‘My god’: FIA president reveals ex-Mercedes advisor shocked him with Red Bull cheating comment

Red Bull previously accused FIA interim secretary general Shaila-Ann Rao of leaking the Austrian's budget cap report.

Following Max Verstappen’s 15th victory of the 2022 season, another year of Formula 1 has drawn to a close, marking the start of a period of reflection before all eyes turn to 2023.

FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem has reflected himself on the year and especially on the accusations made by Red Bull regarding the budget cap scandal.

Whilst the FIA didn’t officially announce the Austrians breach until after the Japanese Grand Prix, reports over the matter began to circulate before that at the Singapore Grand Prix, following a leak.

Red Bull pondered if FIA interim secretary general of motorsport Shaila-Ann Rao leaked Red Bull’s budget cap breach, due to her having previously been a Mercedes colleague.

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Rao worked for Mercedes for three years between 2018 and 2022, where she held the role of general counsel and was also a special advisor for the Germans team boss Toto Wolff.

Her previous role was at the FIA as a legal director, a job she occupied from 2016-2018, resulting in some being wary that she was returning to the governing body.

She’s faced claims of favouritism and leaking financial information, two things that Ben Sulayem has ruled her out of doing.

Incredibly, the FIA president revealed that Rao questioned if Red Bull’s budget cap penalty was a “bit harsh”, suggesting that she was actually sticking up for the Austrian side.

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Red Bull were slapped with a $7 million fine and a 10-percent reduction in permitted aerodynamic research.

“Her position is interim secretary general, and the interim, what does interim mean?” Ben Sulayem asked, as reported by Motorsport.com.

“Shaila-Ann has been supportive a lot to me. You see her intelligence when it comes to setting big decisions for me.

“I’ll be very honest with you, and I’ll defend my opinion, but when it comes to Shaila-Ann, there were accusations that she is mainly a supporter of Mercedes.

“But actually, when the [cost cap] penalties were there with both teams, she said that’s a bit harsh from me.

“I looked and said: ‘My god, there is someone who is accusing her of being with Mercedes, and she’s saying to me that it’s harsh on Red Bull.’”

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Ben Sulayem also remains adamant that it wasn’t the FIA who leaked the budget cap outcome, with the president having explained that those with the information were in Austria at the time the information was leaked in Singapore.

“On the leak, we were in Austria, we were having the F1 Commission meeting, and while we were talking about it, it was already in the news,” he said.

“It’s frustrating sometimes, because before you’ve finished your meeting, something has got out.”