Alpine suspect bigger teams are hoarding staff under budget cap loophole

Jamie Woodhouse
Alpine team principal Otmar Szafnauer. Austria July 2022.

Otmar Szafnauer surveys the grid in front of the Alpine of Esteban Ocon. Austria July 2022.

Alpine principal Otmar Szafnauer says the bigger teams are finding ways to position their staff in a way that uses grey areas in the cost cap.

One of the biggest tasks which faced Formula 1’s top spenders, Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, when the cost cap came into play, was cutting their staff numbers in order to comply with the ruling.

For 2021, the budget limit was set at $145m, provisionally dropping to $140m for 2022, while in 2023, the base limit will be $135m.

All three of those teams then were forced to slash their budgets, but at Alpine, little work was needed in relation to their personnel to settle at cost-cap level.

However, Szafnauer says the team are no longer enjoying such an advantage from that stability, as the past bigger spenders are now finding ways that they can use their staff in roles that will not push them towards an overspend.

“When everyone’s the right size, you lose that. You lose that a little bit,” said Szafnauer, as per GPFans.

“What some of the other bigger teams are now doing is they’re looking to exploit or have a better understanding of where there are loopholes or some organisational changes you can make to actually stuff more people under that budget cap.

“They’re looking at, ‘Yeah, I got rid of a hundred people, but now I want to hire back because under the budget cap I was able to find spots for them where they either don’t count as a whole person or they do some marketing stuff or whatever it is, or they work on a boat for some of the time’.

“We’re not there yet. I think they’re there already, and that advantage of being right at the beginning does dissipate.”

FIA in control but loopholes are there to be exploited

If there is truth to what Szafnauer is saying, then it does test the principles of the cost cap’s purpose but, with us still in the embryonic stages of the cost cap model, then it would not be beyond the realms of possibility for some smart accounting to still be going on despite a strong precedent being set.

Red Bull found out how seriously the FIA are taking this cap, as they were handed a $7 million fine and wind tunnel restriction for a minor overspend on the 2021 limit. None of Red Bull’s problem areas constituted instances of bad faith, yet the FIA came down heavy on the 2022 title double winners.

It’s clearly a dangerous game, but it may still be one worth playing at the top of the grid if loopholes do still exist as they try and protect as much as their superiority as possible.

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