relationship with the team following his early season outburst.

Following a rant about ‘no one listening to him’ about the design of this seasons car, Lewis demanded “accountability” from this who had got things so wrong.

This was interpreted as Hamilton heavily criticising their relatively new technical director Mike Elliot, and unsurprisingly within a short period of time Elliot was removed from his post and replaced by James Allison.

A more sanguine Hamilton now re-interprets the discussions within the team around the time of his outburst.




Mercedes pulling out all the stops

“I think in the heated and intense sport that we’re living in, of course there’s frustrations on both sides all of the time and what’s important is you just continue to be open and communicate about those,” he told Hungarian broadcaster M4 Sport.

“I think you’re constantly growing through those conversations. I think the most important thing is to be aligned on where you’re going.

“There’s no doubt that everyone in this team wants to win,” explains Lewis. 

However his next comment is fascinating given Mercedes have never mentioned the fact that the cost cap regulations have ever caught them out. 

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Shock admission from Hamilton

“We’ve been caught off guard about the cost cap,” Hamilton continued. “And just the direction of the new regulations, and you just can’t copy and paste and do something different.”

What exactly Hamilton means is unclear. It could be Mercedes were utilising intellectual property created within their parent companies R&D function and not including it ins their spending allowance.

The FIA TD45 directive dealing with this did have a retrospective element which may have seen teams spend more than they would otherwise prior to the inclusion of associated ‘intellectual property’ ruling.

Mercedes did launch what was in effect a B-Spec car this season where they ditched the zero pod concept and opted for a more conventional style of bodywork.

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Wolff denied the challenge in Bahrain

This will have come at a significant cost to the team’s in season development budget and will therefore be at the expense of something else.

Whichever way Mercedes have been “caught off guard” is clearly a recent phenomena given Toto Wolff’s comments in Bahrain at the start of the season.

“I’m not sure the budget cap really gives you constraints in the position where we are because we just need to decide which direction we’re going and put all the resources behind it,” the Mercedes boss revealed.

I don’t think we’re constrained by the budget cap.

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Mercedes ability to catch up compromised

“We’re not going to develop two cars side-by-side, but we’re going to develop one car and we will decide that in the next days and weeks which car that will be,” Wolff concluded.

Whenever the FIA decide to enlighten us all with their financial regulatory audit findings, it may be less exciting than it was last year. 

Mercedes may yet comply with the rules over spending limits, but it is clear from Hamilton’s revelation they have suffered some unforeseen issues around the cost of going racing which must at some point affect their ability to catch up with Red Bull Racing.

READ MORE: Russell burns bridges with Red Bull

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