The only fitting punishment for ‘material’ budget cap breach is losing R&D time

Michelle Foster
Charles Leclerc and Sergio Perez in their cars in parc ferme. Singapore October 2022

The only fair punishment for any team that gained an advantage by breaching the cap is to put them at a disadvantage. Losing R&D time and the budget for it would do just that.

Nearing the end of year two in Formula 1’s new budget cap era, there are reports doing the rounds that at least two teams exceeded the cap last season.

Said to be Aston Martin and Red Bull Racing, the latter are alleged to have overspent by $10million, which is well over the five per cent not-quite-leeway for a minor breach.

Anything over five per cent will, according to the FIA’s rule book, be declared a ‘Material Overspend Breach’ – and that opens a swath of hard-line penalties.

Justified ones if you listen to Red Bull’s rivals.

Williams CEO Jost Capito believes breaching the cap is “a more serious breach than cheating on the car on the track” given it gives the team that overspent an advantage on the track.

An advantage Toto Wolff says will last for years.

“The crucial part is if you’ve been over in ’21 then you’ll be over in ’22 and you’ll have an advantage for ’23,” said the Mercedes motorsport boss.

“It’s a cascade of events that can be influential in all three championships.”

Wolff, if Red Bull did exceed the cap which it must be noted they vehemently deny, has every right to be incensed given Mercedes lost the Drivers’ title to Max Verstappen while Red Bull allegedly overspent.

Fred Vasseur explained that even with “$200,000 you can bring a big update, and if you overshoot the budget by this it’s a couple of tenths for more than one race”.

Red Bull are said to have spent $10m – that’s 50 times that one tenth of a second upgrade.

Ferrari are also livid, the Scuderia having spoken several times this season about how they could not bring the updates they wanted to the track because of the budget cap.

Now Red Bull, the team that over the course of the season have pulled ahead of them, are rumoured to have updated the car, cap be damned.

“Because we were massively constrained,” said sporting director Laurent Mekies. “Therefore any million, any leak you allow in the budget cap, will turn into a few tenths of a second on the car.”

And if you have gained a few tenths through dubious measures, surely the fitting punishment is to lose that?

The FIA’s list of punishments includes the “deduction” of Constructors’ Championship points or Drivers’ points. Take away last year’s Drivers’ title and Verstappen still has (let’s be honest, it’s in the bag) this year’s.

Suspend the team from “one or more stages” of a grand prix weekend “excluding” the race or even “including” it. That is not much of a punishment as with the fastest car unfairly updated, a driver like Verstappen can win from the back. He can also wrap up a title with races to spare (as he is about to do).

“Exclusion from the Championship”? Now you’re talking, but said team still carries the advantages gained into the next season.

Which brings us to the only just punishments – “limitations on the ability to conduct aerodynamic or other testing” and “reduction of the Cost Cap…applied with respect to the year following the punishment being handed out”.

Losing the budget to spend on R&D as well as the time permitted in the wind tunnel or with CFD will rather quickly negate the ill-gotten gains.

Without the chance to develop the car back at the factory, or at least limited in the time allowed to do so, the rest of the field will have the chance to catch up.

It is the only way to ensure the guilty teams pay a proper price while also detracting others from a slap-on-the-wrist-but-oh-so-worth-it overspend.

It’s either that or sandbags…