It would come as absolutely no shock that the ‘Cashgate’ scandal is once again dominating headlines in Formula 1, despite the United States Grand Prix taking place in front of a record-breaking crowd.
The entirety of the build-up to the weekend was based around the current scandal being dealt with by the FIA, with Red Bull continuing to insist that despite being announced as guilty, they didn’t make a ‘minor’ breach of the 2021 budget cap.
It became clear prior to qualifying that a large portion of the fans at the Circuit of the Americas aren’t on the side of the Austrians, with Max Verstappen and Sergio Pérez having been met with a huge wave of boos during an on-stage interview in-front of thousands of fans.
The scandal has heated up over recent days immensely, with McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown having written to the FIA insisting that the Austrians “cheated”; however, to avoid trouble (unsuccessfully), he didn’t mention Red Bull by name.
Incredibly, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has demonstrated support for the two Red Bull drivers and labelled the boos they faced as “unacceptable”.
“This is unacceptable,” stated Wolff.
“Nobody wants to see that, whether it happens on the podium or at an event with fans. I think everyone in Formula 1 is against this behaviour.”
The FIA can largely be blamed for the reception received by the two drivers, with the governing body once again failing to be transparent and quick in regard to awarding a punishment.
It’s allowed for these back-and-forth spats between teams, with the most recent being between Red Bull and McLaren.
Awkwardly, Brown and Horner were actually part of the same team principals press conference ahead of the weekend, where the Red Bull boss revealed how “shocking” it was to see McLaren accusing Red Bull of “cheating”.
“Zak’s letter is tremendously disappointing,” said Horner, during the team principals press conference.
“For a fellow competitor to be accusing you of cheating, to accuse you of fraudulent activity, is shocking. We’ve been on trial because of public accusations since Singapore.
“And the rhetoric of cheats, in an age where mental health is prevalent, we’re seeing significant issues now within our workforce. We’re getting kids that are being bullied in playgrounds that are employees’ children,” Horner said.
“That is not right, through fictitious allegations from other teams. We’re absolutely appalled at the behaviour of some of our competitors.”
Whilst Wolff was quick to protect the Red Bull drivers, there was no such reaction to Horner’s response to Brown.
The Mercedes boss was, of course, asked for his thoughts on Horner’s comments, with the Austrian responding in sarcastic fashion.
“I almost shed a tear,” he said, sarcastically.
“He is demonstrating some kind of inverted psychology,” Wolff told Sky Deutschland ahead of the US GP.
“The question arises – who is the victim in this situation, again? I believe it is the nine other teams, not the one we are just discussing.”
Due to the lack of transparency from the FIA, it is still unknown what the side actually overspent on and, crucially, how much by.
Most reports state a figure around the $1.8 million mark, with areas such as catering and Adrian Newey’s wage a believed question mark.
The paddock has demanded that the FIA award a heavy punishment, something ex-F1 driver Romain Grosjean backs.
“If Red Bull overspent, they cheated,” Grosjean told L’Equipe.
“They did not respect the rules and therefore must be punished.”
A fresh report coming out of COTA was that the punishment set out in the “accepted breach agreement” offered to Red Bull from the FIA, included, a 25-percent wind tunnel reduction.
Should they accept this, then the saga will quickly conclude; however, it’s highly unlikely that this ‘agreement’ will be accepted by the Austrians.
It’s believed that the scandal won’t actually be discussed by Red Bull or FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem again this weekend, though, despite Horner and Ben Sulayem having met several times in the paddock.
This is due to the sad loss of Red Bull co-founder Dietrich Mateschitz, who the team announced had died on Saturday aged 78.
Prior to this deeply saddening announcement, Horner revealed that if the scandal isn’t dealt with this weekend, then it could go on for “another six, nine months”.
“Should that not happen, the next process is it goes to the cost cap administration panel and then beyond that there’s the international court of appeal,” Horner said.
“So, it could draw out for another six, nine months, which is not our intention.”