SINGAPORE - Even before the action fires up at the Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix on Sunday, Red Bull have found themselves in the thick of the off-track action, with head honcho Christian Horner blasting his Formula One rivals for their claims on his team’s overspending, calling their comments “unacceptable” and “hugely defamatory”.
So riled up is Horner that the team principal of the season’s constructors’ standings leaders is considering legal action against these parties.
F1's first budget cap was introduced in 2021 with a base limit of US$145 million (S$207.64 million) to close the competitive gap between teams.
The cap for the 2022 season is US$140 million. Big teams like Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull used to spend hundreds of millions every year.
Rumours are rife in the paddock at the Marina Bay Street Circuit that two teams – Red Bull and Aston Martin – have breached these regulations.
“We were a little bit taken aback (by the comments)... I would be intrigued to know where their source of information for these fictitious claims have come from,” said Horner, who noted that budget submissions are confidential and privy only to the International Automobile Federation (FIA) and the respective teams.
“They’re hugely defamatory and we take umbrage to them and one can only assume it’s not (a coincidence) this is a point where Max (Verstappen) has his first strike at the world championship.
“Unless there is a clear withdrawal of statements, we will be taking it incredibly seriously and looking at what the options available to us are.”
Motor sports’ governing body will issue certificates of compliance with the 2021 financial regulations on Wednesday, after a three-month delay.
While most officials refrained from speculating ahead of any official announcement, they stressed during the constructors’ press conference on Saturday that this is the FIA’s first vital test for the cost cap.
Ferrari’s racing director Laurent Mekies is looking forward to having “clear and transparent evaluations of what has happened and that severe measures are being taken if there is a breach”.
The Frenchman said: “It’s down to the FIA to establish (if there has been a) breach and then to establish what sanctions there will be if there is a breach.
“It is a very vital test for the cost cap. If we don’t pass that test, it’s probably game over because the implications are huge.”
He added that it is crucial that “the FIA fully enforces rules as they are written now and after that penalties is a different matter”.
Haas team principal Guenther Steiner agreed, adding: “If you put this rule in place altogether, that means we respect it and this is a test, a very important one because if you don’t do it now, you continue to try and avoid it. We need to be stringent on it.”
Steiner also cautioned against “watering down” the budget cut to “accommodate or create something which could be interpreted as loopholes”.
Mekies, Steiner and other team representatives, including Alfa Romeo’s Frederic Vasseur and McLaren’s Andreas Seidl were not keen to discuss appropriate sanctions until the FIA confirms a breach has indeed taken place.
On Friday, Mekies and Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said that two teams have breached the financial regulations – one is said to be in minor breach while the other is believed to have exceeded by a significant amount.
A minor breach is an overspend of less than 5 per cent and the FIA’s cost cap adjudication panel can impose a financial penalty or a minor sporting penalty on the offending team if a breach has been determined.
Teams who exceed the limit by 5 per cent (in 2021 that would amount to US$7.25 million) or more are said to have committed a material overspend breach.
If found guilty, they may see championship points deducted or financial penalties imposed among other stiffer sanctions.
Mekies said: “It’s a simple calculation, we take it very seriously because this is a serious amount of lap time. US$7 million would give you 70 engineers, 70 engineers would give you a serious amount of lap time.”
Wolff also noted that Mercedes have made over 40 staff redundant but Red Bull’s Horner said his team have let go of over 90 staff.
But Horner continued to rip into his team’s rivals on Saturday, saying: “It’s an underhand tactic that’s been employed to detract from perhaps a lack of performance (by others) on track this year.
“We don’t even know if we’re in breach, we don’t even know until next week, until the process has been completed.
“So perhaps when these accusations are made, people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”
Wolff also noted Mercedes have made over 40 staff redundant but Red Bull boss Christian Horner said his team have let go of over 90 staff.
Horner also blasted rivals' claims on Red Bull's overspending as "fictitious" and "bang out of order".
Noting that submissions are confidential and privy only to the FIA and respective teams, he said: "We were a little bit taken aback (by the comments)... I would be intrigued to know where their source of information for these fictitious claims have come from.
"They're hugely defamatory and we take umbrage to them and one can only assume it's not (a coincidence) this is a point where Max has his first strike at the world championship.
"Unless there is a clear withdrawal of statements, we will be taking it incredibly seriously and looking at what the options available to us are."