Mercedes boss, Toto Wolff claims that Red Bull’s exceeding of the 2021 budget cap was common knowledge within the F1 paddock.
Not for the first time, despite the best efforts of F1 bosses to ‘spice up’ the show, it is the bitter wrangling between teams away from the track that threatens to completely overshadow what happens when the start lights go out.
On Friday, before a wheel had even turned, reports in the German media claimed that Red Bull and Aston Martin had both exceeded the 2021 budget cap.
As speculation spread through the paddock, the FIA was forced to issue a comment on the claim.
“The FIA is currently finalising the assessment of the 2021 financial data submitted by all Formula 1 teams,” said an FIA spokesperson.
“Alleged breaches of the Financial Regulations, if any, will be dealt with according to the formal process set out in the regulations.”
However, as the story continued to dominate, with claims that Red Bull had exceeded the ($145m) cap by as much as $10m, an official statement was released.
“The FIA is currently finalising the assessment of the 2021 financial data submitted by all Formula 1 teams,” it read.
“Alleged breaches of the Financial Regulations, if any, will be dealt with according to the formal process set out in the regulations.
“The FIA notes significant and unsubstantiated speculation and conjecture in relation to this matter, and reiterates that the assessment is ongoing and due process will be followed without consideration to any external discussion.”
Christian Horner had been quick to deny the allegation, insisting that his team was below the cap, while hinting that he was aware where the claim had originated.
“We’re certainly not aware of any breach,” said the Briton. “The accounts were submitted back in March, so it’s been a long process with the FIA.
“We’re in that process as we speak,” he added. “They’re rightly following that process and I think next week is when they declare their certificates.
“Our submission was below the cap, and it’s down to the FIA to follow their process, which they’re currently doing.”
“It’s funny Christian says that because it’s been weeks and months they’re being investigated,” he told Sky Sports, “so maybe he doesn’t speak to his CFO.
“As a matter of fact, we all of us have been investigated diligently,” he continued. “And as far as we understand, there’s a team in minor breach, which is more procedural, and another team that is fundamentally massively over and that is being still looked after.
“That’s an open secret in the paddock,” he said.
A $10m overspend would constitute a ‘major’ breach of the financial regulations, and punishment could include exclusion from the championship and/or even stripping Max Verstappen of his 2021 title, a fact gleefully reported on by some sections of the media.
Wolff has little sympathy, insisting that Mercedes played it by the book, even to the extent of making long-serving employees redundant in a bid to keep within the cap.
As a result, he and fellow team bosses expect the FIA to come down hard on anyone who broke the rules.
“It’s heavyweight, it massively heavyweight,” he said. “We’re using used parts, we are not running what we would want to run, we are not developing what we could be developing.
“We have made more than forty people redundant that are dearly missed in our organisation, and it was a huge, mammoth project to make the cap.
“I don’t know how many tens of millions we had to restructure and reprocess in order to be below the cap. And if someone has not been doing that, or pushing the boundaries, every million is a massive disadvantage.”
The Austrian also pointed out the potential for overspill from one season to another, whereby a team overspending in 2021 could still have ramifications in terms of its 2023 budget.
Consequently, on a weekend where Max Verstappen could secure his second – or is it his first – title, the sport is locked in yet another bitter battle.
The very thought of stripping the world champion of his title almost a year after he won it, especially when one considers the circumstances of that night in Abu Dhabi, don’t bear thinking about, however, if rules have been broken the sport must act accordingly.
If Red Bull has broken the rules then it must be punished, and while it would please many there would be just as many left totally disillusioned, especially after the debacle of Abu Dhabi.
Also, such a move would almost certainly cause Dietrich Mateschitz to question whether he really needs to remain in F1. Should he pull the plug the sport could face the loss of two teams.
While Audi or Porsche might consider taking Red Bull off his hands it is doubtful whether either would want AlphaTauri also.
At which point – oh irony of ironies – Stefano Domenicali might finally have to concede that F1 does need another team or two, even an American one.
Check out our Friday gallery from Singapore here.