Opinion: Red Bull breach must not lead to Mercedes killing F1 budget cap

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Just a day after Max Verstappen became Formula 1 champion for a second time, Red Bull's celebrations were dampened by the news everyone else had been waiting for: the budget cap conclusions.

Behind the scenes, frustration among the teams had been building for some time as the FIA pushed back the release of their findings due to the complex process of evaluating each team's financial data for the first time.

But then, when the story became public knowledge due to the rumours of a Red Bull breach, patience really ran out as livid Mercedes fans demanded action from the evil governing body.

Finally, on Monday, it was confirmed seven teams had fully complied with the financial rules, three teams had made procedural breaches and only one had committed a "minor overspend"... Red Bull.

The amount and reasons why they had exceeded the cap remain unknown, though there has been plenty of speculation.

And no further details were released other than stating the matter was now in the hands of the Cost Cap Administration to consider potential consequences.

FIA logo

But that hasn't stopped an entire week of fire and fury from those who worship Toto Wolff and Mercedes won social media.

Ahead of the FIA's release, Wolff, who it should be noted magically managed to predict the future in Singapore, had already been laying the groundwork for his response.

“Is it a so-called minor breach, because I think the word is probably not correct?” he recently said.

“If you’re spending five million more, and you’re still in the minor breach, it still has a big impact on the championship.

“We can see that there are two top teams that are just about the same and there is another team that spends more.

“We know exactly what we’re spending – three and a half million a year in parts that we bring to the car. So then you can see what difference it makes to spend another $500,000.

“It would be a difference.”

Wolff SingGP

Then came his biggest declaration, that if the FIA doesn't punish Red Bull accordingly, regardless of the circumstances for their breach, Mercedes is already planning to exceed the cap in the future.

“If Red Bull had overspent by two million, they could close the matter by paying the FIA five times, therefore 10 million," he was quoted by Crash.net.

“I would not be fair because it would sanction the right to cheat by paying a fine.

"Mercedes have already talked about it and, if this were really the point of failure, Mercedes is ready to plan extra budget and related fine to recover performance and return to the top.”

The irony is, this isn't the first time F1 has been in this position.

Back in 2010, the teams, then part of a group called FOTA, introduced what was called the RRA (Resource Restriction Agreement).

This limited the number of personnel in a team and included other measures designed to reduce costs and create a more level playing field financially.


But because this was merely an agreement and not a regulation, enforcing the RRA was difficult and just a year later, Red Bull and Ferrari were accused of breaking it.

One of the loudest voices was Mercedes, under the leadership of Ross Brawn, who supported the idea of the RRA but noted they would have no choice but to increase spending to be competitive.

And in the fallout, not only did FOTA collapse as Red Bull, Toro Rosso, Ferrari and Sauber withdrew but eventually, the RRA died.

Triggering Mercedes to go on a spending spree over the next decade, eventually becoming F1's biggest spenders by a considerable margin during the hybrid era with a peak spend in 2019 of £333m.

But then, in 2021, came the budget cap, and suddenly their era of dominance ended as the team could no longer spend its way to victory. 


And in 2022, well we've seen how Mercedes has struggled after misjudging their design under the new regulations, again due to the financial restrictions upon them.

Wolff himself even alluded to this, stating: “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.”

But now due to Red Bull's breach, here we are again, back in 2011, and Mercedes and Wolff have the opportunity to kill the budget cap in the same way as the RRA.

It's almost inevitable that any sanction the FIA hands down short of giving Hamilton the 2021 title isn't going to be sufficient for Mercedes, leading to a fight for the survival of the financial regulations in the coming year.

Wolff FIA Sulayem

This is why it is critical for Red Bull to own up, be the better team, work with the FIA openly and accept the fallout from their breach, denying the big, bad Wolff what he wants.

Safeguarding the budget cap is essential for the future of F1, ensuring those at the front are there for their skills, not their wallet size.

And Red Bull has a much bigger interest than Mercedes in guaranteeing that remains the case.