Cost cap and Japan crop up in awkward Christian Horner, FIA president exchange

Jamie Woodhouse
Christian Horner and Mohammed Ben Sulayem handshake. Italy, December 2022.

Red Bull boss Christian Horner and FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem shake hands. Italy, December 2022.

Christian Horner collected Red Bull’s 2022 Constructors’ trophy at the FIA’s Prize Giving Gala, but not before a jovial, yet awkward encounter with the president.

Despite the early strong performances from Ferrari, Red Bull would ultimately seize complete control of the title pictures in Formula 1 for 2022.

Max Verstappen took a record 15 race wins and wrapped up his second Drivers’ title in Japan with four rounds to go, while Red Bull won their first Constructors’ title since 2013 and 17 of the 22 races across the season.

But for such a dominant campaign, it was not exactly a smooth one for Red Bull.

The main issue which they had to face was their minor overspend breach of the 2021 cost cap. It earned the team a fine of $7 million, the team judged to have not gone over the limit by design, but the fallout and backlash which they faced from rival teams was intense.

Horner at one stage was threatening legal action if certain teams did not retract statements that were made.

And it was this issue which planted the first seed of awkwardness when FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem and Horner met on the stage to hand over the Constructors’ title trophy.

“This cup is nothing to do with the cost cap, okay?” Ben Sulayem began jokingly as he presented Horner with the trophy in Bologna. “This is from the FIA so we’re not going to deduct it from your cost cap, okay?”

Horner replied: “That’s very generous, thank you.”

The next joke, this time from Horner, then served to make the moment a little more awkward, as in his speech he spoke of “confusion” regarding the allocation of points at the Japanese Grand Prix.

With only 28 laps completed in a rain-affected race, the belief in the paddock was that full points would not be awarded, as per a system introduced in response to the washout of a Belgian Grand Prix in 2021.

That would have meant Japanese GP winner Verstappen did not score enough points to confirm himself as World Champion at that race, but as the screens began displaying graphics declaring Verstappen as champion, very few were sure what was going on.

To the surprise of team, driver and pretty much everyone else, Verstappen had scored full points and so was champion, the FIA explaining that the rule only comes into play if a race is not completed.

Horner’s jovial reference to this “confusion” drew a response from the FIA president.

“One thing you said about Japan, you said it was controversial, no,” said Ben Sulayem. “The FIA was blamed for the points but it was not the FIA which made the rules, it was the teams who made the rules and we were implementing it.”

Formula 1 president and CEO Stefano Domenicali would then step in to bring an end to the exchange. “Let’s stay focused,” was his message.

The encounter did finish on a calm note as Ben Sulayem acknowledged Verstappen and Red Bull as worthy champions.

“They deserve the win, everyone who wins deserves it, these are the rules, so well done, I say it honestly, and for more wins also,” Ben Sulayem concluded.

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