McLaren principal demands FIA punishes Red Bull for budget cap breach

The McLaren team principal, Zak Brown, has demanded the FIA imposes serious sporting and financial punishments on Red Bull for their breach of Formula One’s budget cap. In a letter to the sport’s governing body Brown insisted there should be hard-hitting action against what he described as “cheating”.

Brown wrote to the president of the FIA, Mohammed ben Sulayem, and to the F1 chief executive, Stefano Domenicali. The letter was also then circulated to the other teams who have not been found to be in breach of the cap.

Penalties the FIA could impose on Red Bull include financial sanctions or a potential deduction of points from drivers or team, which could have a material effect on the outcome of the 2021 world championship, won narrowly by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen by eight points over Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton. Brown was emphatic no team had any excuse for failing to remain within the budget.

“The overspend breach, and possibly the procedural breaches, constitute cheating by offering a significant advantage across technical, sporting and financial regulations,” he wrote.

“The FIA has run an extremely thorough, collaborative and open process. We have even been given a one-year dress rehearsal (in 2020), with ample opportunity to seek any clarification if details were unclear. So, there is no reason for any team to now say they are surprised.”

Last week after the Japanese Grand Prix the FIA announced its assessment of the teams’ submissions for spending during the 2021 season. It concluded that Red Bull had overspent the $145m cap, with a “procedural” and a “minor” breach, the latter can be anything up to 5% of the cap, as much as $7.25m.

Red Bull maintain they believe their submission was well within the cap, expressing surprise and disappointment at the FIA’s findings. It is believed that interpretation of the regulations is key to the question of the overspend. However the FIA have not released any further details of the sum in question or in what areas Red Bull are accused of overspending.

Brown, however, was emphatic that whatever the sum involved, it was imperative the sport act decisively although he did not go as far as demanding Verstappen be stripped of his 2021 title. He pointed out the long-term gains breaching the cap could have in performance terms, an issue also highlighted by the Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff, when the breach was first reported.

“The bottom line is any team who has overspent has gained an unfair advantage both in the current and following year’s car development,” Brown wrote. “We don’t feel a financial penalty alone would be a suitable penalty for an overspend breach or a serious procedural breach. There clearly needs to be a sporting penalty in these instances, as determined by the FIA.

“We suggest that the overspend should be penalised by way of a reduction to the team’s cost cap in the year following the ruling, and the penalty should be equal to the overspend plus a further fine – i.e an overspend of $2m in 2021, which is identified in 2022, would result in a $4 million deduction in 2023 ($2 million to offset the overspend plus $2 million fine).

“For context, $2 million is 25-50% upgrade to annual car-development budget and hence would have a significant positive and long-lasting benefit.”

The budget cap was introduced as a method of levelling the playing field across the ten F1 teams and closing the gaps between them. It was enthusiastically embraced by most as a way of improving the sport but it will only be effective if it is seen to be working, with sufficient penalties and without loopholes.

Brown emphasises in his letter he believed the actions of the FIA in relation to the cap were now fundamental to the future of the sport.

“The-cost cap introduction has been one of the main reasons we have attracted new shareholders and investors to F1 in recent years, as they see it as a way to drive financial and sporting fair play,” he wrote. “It is therefore critical that we be very firm on implementing the rules of the cost cap for the integrity and the future of F1.”

Red Bull have not commented on Brown’s letter and are awaiting the FIA’s decision on the penalty. They can accept it and move on or reject it in favour of presenting their case to an independent adjudication committee. However if the latter agree with the FIA’s assessment they would face a more severe punishment.