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Inside Line: Red Bull breached F1 Cost Cap, what now for FIA?

f1 gavel mallet red bull fia rules broken cheat

Amid the smoke and mirrors of the FIA-regulated F1 Cost Cap, here’s my take on what lies ahead for Formula 1’s governing body, with an explosive dilemma on its hands after releasing its findings regarding the 2021 season, yesterday.

The fact is that Red Bull broke the 2021 cost cap rules, as did Aston Martin. The details of how much and where the money was spent are sketchy which of course has triggered pundits and fan debate across all platforms. All exacerbated by the fact that no sentence has been forthcoming for the infractions.

No surprise then, the current volatile F1 landscape has the radicals branding Red Bull team as cheaters, calling for them to be stripped of the 2022 title through to the more docile, who accept the over-spend as accounting errors but agree the rules need tweaking with Red Bull deserving a reprimand or fine – and, of course, unending opinions in between and beyond too.

This is another F1 hot potato that is in the process of driving a wedge between Mercedes and Red Bull, not only the teams but their fans, with high levels of toxicity rising between the rival camps, evident on forums and social media, including our own Facebook page and comments section.

Now, important to note that the F1 Cost Cap was introduced to limit team spending for the 2021 World Championship season to a maximum of $145-million, which apparently Red Bull bust by anything between 1% and 5% according to speculative reports as the world waits on the FIA releases details.

That’s still a lot of money towards last year’s car, and one could argue it might have been the difference between Max Verstappen winning the F1 championship last year and not. And how much of that money has benefitted this year’s car? These are among the too many tricky questions this subject triggers.

What penalty will make this go away for the FIA so F1 can live happily ever after?

budget cap f1

What also stood out in the FIA statement is that there was a verdict but no sentence: “The FIA Cost Cap Administration is currently determining the appropriate course of action to be taken under the Financial Regulations with respect to Aston Martin and Red Bull and further information will be communicated in compliance with the Regulations.”

The delay does the sport no favours; if a team or driver cheats they must be penalised – somehow – and therein lies the probable reason for the delay, as they ponder what next.

From where I sit, the FIA appears to have check-mated itself, with this one because they only have two or three Catch-22 options: dish out a monetary fine to Red Bull or dock the driver and the team points, or, in the extreme case of disqualifying, Red Bull from last years Championship.

This would mean Verstappen would have to hand his 202 F1 drivers’ trophy to Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton. And that will never happen for very obvious reasons; thus the alternative is to fine them big money, which defies what the Cost Cap is all about.

Setting the precedent, that a team has the choice to bust the cost cap and pay the fine, which the top teams would blink at, while the small teams won’t dare as the consequences would be direly expensive. Thus it is back to square one, the rules are ‘fairer’ for the rich F1 teams once again; which means the first hurdle of the F1 Cost Cap concept has failed.

What now for the F1 Cost Cap concept?

Ben Sulayem: F1 cost cap domenicali

This is becoming a no-win situation for the FIA again, exacerbated by the inexplicable delay to sentence Red Bull and Aston Martin for these clear-cut infringements. Whatever sentence they construe will be vilified, a fine will destroy any faith in the concept working, for obvious reasons; and the alternative, stripping Verstappen of the title and handing it to Hamilton will blow up F1, for obvious reasons.

President Mohammed Ben Sulayem was absent from Suzuka, but word is he has a big entourage with him heading to Austin for the United States Grand Prix, for sure he will be bombarded with questions as the credibility of the sport’s governance is at stake here and in a glaring spotlight.

Meanwhile, the FIA which Ben Sulayem leads, is in a state of change from the old guard to the new and reports emanating from the halls in Paris and Geneva are not positive, but hard to get anyone to go on the record and criticise the new regime.

But it is early days of a reign that will probably transcend one term, nevertheless, Ben Sulayem needs to steady the ship and provide assurances to fans and to F1 teams that the F1 Cost Cap is viable and, somehow, he pulls the proverbial  ‘rabbit out the hat’ on this one with a solution that will make everyone happy, Red Bull and Mercedes included.

Thus the answer to the question: Red Bull breached F1 Cost Cap, what now for FIA?

I have no idea and await news on what the sentence will be. The sooner the better, and hopefully not a secret deal like the one struck between Ferrari and the FIA when the Reds were caught fiddling their power unit.

This brings me to the final thought on the F1 Cost Cap, I remain convinced that – although an idyllic and commendable solution to limit spending – in practice it is impossible to police, especially when reliant on the ‘integrity’ of F1 teams and auto manufacturers who have no qualms about cheating.

The automotive industry and F1 teams are no strangers to cheating and rule-bending

Hoaxwagen | Fortune

So much so that Mercedes right now are on trial in a class action-style lawsuit which alleges that the German carmaker knowingly manipulated diesel-emissions tests by installing defeat devices.

Furthermore, back in 2010, Mercedes was under the spotlight for the wrong reasons. The Securities and Exchange Commission, most commonly known as the SEC, launched an investigation as Mercedes-Benz seemed to have been engaging in illegal practices.

The Department of Justice ended up fining Mercedes-Benz $185 million. As if this was not enough, the German carmaker would be involved in an emission scandal 11 years later.

Point of all this. Automakers cheat (constantly?) to squeeze an extra buck out of the cars that roll off production lines. Just Google, Dieselgate or Emissionsgate and you will see Volkswagen and her puppy-dogs were all guilty as thieves.

And then F1 teams. Hardly trustworthy when trying to curtail what they do to be an F1 team: build insanely fast cars, with wacky budgets to go as fast as possible and beat the other nine teams doing exactly the same thing.

All F1 teams cheat, and some get caught is an age-old racing saying that still prevails to this day at every level of the motorsport.

Not too long ago, in 2020 Ferrari broke the rules and were secretly castigated; the list of F1’s underworld goes on with Spygate, Crashgate, underweight cars, secret fuel tank, traction control when it was illegal, refuelling trickery and, of course, more recently the Pink-Mercedes.

The margins are closer than ever before in F1 thus the temptation to bend the rules is greater

WM-Duell Leclerc vs. Verstappen: Alte Rivalität | AUTO MOTOR UND SPORT

Right now in the F1 paddock and pit garages as well as workshops at HQ, who knows who is doing what to find the minuscule edge between pole-position and not, the difference between a win and the runner-up spot, never in F1 have the margins been so tiny between teams thus the temptation to find that extra tenth is always there, no matter what.

Point of all this, how can you trust an unholy bunch of teams and unscrupulous automakers – intent on beating each other weekend in and weekend out on the greatest motor racing stage on the planet – to play nice and to abide by rules, or to tell the truth about anything?

How confident are we all that every year they will provide true accounts of their books to the FIA come F1 Cost Cap audit time?

I don’t buy it for one second. In motorsport, in situations such as these the pretext should be: Guilty until the team proves otherwise, politically incorrect as it is, it is the right thing to do for a sport where the landscape for cheating is so vast and ripe.

That is why the FIA have an unenviable task, first to police this and then to mete out the penalties due to the rule breakers.

In this case, the stark reality is that nearly one year (304 days to be precise) since the 2021 Abu Dhabi season finale the result is not final! It could change as we wait suspensefully for what is to come.

And this will repeat next year and the year after, henceforth an F1 season is not really officially decided until nearly a year later (!) when the FIA release their F1 Cost Cap audit findings of the previous year.

Yes, the 2021 F1 is not decided until the FIA passes sentence on the culprits.

That, in my book, is totally unacceptable and yet another reason why the ‘impossible-to-police’ F1 Cost Cap is pure crap (no other word sorry) and will never work.