Christian Horner’s comments on cost cap resurface from 2020 Red Bull column

Michelle Foster
Christian Horner wearing headphones on the pit wall. Baku June 2022.

Christian Horner wearing headphones on the pit wall at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Baku June 2022.

Christian Horner warned back in 2020 that whatever limit is set out in a budget cap, teams will always spend an “extra 10 percent”.

On Monday it was confirmed after weeks of rumours that Red Bull had overspent last season, breaching the budget cap that had been set at $145 million.

The FIA announced the 2021 Drivers’ Championship winners are guilty of a ‘Minor Overspend Breach’ which means they exceeded the cap but by less than 5 per cent, less than $7.25m.

What exactly the figure was motorsport’s governing body isn’t saying, but Horner did warn back in 2020 that an overspend could happen.

Writing in a column for Red Bull in May 2020, the final year that the teams were free to spend whatever they had, the team boss said: “Money is a hot topic among F1 teams right now.

“The problem is, so much is made about the figure of the cost cap that I believe it is missing the point.

“F1 teams will always spend whatever budget they have available to them. Plus an extra 10 percent.

“It is impossible to compare the spending of Ferrari to Haas, of Mercedes to Racing Point or even from Red Bull to AlphaTauri. They are all completely different structures and business models.

“I believe the solution should be looking at what drives those costs up in the first place and that is the R&D cost of building and developing cars in the hope of being competitive.

“I fully support the need to reduce costs and ensure that all 10 teams remain in the sport but there are many ways to accomplish that goal and they are not all just about lowering the cost cap.”

Instead of a cap, the Briton extolled the virtues of customer cars.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen at the Hungarian Grand Prix. Budapest, July 2022.

“If the main target of a cost cap is about being competitive and helping the smaller teams, especially as we come through the current crisis, then I would be fully open to selling our cars at the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi,” continued the Red Bull team boss.

“Some people say that customer cars are against F1’s DNA to design and build your own car, well times have changed and we need to find the best way to make the smaller teams competitive and survive the current crisis. This approach works well in MotoGP and it could even attract more teams to the grid, which we would all welcome.

“Teams spend fortunes over winter copying others, why not just give them the opportunity to buy last year’s car?

“It would make far more sense for a team to be competitive, rather than spending money developing something if the funds are not there to do so. As the business model of the smaller teams evolves and they become more competitive with customer cars, they can bring in increased revenue and then look to build their own cars again.

“I truly believe the customer car solution could help in the short term and should be a serious consideration. There has certainly been some opportunism by some teams during the current crisis but I believe we need to look at all options rather than making a knee jerk reaction that could see many jobs lost.

“We should be less obsessed about the cap and more focused on making the sport competitive.”

Customer cars could never what the budget cap may yet do

Yes customer cars would save Formula 1’s smaller teams a chunk of change, ensuring their survival on the grid. But they’ll always be at the back, just picking up random points.

The rate of development during a single season in Formula 1 is astronomical, teams shaving tenths if not seconds off their lap times as they introduce upgrades.

And that’s not counting the development done in the off-season, teams always seeming to find more downforce and more pace from one season to other.

Ergo a customer car team may survive but they’ll never compete.

One could argue that the budget cap hasn’t exactly achieved a more competitive Formula 1 this season, Haas and Williams still struggling for points at the back of the field and the big three still the big three just a slight tweak in their order.

But for this season, and likely 2023 as well, the big boys are still reaping the rewards of excessive spending in 2020 and the years before that. They gained infrastructure and a work force that the smaller teams never had.

It will take a while for the budget cap to level the playing field. But it will happen. It would never have been possible with customer cars.