F1 cost cap controversy avoided… for now

This week’s announcement from the FIA regarding the 2022 financial regulations was about as far removed from the way the 2021 findings came out as you can imagine.

A year ago, the topic exploded at the Singapore Grand Prix with rumors of a cost cap breach from Red Bull — rumors that the team was quick to condemn but that proved to be correct later in October — and it was rapidly a talking point.

The confirmation came via a press release outlining the findings that had been escalating as a discussion for over a week, but it was then more than two weeks before any agreement was reached regarding the breach. Only then were details of the level of breach made public, having previously been named as a minor overspend that could range from anywhere up to $7.25 million. It must be pointed out, Aston Martin also had to reach an agreement following a procedural breach, but that’s not something that was regularly brought up alongside the team’s stunning turnaround in form over the winter. But with Red Bull winning both championships comfortably, the minor overspend breach certainly took the gloss off to some degree.


The main reason for revisiting that timeline is how short it really all was. It took 26 days from the first mention of the breach to the Accepted Breach Agreement (ABA) that teams can enter into to be announced. And it was even shorter at 18 days from confirmation from the FIA to the ABA. But at the time if felt like a massively drawn-out process that needed more communication and to be resolved more quickly.

This year, the discussions around the cost cap have largely centered around when the latest findings would be published, with the FIA having targeted a faster turnaround. So as we crept into September once again and the Singapore GP became the next race, it felt as if those aims were going to be missed.

And then during the Italian Grand Prix weekend, rumors started again. But on this occasion, they were far less dramatic as word starting going around the paddock that none of the teams had breached the cost cap in 2022. And then Tuesday afternoon’s announcement from the FIA confirmed that to be the case.

And that will be that, right? Well, it should be, but there’s always a but…

As talk about the findings started in Monza — initially as unsubstantiated gossip rather than a certainty — one team principal stated it would be good for the sport to have everyone complying and avoiding the controversy that threatened to overshadow the winning of last year’s championships. (And no, that team principal was not Christian Horner).

But they also admitted that there were still going to be multiple questions, as is often the way in F1, as teams become skeptical of each other but also of the FIA’s ability to police the cost cap itself.

It’s an area where some teams have felt the FIA is under-equipped to really get on top of how and where money is being spent. Not that it’s necessarily been used as a criticism, but just a reflection of how teams are the ones with the bigger budgets competing against each other for the best talent in all areas.

In the past that sometimes meant technical teams being able to find gray areas in the regulations that the rule makers at the FIA missed, and while that remains the case it’s also true that 10 teams with major financial departments to find the most creative way of allocating and using funds is a huge opponent for the FIA’s Cost Cap Administration to go up against.

While the FIA stated that it had focused extensively on non-F1 activities this year to try and ensure teams aren’t hiding spend elsewhere in their complex companies, there was almost an acknowledgment that teams are not completely convinced of how the process currently works.

In announcing its findings, the FIA made clear that the regulations “will continue to be developed and refined based on the findings of each review process both in terms of the regulations themselves, which are written and approved under the FIA Formula 1 governance process, and the way in which they are enforced and policed.”

Perhaps more telling was the line: “The FIA has made and will continue to make significant investments in this department for the collective benefit of the sport.”

The cost cap is designed to level the F1 playing field, but does it also serve to freeze the pecking order, to the disadvantage of teams like Williams that are trying to raise their game? Andy Hone/Motorsport Images

But that doesn’t mean some teams are not going to be raising points at this stage. As the likes of James Vowles lobbies the other nine constructors to allow Williams to invest in its infrastructure to be able to reach the level of the majority — feeling that the capital expenditure restrictions heavily limit the ability for his team to catch up — then focus falls on to the projects at the likes of Aston Martin (with a brand-new factory) and McLaren (with a state-of-the-art wind tunnel and simulator) that have been completed in the past six months and were therefore ongoing throughout 2022.

And that’s before any questions about the number of upgrades each team has introduced to the respective cars this season are brought up. Red Bull’s Horner was starting to make such suggestions as early as May when Mercedes introduced a clearly visually different W14 at the Monaco Grand Prix, saying that Toto Wolff’s team had “obviously committed a significant part of their budget cap to this upgrade.”

Don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s only Red Bull and Mercedes who will be paying close attention to one another, either. Just like with the technical regulations, teams are trying to work out who is doing what all the time, to either see if it’s something they can implement themselves or try to block moving forward.

But use of the financial regulations is far tougher to see, to both rival teams and to the FIA itself. That’s why complaints from teams are more likely to try and understand what others are doing, and why the FIA might still be on the receiving end of questions despite this week’s findings.

Story originally appeared on Racer