But what is crystal clear is that while the labelling of Red Bull’s overspend has been officially classified as a “minor” breach, its opposition sees it as anything but a small matter.
To be classified as a “minor” offence rather than a “material” one, teams must have overspent by less than 5% of the allowance. So with last year’s cost cap being roughly $145 million, that could still be up to $7.25 million.
There has been no confirmation from the FIA or Red Bull about the scale of the breach, but there have been plenty of suggestions it is somewhere between $1 million and $2 million.
That may seem quite a small amount of money in the grand scheme of things but when it comes to development budgets, extra spending like that ultimately makes a big difference.
Lewis Hamilton has made reference to just $500,000 more development money being unlocked for Mercedes last year as enough to allow it to bring a new floor design, which would have lifted the pace of his car to potentially change the outcome of the title chase.
As his team boss Toto Wolff said at the Singapore GP: “If it is a so-called minor breach, I think the word is probably not correct.
“If you’re spending 5 million more, and you’re still in the minor breach, it still has a big impact on the championship.
“To give you an idea, we obviously monitor closely which parts are being brought to the track from the top teams every single race – 2021 season and 2022 season.
“We can see that there are two top teams that are just about the same and there is another team that spends more. So we know exactly that we’re spending three and a half million a year in parts that we bring to the car. And then you can see what difference it makes to spend another 500,000 – it would be a difference.
“We haven’t produced lightweight parts for the car in order to bring us down from a double-digit overweight because we simply haven’t got the money. So we need to do it for next year’s car.
“We can’t homologate a lightweight chassis and bring it in, because it’s just $2 million that we will be over the cap. So you can see every spend more has a performance advantage.”
It is this trade-off between spending and performance that top teams have had to juggle under the cost cap era, and that is why the overspending of a rival is such a big matter for them.
Ferrari in particular has called several times for maximum sanctions given out. The team believes it is the only way to ensure that squads robustly follow the cost cap in the future and aren’t encouraged to game the system by trading off an overspend to secure richer rewards than any punishment dished out will cost them.
Ferrari has said nothing publicly since the FIA’s statement on Red Bull’s breach, but it is understood the team’s stance remains unchanged, and that it wants financial breaches to be treated as strictly as technical infringements where cars are disqualified if parts a few millimetres out.
For Red Bull’s main rivals, perhaps even more important than any potential sanction being handed is that there is complete transparency in how the case is handled.
So far, the FIA has offered little insight into the scale and motives of the Red Bull breach, and that lack of information for such a big topic has inevitably triggered wild speculation.
Was Red Bull’s procedural and minor overspend the result of a small paperwork delay and innocent spending – such as a subsidised canteen at Milton Keynes, sick pay and gardening leave payments – being unexpectedly added on to the team budget by FIA interpretations and pushing it over the limit?
Or has there been some deliberate attempt to fudge paperwork, block investigations and deliberately find ways around the cost cap to ensure that Red Bull can spend more on car development than its rivals?
Red Bull’s “surprise and disappointment” at being accused of breaching the cost cap would suggest it was more the first case. However, without firm answers, rivals’ suspicions will inevitably fear it could be the second.
That is why it is essential, as much for Red Bull as for the rest of the grid, that the FIA explains things in detail, and does not go down the route of secret backroom deals.
Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB18, 2nd position, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, 3rd position, in Parc Ferme
Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images
F1’s financial regulations are actually clear in how they require the FIA to publish details of the decisions made in relation to rule breaches.
If teams choose to go for an Accepted Breach Agreement, where it owns up and takes responsibility for breaking the rules, then the matter will be released.
Article 6.32 of F1’s financial regulations states: “The Cost Cap Administration will publish a summary of the terms of the ABA, detailing the breach, any sanctions, and any enhanced monitoring procedures, omitting any Confidential Information.”
Even if the team chooses to take the matter on and go in front of judges so it can plead its case, then equally the final judgement will be made public.
Article 7.27 of the rules states: “The Cost Cap Adjudication Panel will publish the decision of the judging panel and the grounds upon which they are based, save for any Confidential Information.”
But while these offer some hope of answers for Red Bull’s rivals about the scale and scope of what happened, and the FIA’s responses, they still open the door for the governing body to try to play matters down.
For now, Red Bull’s rivals are holding a watching brief and awaiting the next steps.
As Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto said at the weekend: “I think what we need and what I’m expecting is full transparency and clarity on the discussions that may have happened.”
And if that is not forthcoming, then the FIA risks an even bigger controversy in the future.
Make any sanction too weak, or leave other teams unclear about the details of the cost cap breach by keeping things too secret, and trust in the whole system will break down very quickly.
That would then threaten the very existence of the cost cap which has been viewed as a core element of F1’s long-term health.
Why weather isn’t a true F1 leveller
Alonso says Alpine made “wrong choices continuously” in Japanese GP
Hamilton interview: New F1 deal on despite fresh ‘kick’ over 2021 title loss
The unavoidable element that all F1 drivers need to rise above
McLaren to debut innovative dynamic F1 sponsor logos
Live: Mexican F1 Grand Prix practice as it happens
Follow minute-by-minute updates for FP1 and FP2 ahead of Formula 1’s Mexican Grand Prix.
Red Bull: F1 cost cap breach penalty “enormous” and “draconian”
Red Bull Formula 1 boss Christian Horner has called the FIA’s penalty for the team’s cost cap breach in 2021 “enormous” and “draconian” due to its impact on future car development.
Austin Hill joins Beard Motorsports for six Cup races in 2023
Austin Hill will run six NASCAR Cup Series races in 2023 with Beard Motorsports.
Ferrari | North America, Imola: Franco takes lights-to-flag win in interrupted race
It was poleman Manny Franco (Ferrari Lake Forest) who took the win in the gathering gloom of the first race of round 7 of the Ferrari Challenge North America after some of his closest rivals on the grid were eliminated in incidents that brought out the safety car three times.
Can home hero Perez provide Mexico’s latest magic F1 moment?
In the long history of Mexican involvement in F1 there has yet to be a Mexican winner of the Mexican GP. Is that about to change, asks BEN EDWARDS?
The compromises involved in delivering optimal F1 ride quality
Ride quality as a concept is often misunderstood. PAT SYMONDS clarifies exactly what it means and explains its importance in racing cars – especially in a Formula 1 context
How early struggles and Red Bull rejection equipped Perez for F1’s top team
The 2022 Mexican Grand Prix will celebrate the 60th anniversary of Formula 1’s first visit to the country in 1962, when local hero Ricardo Rodriguez was killed in a non-championship event at the circuit known today as the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez. No Mexican driver since has had the potential to win their home grand prix, but Sergio Perez aims to change that – as OLEG KARPOV discovers.
Has the US GP already left expectations tempered for F1 in 2023?
OPINION: In the latter stages of 2022’s Formula 1 season, Max Verstappen has proved irrepressible as he collected another inspired win at the US Grand Prix. With Red Bull at the top, Ferrari losing its edge, and Mercedes still in recovery, hopes of a two- or three-way battle for 2023 look increasingly slim
Why Hamilton could be wrong: Mercedes 2022 F1 win chances aren’t over
OPIONION: Max Verstappen hunted down and defeated Lewis Hamilton in last weekend’s US Grand Prix at Austin – in scenes that were very 2021 after Red Bull botched his second stop. That led to Hamilton effectively declaring Mercedes’ chances of winning a Formula 1 race in 2022 to be over. But might there actually be hope yet for the Silver Arrows?
The pre-race call that hurt Hamilton’s chance to stop Verstappen’s US GP charge
Max Verstappen’s recovery from a bodged pitstop to win the United States Grand Prix demonstrated Red Bull’s dominance in 2022, but in truth key pre-race decisions helped swing the advantage back to the newly-crowned Formula 1 world constructors’ champions after its pitlane blunder. Regardless, the Dutch driver’s performance was a fitting tribute to Dietrich Mateschitz whose death during the Austin race weekend rocked the paddock
United States Grand Prix Driver Ratings 2022
In a frantic and breathless Formula 1 United States Grand Prix there are zero maximum scores in the latest Autosport driver ratings, but many starring roles alongside some unwanted villain tags during the Circuit of the Americas’ headline act
The questions and concerns resulting from F1’s relentless growth plan
OPINION: Formula 1 seems determined to grow and grow and has announced a planned 24-race calendar for next season that will be its biggest ever. But is there a risk, asks MATT KEW, that too much of a good thing could end up being detrimental to the championship?