Formula One, Sports

Red Bull’s cost cap breach and the FIA’s lack of transparency

On Oct. 10, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) released its findings from an investigation into possible 2021 cost cap violations. Aston Martin was found guilty of a procedural breach after providing inaccurate financial documentation to the FIA. Red Bull was found guilty of both a procedural breach and a minor financial overspend, representing less than five per cent of the cost cap.

In 2021, the FIA set the cost cap at $145 million in an attempt to reduce the gap between teams that were able to spend several hundred million and teams who could barely reach the cost cap. For example, Haas spent a total of $80 million for the 2020 year while Mercedes spent $450 million and even had to fire some employees to meet cost cap regulations.  

This spending gap between teams has proven to have major consequences on the perceived fairness of races. Max Verstappen, who races for Red Bull, won the 2021 Driver’s Championship. He controversially snatched the win in the final race of the season by overtaking Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton in the last lap. In light of FIA’s conclusion that Red Bull had breached the cost cap, coupled with the contentious win, fans were quick to anger, rushing to Twitter to express their frustration with Red Bull’s disregard for the rules. Some fans even went as far as to suggest that the 2021 title should be stripped from Verstappen and given to Hamilton.

But fans aren’t the only ones upset about this perceived injustice. McLaren’s team principal Zak Brown wrote a letter to the FIA and F1 chiefs stating that any breach of the financial regulations constitutes cheating, provoking a fervent defence from Red Bull’s principal, Christian Horner. Mercedes’ team principal Toto Wolff declared that Red Bull’s breach could not be qualified as minor, explaining that even a $500,000 overspend could heavily influence the outcome of a championship.

On Oct. 28, the FIA announced that Red Bull would receive a $7 million USD fine and a 10 per cent reduction in wind tunnel time, which is used to perfect aerodynamic testing. While Horner has denounced the punishment as draconian, Wolff declared that one of the most significant consequences for Red Bull would be the reputational damages to the team.

However, the Red Bull cost cap situation reflects the FIA’s larger problem with accountability. The lack of clarity in the FIA’s original announcement of the cost cap breach provoked more than two weeks of speculation about what really happened: How severe was the cost cap breach, and why did Red Bull overspend to this extent?

The murky dealings within the FIA have consistently put drivers’ lives at risk and in some cases have proven to be fatal. During this year’s Japanese Grand Prix, Alpha Tauri driver Pierre Gasly almost collided with a crane on the track deployed to retrieve Carlos Sainz’s damaged car. The dangerous racing conditions were almost identical to the environment Formula 1 driver Jules Bianchi lost his life in after hitting a crane on the track during the Suzuka Grand Prix in 2015. The FIA’s investigation of the accident qualified Gasly’s driving as “reckless,” seemingly absolving themselves of any blame. Although the FIA’s investigation also recognized that the deployment of cranes on the track potentially should be delayed, they did not acknowledge their failings in ensuring the drivers’ safety.   

The FIA’s constant lack of accountability makes the sport less enjoyable for fans. Having to continuously question the decisions of a sport’s governing body distracts from the breathtaking races and the intricate mechanisms of the vehicles. When the focus is taken away from the beauty of the sport and turned to the FIA’s regular shortcomings, it leaves fans disappointed and disheartened. If the FIA continues to brush serious concerns regarding their provision of safety and fair judgment under the rug, it will undoubtedly push people away from the sport.

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