The FIA’s announcement that Red Bull exceeded Formula 1’s cost limit last year has confirmed the worst fears of its main rivals.
But what is abundantly clear is that while Red Bull’s overspending has been officially classified as a “minor” infraction, it is not seen as small by other teams.
For it to be classified as a “minor” infringement rather than a “material” infringement, teams must have spent less than 5% more than allowed. So, since last year’s spending limit was about 145 million dollars (more or less 128 million euros at the time), Red Bull could have spent about 7.25 million dollars, that is , at about 6.4 million euros (approximate calculation).
Neither the FIA nor Red Bull have confirmed the magnitude of the infraction (the figure of more than they spent), but rumors speak of between one and two million dollars.
That may seem like a pretty small amount of money in the big picture. But when it comes to development budgets, an extra expense like that ends up making a big difference.
Lewis Hamilton said that with just $500,000 more in development money, which his team spent on the valuable soil he introduced mid-season, the 2021 world championship story would have been very different.
As Mercedes director Toto Wolff said at the Singapore GP: “If it’s a so-called minor infraction, I think the word is not correct.”
“If you spend 5 million more, and you’re still in the ‘minor’ rating, it still has a big impact on the championship.”
“To give you an idea, we obviously closely follow the pieces that the leading teams bring to the track in each race of the 2021 season and 2022 season.”
“We can see that there are two top teams that are almost the same and then there is another team that spends more. So we know exactly that we are spending three and a half million a year on parts that we put into the car. And so you can see the difference. what it means to spend another 500,000: it would make a big difference”.
“We have left small parts unmade to reduce significant excess weight on the car because we just don’t have the money. So we have to do it for next year’s car.”
“We can’t just homologate a lightweight chassis and introduce it, because with just $2 million we’ll be over the limit. So you know, every bit of spending has a performance advantage.”
It’s that balance between expense and performance that frontline teams have had to manage in the era of cost capping. And that’s why a rival’s overspending is such a big deal to them.
Ferrari has repeatedly called for the maximum sanctions to be applied. They believe that this is the only way to ensure that teams firmly follow the cost limit in the future and do not dare to do tricks and spend more than necessary to make a profit on track regardless of being fined.
The Italian team has not said anything publicly since the FIA statement on Red Bull’s infringement, but Ferrari’s position remains the same, and they want financial infringements to be treated as strictly as technical infringements where cars they are disqualified if the pieces are passed by even a few millimeters.
For Red Bull’s main rivals, perhaps more important than any possible sanctions imposed is that there is full transparency in the handling of the case.
Until now, the FIA has provided little information on the extent and motives of Red Bull’s breach, and that lack of information for such an important issue has inevitably fueled speculation.
Was Red Bull’s petty and procedural excess a little paperwork delay and an innocent expense? Did they upgrade the car by spending extra money, or was it something as innocent as a food issue, sick pay, or contract stuff that led to the over the limit?
Or has there been any deliberate attempt to rig paperwork, block investigations and deliberately find ways to circumvent the cost cap to ensure that Red Bull can spend more on developing the car than its rivals?
The “surprise and disappointment” that Red Bull declared when accused of breaching the cost limit rather suggests the first case. However, without firm answers, the suspicions of the rivals inevitably fear that it could be the second.
That is why it is essential, both for Red Bull and for the rest of the grid, that the FIA explains things in detail , and does not go down the path of secret agreements behind the scenes.
F1’s financial regulations are very clear and require the FIA to publish details of decisions made in relation to rule breaches.
If teams decide to opt for an ‘Accepted Violation Agreement’, in which they admit and take responsibility for violating the rules, then the matter will be made public.
Article 6.32 of F1’s financial regulations states: “The Cost Cap Administration will publish a summary of the terms of the Accepted Infringement Agreement, detailing the breach, any sanctions and any enhanced monitoring procedures, omitting any Confidential Information.”
Even if the team chooses to take the matter to court and appear before the judges to argue their case, the final sentence will still be made public.
Article 7.27 of the regulations establishes it as follows: “The Cost Limit Adjudication Panel will publish the decision of the panel of judges and the reasons on which they are based, except for confidential information.”
But while that gives Red Bull’s rivals some hope of really knowing the full extent of what happened and the FIA’s response, it also opens the door for the governing body to try to play things down.
For now, Red Bull’s rivals remain on the sidelines and await the next steps.
As Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto said last weekend: “I think what we need and what I expect is full transparency and clarity about any discussions that may have occurred.”
And if that doesn’t happen, the FIA risks even more controversy in the future.
If the sanction is too weak, or if the other teams aren’t clear on the details of the cost cap violation by keeping things too secretive, trust in the entire system will quickly break.
That would jeopardize the very existence of the cost cap, which has always been seen as central to F1’s long-term health.