Lewis Hamilton hits out at weak Red Bull penalty for cost cap breach

Oliver Harden
Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton at the pre-season photo call. Bahrain February 2023

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton at the pre-season photo call in Bahrain.

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton has hit out at the punishment handed to Red Bull last year for breaking F1’s cost cap, claiming it “didn’t cost them anything.”

Last October Red Bull were found guilty of breaching F1’s budget cap – set at $145million for the first season of its implementation – in 2021, a year in which Hamilton was pipped to the World Championship in highly controversial circumstances by Max Verstappen.

Red Bull were found to have overspent by £1.86m over the course of that season and were hit with a £6.07m fine and a 10 per cent reduction in aerodynamic research in a punishment team principal Christian Horner described as “significant.”

Lewis Hamilton on Red Bull punishment: ‘It was so small!’

Yet while Hamilton remains without a victory since the penultimate round of 2021, Red Bull have won 31 of the last 52 races stretching back to the start of Verstappen’s maiden title-winning season.

With the dominant RB19 car, Red Bull have won each of the first eight rounds of the 2023 campaign to establish a commanding 154-point lead over Mercedes in the Constructors’ Championship, with Verstappen on course for a third straight title and searching for his fifth successive victory at the team’s home circuit, the Red Bull Ring, this weekend.

And ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix, Hamilton has argued the penalty has had a negligible effect on Red Bull’s fortunes.

Asked by Sky Sports F1 if Red Bull’s switch of focus to the 2024 car means the cost cap punishment had no discernible effect, Hamilton replied: “I don’t think it did anyways. The penalty didn’t cost them anything. Definitely. Definitely, definitely didn’t.

“It was so small!” he added, holding up a finger and thumb.

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Mercedes committed to a change of car philosophy after a bruising season opener in Bahrain, with the team introducing a major upgrade package – complete with a more conventional sidepod design and anti-dive suspension – in Monaco.

While the team’s performances have improved since the upgrade, with Hamilton claiming consecutive podium finishes in Spain and Canada, team boss Toto Wolff recently aired his frustrations that the restrictions placed on them by cost cap have prevented Mercedes from taking larger strides in their efforts to close the gap to Red Bull.

Per Autosport, he said: “The cost cap gives so many constraints.

“In the past, we wouldn’t even know what a front suspension costs and today we need to take the purchase price of the aluminium and then factor in how much the machining of it costs, how much do you need to write off from the aluminium that you don’t need, price out every bolt that goes into the suspension, the carbon that you bought as the raw material then cut it and put it on…

“What is the energy cost of the composite room, the overhead that goes into it, and at the end comes out the product.

“This is super complex and it’s gone so far that we have cost analysts, engineers, that need to decide whether buying that kilogram of aluminium is worth the performance gain on the other side.

“That process is so difficult and painful; people that should be creative only and have carte blanche, they can’t do it because somebody is telling them whether it’s feasible in the cost cap or not.

“And that’s why it’s so important that everybody adheres to the cost cap. If you’re overshooting, every £10,000 matters.”

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