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Formula 1

Our verdict on Red Bull F1 overspend and wait for penalty

by Jack Benyon
7 min read

The FIA has officially confirmed that Red Bull overspent and breached Formula 1’s cost cap regulations during Max Verstappen’s first title-winning season in 2021.

But the much-anticipated announcement from the governing body contained no details of the exact nature or precise scale of the breach, and said the penalty was still being discussed.

Ferrari and Mercedes have made very clear they believe the laptime value of even what’s officially classed as a ‘minor’ breach would be considerable, and have already called for “severe” action long before the official announcement.

Here are our writers’ thoughts on the confirmation of Red Bull’s overspend and what could happen next.

Early outrage towards Red Bull appears overstated

Ben Anderson

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Japanese Grand Prix Race Day Suzuka, Japan

It’s unfortunate the FIA has merely confirmed what we already knew – that Red Bull breached the 2021 cost cap – without telling us (yet) the crucial information: by how much and what the punishment will be.

But the language used in its statement already appears to undermine suggestions Red Bull massively overspent in 2021, or that it was subject to an investigation.

The FIA felt moved to issue a statement implicitly criticising “significant and unsubstantiated speculation and conjecture in relation to this matter” after the story broke in Singapore, and now it has confirmed “all competitors acted at all times in a spirit of good faith and cooperation throughout the process” and that its review of each team’s financial reports for 2021 were “limited to reviewing the submissions made by the competitors and that no full formal investigations were launched”.

This would suggest that however Red Bull overspent last year it was not malicious, and that no effort was made to disguise its spending – which would then presumably require a formal investigation to elicit details.

F1’s financial regulations make provision for aggravating and mitigating factors when considering compliance, and among the aggravating factors includes a reference to “any element of bad faith, dishonesty, wilful concealment or fraud”.

Red Bull presumably felt earlier accusations about non-compliance with the cost cap were suggesting some kind of aggravation on its part.

Today’s statement would suggest the FIA and F1’s Cost Cap Administration see this first transgression in a different light to Red Bull’s rivals – as perhaps little more than a minor technical mistake, and so any pre-determined outrage may have been somewhat overstated.

But let’s wait for further details to emerge before we draw any firm conclusion.

Will 2021 never end?

Matt Beer

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Race Day Abu Dhabi, Uae

Regardless of the rights and wrongs here, my first reaction is just sadness and frustration that we still can’t consider the 2021 world championship resolved.

In fact this, even more than that Abu Dhabi restart, probably dooms it to being debated endlessly.

It was already a season that had featured far too many over-the-line pieces of driving, far too much excessive rhetoric between rival team bosses, far too many officiating controversies and far too much aggressive fan polarisation, and it was great to have moved on from it.

Back now we’re right back into all that, and whatever the level of penalty, one side or the other is going to be furious about it.

This is about more than Red Bull

Edd Straw

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Singapore Grand Prix Race Day Singapore, Singapore

The key factor to take into consideration in reacting to the FIA’s confirmation that Red Bull Racing has committed a minor overspend breach is that the cost cap administration “is currently determining the appropriate course of action to be taken”. So we now need to wait for that action to be taken.

When that happens, it’s essential that there is full disclosure of the penalty and transparency about the breach and its value. But most of all, it’s vital that as part of this process the focus is on ensuring that the cost cap remains firm – and ideally is strengthened. This is the chance to draw a. line in the sand of what is and is not acceptable within the submissions.

That means any areas where there might be loopholes are tightened up and that any future breaches will have very serious consequences. As part of that, Red Bull should get a tangible penalty – realistically, that will not be retrospective action but likely some kind of cut in aero and other testing and perhaps a temporary reduction in its spending in future – but also something far more potent on a suspended basis.

But this really isn’t about Red Bull. The cost cap is crucial to F1’s future, to the sustainability of the teams and the ambitions of levelling the playing field – something the cost cap can do but with a slow-burn effect.

The action taken now is based on the actions of the past, but must be made in the spirit of solidifying the future. That was always what the first test case of the cost cap was going to be about.

A pragmatic, but transparent, approach taken now could be the making of F1 for decades to come. A mis-step could have the opposite effect.

It’s time to back up Ross Brawn’s ‘teeth’ claim

Glenn Freeman

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Dutch Grand Prix Race Day Zandvoort, Netherlands

When these financial regulations were announced in 2019, Ross Brawn promised us they would “have teeth”. He also said “you will be losing your championship” if you breach these rules, and while a 2021 points deduction for Max Verstappen is one of the options available to the FIA for this offence, it seems unlikely.

Of the other available penalties, a reprimand, a 2021 constructors’ championship points deduction, or a suspension from any of the non-race sessions of a grand prix weekend, won’t cut it. If Red Bull gained as much as its main rivals will revel in telling us it could have by spending slightly over the cap, then any of those punishments just listed would be well worth taking on the chin. And those dissatisfied rivals would then do similar in future.

The only punishments that would back up the “teeth” claim, beyond taking away Verstappen’s championship, would be to limit Red Bull’s aerodynamic testing, and impose a reduction in the future cost cap.

We don’t yet know how far over the limit Red Bull was, but F1’s first penalty for an overspend has to hurt the offending team hard enough. Limiting spending and car development in future would hopefully achieve that.

This further sours an excellent season

Josh Suttill

After an Abu Dhabi finale that turned a thrilling title fight into an excruciating off-season of arguments and despair, this was the last thing we needed.

Abu Dhabi is still a regular topic of discussion among F1 fans and commentators – the Monza safety car finish in particular prompted comparisons – but you got the sense it was slowly fading into the background.

But now this latest controversy brings back all of the toxicity and divide that the mismanaged Abu Dhabi GP (and contentious moments earlier in that season) produced. The proverbial plaster will be ripped off and the angry pus-infested wound will be laid bare as fanbase fights fanbase.

Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton both deserved the title last year but neither deserved the messy handling of Abu Dhabi nor this latest controversy.

Of course, it’s Red Bull who has to take responsibility for its own breach but I can’t help but feel the way the FIA has handled this has only fanned the flames.

Much like its response to Abu Dhabi, there’s been a series of errors and needless angst-inducing choices.

One can only hope it nails the next steps of this process or this situation – along with the ghosts of Abu Dhabi – will further sour what was otherwise an exceptional season and championship fight between two F1 greats.

Investigation confusion

Jack Benyon

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Japanese Grand Prix Qualifying Day Suzuka, Japan

One particular element of this update from the FIA really concerned me.

“The FIA would also note that with respect to this first year of the application of the Financial Regulations the intervention of the FIA Cost Cap Administration has been limited to reviewing the submissions made by the Competitors and that no full formal investigations were launched.”

If no “full formal investigations” were launched, why is the conclusion of this frankly boring and distracting affair taking so long?

For something that is so complicated and has many provisions, surely a full investigation of any breach of this cost cap is exactly what’s required, otherwise what is the point in the governing body issuing regulations teams have to stick to in the first place?

This reads like the FIA might be taking the teams’ words for it with regards to their submissions. Perhaps that isn’t the case, but the wording of the statement certainly points that way.

For a set of regulations that has the power to improve F1 so dramatically, or harm it inconceivably should it be mismanaged, a full investigation into any breach is exactly what is required, surely?

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