After denials and threats of lawsuits for defamation Red Bull did indeed breach Formula One’s budget cap. Aston Martin was also found to be in a procedural breach, meaning they didn’t correctly fill in various forms. The $145M cost cap was introduced in 2021. The FIA calculated that Red Bull exceeded the amount by less than 5%. The latter is considered a minor breach of the regulations. In a further sign of a lack of integrity and transparency, the FIA failed to reveal exactly by how much Red Bull overspent.
The focus is very much on the FIA and Red Bull. A minor breach of the cost cap suggests that the FIA has devised a set of rules that are open to interpretation, meaning that the FIA expected some teams to go over the cost cap spend limit. So why have the rule in the first place? As it turned out, only Red Bull exceeded the $145M limit, a limit that was seen also seen as a test of the gentleman’s agreement between teams up and down the paddock.
A minor breach of the cost cap by Red Bull will have minor implications for the team. Yet Red Bull blatantly lied to the world’s media and public beyond protesting their innocence in the run-up to the report being released. The FIA has the power to impose penalties, however, Red Bull is too big to fail and a “minor” breach of overspending is a get-out clause or another way of saying minor consequences.
Sanctions can include a reduction of the team’s cost cap, limits on testing, deduction of drivers or championship points, or a suspension from one or more races. But will the FIA act? Red Bull may well be too big to fail, an advertising cash cow too difficult to upset or possibly lose. Christian Horner spent the morning doing a round of radio interviews still in denial, still protesting innocence to the very last minute.
Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto was less than happy and called for heavy sanctions to be imposed on any team breaching cost-saving measures. A few days before the FIA revealed its cost cap report Binotto said:
“$5m is about half a second, $1-2m is 0.1-0.2secs, which can be the difference between second on the grid to pole.”
“If there is a breach, the penalty has to be significant. Our car has been developed respecting the budget cap and we know how much even a minor breach would have implied in performance.”
“It is about 2021. And also over the following seasons. I am expecting full transparency and clarity on the discussions they have had.”