How will Spygate, Crashgate, Schumigate & Fuelgate implicate Formula 1’s latest Costgate scandal?
Formula 1 is wading headlong into its greatest fiasco in over a decade. It’s set to unfurl in sensational style, when the FIA hands out eight cost cap compliance certificate on Wednesday.
Not only will it steal the headlines, but this latest Grand Prix Scandal is thick with all the controversy of a thriller novel. Let alone, it will likely draw from history as much as it will shape Formula 1’s very future.
The controversy surrounds the two teams of the ten that won’t receive their audit clearances on Wednesday. And if the speculation that one of those teams won the F1 driver’s title last year, and that it’s the dominant force this season, has any legs, you see how Costgate is set to be huge for the sport.
It’s deep too. It’s about Formula 1, the FIA and its new hierarchy. But it’s also as much about the Upstart Tin Can Filler, as it concerns one of the Biggest Carmakers on the Planet.
First, a little history…
Costgate is the next episode in several ‘F1gates’ over the years; let’s start with Schumigate. The 1997 World Championship went down to the wire between Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve in the European Grand Prix at Jerez. Schumacher led the title race, but he would lose if Villeneuve beat him. So, Michael basically moved to drive Jacques off the track as the Canadian tried to pass him. He failed and crashed out, leaving Jacques to limp home third to take the title. The FIA however disqualified Schumacher from the ’97 championship.
Then Spygate. When Ferrari accused former technician Nigel Stepney of selling its confidential technical secrets to his new team McLaren, Stepney, McLaren and others became the focus an ongoing FIA investigation. McLaren was eventually found guilty on compelling evidence and not only was it fined a staggering $100-million on espionage charges, but the team was excluded from the 2007 Constructors’ Championship.
Moving on to Crashgate. Nelson Piquet Jr.’s 14th lap 2008 Singapore Grand Prix crash seemed the ‘simple mistake’ he claimed, as teammate Fernando Alonso went on to win from 15th on the grid. Until Nelsinho was fired a year later. And confessed that the team had ordered him to deliberately crash to help Alonso win! Renault summarily fired team bosses Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds, both of whom were also banned from F1. And an FIA investigation slapped Renault with a suspended disqualification from the sport.
And finally the mysterious Fuelgate. The FIA accused Ferrari of tweaking its fuel flow to find more power in the second half of the 2019 season. “The FIA has analysed Scuderia Ferrari’s Formula 1 engine and has reached an agreement with the team,” it concluded. Details remain undisclosed, but it is widely believed that Ferrari was forced to run limited fuel flow that slowed its cars for 2020, in mitigation for collaborating with the FIA on the finer details of its ‘cheat’.
This one’s gonna be huge!
Let’s move with the facts. Or the alleged facts at least. We don’t want to be on Horner’s Bezos list! It is now alleged that both Red Bull and Aston Martin Racing last year overstepped F1’s $145-million cost cap limit. It is said that Red Bull is deeper in the mire, having ‘significantly’ surpassed the cap. Max Verstappen of course controversially snatched that now audited year’s drivers title for Red Bull.
The FIA has neither confirmed nor denied the allegations, stating only that it is, “currently finalising the assessment of the 2021 financial data submitted by all F1 teams” And warning that, “alleged breaches of the financial regulations, if any, will be dealt with according to the formal process set out in the regulations.” All is expected to be revealed on Wednesday.
The FIA went on to reiterate that, “the assessment is ongoing and due process will be followed without consideration to any external discussion.” That’s the first bit of spy vs. spy as incumbent FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem flexes his newfound muscles over other, major F1 team bosses laying the cost cap breaches on thick. Hold that thought. This one’s as much about Ben Sulayem’s leadership as it is cloak and dagger, intrigue and heavy F1 politics.
Costgate triggered fury from both ends of pit lane
Ben Sulayem is of course reacting to Toto Wolff on Friday uttering: “Spending five to ten percent more than everybody else is worth many, many tenths of a second. We couldn’t reduce our overweight. We simply didn’t have the money left to produce the new parts and put them on the car. So you’re fighting a totally different league if you have been pushing the limit upwards.”
That came minutes after Wolff and Ferrari’s mum Mattia Binotto met to mull the matter. “The cost cap is probably the most important evolution of regulations in order to keep a level playing field,” Wolff reiterated. “So, it is of huge importance for a demonstration that these regulations are policed.”
Now, while Wolff’s commentary is probably to be expected, all considered, he is by no means alone in his outpouring. Among the most verbose of his peers is rather surprising, and from a man not usually seen to make a racket in the F1 paddock.
“I think there’s no way around not staying in the cost cap,” Williams boss Jost Capito pointed out. “It has to have serious implications.
“Because not staying in the cost cap last year most likely saw that money spent on developing this year’s car. So it has a major impact for the whole season. So it has to have a sportive impact on this season. Breaking the cost cap would be completely contradictory to the rules and, for me, it’s a more serious breach than cheating on the car on the track.”
Now let’s speculate!
Capito’s statements are the most interesting of all the muscle flexing going down in the lead up to Costgate, and this is likely the moot point. Red Bull Racing very recently jilted Porsche on its F1 comeback. Horner, Marko and Mateschitz quite literally led Porsche down the garden path, and left the Stuttgart carmaker and its proud parent, the second biggest carmaker on the planet VW, standing rudely red-faced at the altar.
Now Capito and all his Williams men were also the core of Volkswagen’s indomitable World Rally Championship team, five to ten years ago. So, with the German supercar maker still so tender after being so dropped, some say that Williams-Porsche will be the next best thing. We’ll leave you to join those dots for yourself. But remember this: Williams just happens to be the second most successful team in F1 history. Red Bull is only sixth, behind Mercedes…
Now, there are one or two more other salient little facts to remember in all of this. Firstly, Red Bull snubbing Porsche would not have gone down very well in the Formula 1 offices. The Porsche (and Audi) return is very much the upshot of a years of very hard work by F1 boss Stefano Domenicali. Who makes no secret of his dream to bring his old employer in. Wherever that may fit, of course.
And then we have old Ben Sulayem and the FIA. Which is of course the Federation Internationale d’ Automobile. Not the International Association of Hangover Rescue Tin Can Fillers. We leave you to join those dots, too.
So, what will the FIA do to resolve Costgate?
As you would have read above, the FIA has applied various different remedies to F1 cheating and the like, along the way. Some, and particularly those in the Max Mosely era, were draconian. Another in Jean Todt’s time, and of course against his old team, was a little more measured.
Now it’s Ben Sulayem’s turn to step up to the plate to define his FIA reign through a major Formula 1 controversy. But this one’s deep. Is it as much about the Hangover Medicine Tin Can Filler and the World’s Second Biggest Carmaker, as it’s about The New FIA Boss and His Jilted Formula 1 Boss Porsche Volkswagen Bridesmaid?
Time will tell. But be prepared for the biggest Formula 1 Fiasco in Many a year. Starting this Wednesday right here on your PC or mobile device Costgate is coming, like tomorrow morning’s sun!