Red Bull are currently enduring somewhat of a waiting game, as the Austrians await confirmation from the FIA over what their punishment will be for exceeding the 2021 budget cap.
Following much speculation since the Singapore Grand Prix, the FIA confirmed for all the world last Monday that the current Constructors’ leaders did indeed exceed the budget cap in its first ever season, after the concept was introduced in 2021.
The purpose of the budget cap was to put a limit on how much each team could spend (£114 million), making for a more financially fair playing field and potentially a more competitive grid.
The budget was there to be spent on the car itself (excluding the power unit), catering, and other areas like employees’ wages (excluding the top three highest earners).
Based on this, things like aerodynamic or floor upgrades would’ve come out of the budget cap, meaning that exceeding the cap on car development would be giving the guilty party a definite advantage.
Bizarrely, according to reports, Red Bull’s ‘minor’ breach was due to spending too much on catering and staff absences, rather than on the car itself.
The Austrians are convinced that they haven’t exceeded the cap despite it being confirmed by the FIA that they did, with advisor Dr Helmut Marko certain they “didn’t break” the rule “at all”.
“I don’t want to say too much,” Dr Helmut Marko told f1-insider.
“Just that we still believe that we didn’t break the cost cap rule at all. Discussions with the FIA are ongoing. Let’s see what finally comes out of it.”
A ‘minor’ breach means the team overspent by possibly up to £7 million; however, it’s believed that the breach is around the £1.8 million mark.
Regardless, the list of punishments that the FIA could award for a ‘minor’ breach is worryingly extensive, with a fine, resource reduction, session ban, and even a points deduction from 2021 possible.
Teams have called for a heavy penalty to be awarded to maintain the integrity of the sport, with Red Bull having effectively cheated last season during Max Verstappen’s title-winning campaign.
Ferrari are one of the sides to have called for the FIA to award a heavy penalty, with Mattia Binotto believing it should target the Austrians “capacity for development”.
“I believe that looking at the result of a world championship after the battles on the track and the ceremonies and celebrations is difficult,” Binotto said.
“But what is evident is that spending more money than the others has a performance advantage that remains in subsequent seasons.
“So we think a better penalty in addition to the financial one must lead to a slowdown in the development of the car.
“Otherwise, the advantage will remain in subsequent years and we will have to fight without equal means. In my opinion, there must be a penalty that sanctions the capacity for development,” the Italian added.
Mercedes, on the other hand, want Verstappen’s 2021 Drivers’ Championship taken away, which would, of course, make Sir Lewis Hamilton an eight-time World Champion.
Marko has rejected any conception that Verstappen could be stripped of his first crown and has labelled the possibility as “complete nonsense”.
“As I said, we are still not aware of any guilt, which is why discussions with the FIA are still ongoing,” he said.
“But rumours that Max could lose his world title in 2021, for example, are complete nonsense. The past has shown that even extreme violations of the regulations were punished very mildly by the FIA.”
It’s unknown how long the FIA will take to make a decision on what punishment to award, with a lot of factors set to be considered.
The big question on many pundits’ lips, though, is how the breach become known before the official announcement.
Ex-F1 driver Ralf Schumacher thinks the FIA must conduct an internal investigation, with an inside leak seemingly the only way that private financial reports were made aware of in the public light.
It has also had a damaging effect on Aston Martin, who were reported to have exceeded the cap but actually were confirmed by the FIA to have simply committed a procedural error, not a cost cap breach.
Schumacher has labelled the governing body as “criminal” and thinks they too need to be “punished accordingly”.
“The ladies and gentlemen of the FIA must now face a detailed investigation of how this is even possible,” Schumacher said.
“If Red Bull has really broken the rules, it should be proportionately punished. But what the FIA did there doesn’t work at all.
“Imagine if the ministry of finance kept certain companies up to date with the current status of investigations against their competition. That would even be criminal,” the German added.
“Everything must be disclosed transparently, and in the event of an offense the ladies or gentlemen of the FIA must be punished accordingly.”