You break the rules, you face the consequences, it’s that simple.
Unless you’re Christian Horner.Embed from Getty Images
It’s not often that the integrity of an entire sport is questioned, but when it is, there’s huge uproar among fans. American cyclist Lance Armstrong once cheated for a decade by using Performance Enhancing Drugs – and nobody bat an eyelid. He was cycling’s poster-boy for years until he finally admitted to breaking the rules in 2013. Armstrong quickly went from hero to zero because of his actions and all his previous achievements were dismissed.
But this doesn’t seem to be the case with Formula One… even though there are overt cheaters dominating the sport.
Just nine days ago, Red Bull were found guilty of breaking F1’s cost cap rule, which was introduced at the beginning of the 2021 season. Each team on the grid was granted a maximum spending limit of £114million with the aim of increasing competitiveness across the field.
Although team principal Horner was initially adamant that Red Bull were under the limit, the official FIA investigation discovered a minor breach. The Milton Keynes-based team exceeded the limit by up to five per-cent, which equivalates to £5.7million – a decisive amount considering the fine margins between 2021 World Champion – and Red Bull driver – Max Verstappen and Mercedes man Lewis Hamilton.
Verstappen’s maiden Drivers Championship title was dubbed ‘controversial’ from the moment he crossed the finish line in Abu Dhabi last December. The Dutchman was ten seconds behind Hamilton, who was on course to win his record-breaking eighth Championship title, when a safety car was introduced. Stewards had initially indicated that lapped cars in between the rivals would stay in formation – which would have seen five vehicles separate them. But, at the last minute, the stewards controversially reversed the call, leaving Verstappen hot on the heels of Hamilton. The Red Bull superstar ended up crossing the line less than a second before his Mercedes counterpart.
But, considering the new financial information which has come to light over the past few weeks, it begs the question – would the Drivers Championship have different outcome if Red Bull had not overspent? And was this money Red Bull’s Performance Enhancing Drug?Embed from Getty Images
Yes, it was considered a ‘minor’ breach, but that overspend could have been exactly what separated Red Bull and Mercedes on that crucial day in Abu Dhabi.
Other team chiefs have been clear in their stance. It was ‘cheating’. McLaren principle Zak Brown has even written a letter to the FIA, suggesting that Red Bull should face severe consequences.
He wrote: “The overspend breach, and possibly the procedural breaches, constitute cheating by offering a significant advantage across technical, sporting and financial regulations.
“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.
“The bottom line is any team who has overspent has gained an unfair advantage both in the current and following year’s car development.
“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.”
Although a number of other teams on the grid have been clear in their disapproval of Red Bull’s actions, the FIA are still yet to reveal a punishment for the breach.
Numerous reports have suggested that a simple fine will be given, but in the grand scheme of things is this really good enough? Horner will likely be thrilled with that outcome considering the amount of money the team generates on an annual basis.
It almost encourages other teams to breach the cost cap in future as they know that they will gain maximum reward with minimum risk.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has already been very clear in his stance. During a press conference in Singapore earlier this week, he said: “Drivers are driving their guts out in order to be on top. There are decisions that the team takes that they are not involved in.Embed from Getty Images
“But still, in the end, you sit in a car that is made on steroids. It’s such a tough call and I wouldn’t want to make a judgement call.
“To be honest, my thinking isn’t so far, it’s more about the principle of how this is going to pan out in the future -how robust are these regulations? How are they being enforced and policed? How is the governance process going to run?
The line needs to be drawn somewhere. Rule breaches must come with consequences otherwise the integrity of this historic sport will continue to diminish.