Red Bull should not be allowed to ‘negotiate’ over cost cap breach

© Jiri Krenek for Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd.

By Adrian Mann

Max Verstappen has won the 2022 Drivers’ Championship at the Japanese Grand Prix, and on Sunday Red Bull picked up its first Constructors’ title since 2013. However, these are not the main news stories in Formula 1 right now. No, the F1 conversation is dominated with Red Bull’s breach of the 2021 budget cap.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the story is not the fact that Red Bull has been found to be in breach of the financial regulations, but actually that they are currently ‘negotiating’ with the FIA over the next steps. According to the rulebook, once a breach is detected, the FIA does not immediately hand out a penalty, instead they invite the team in question to enter into an ‘Accepted Breach Agreement’. The agreement includes a proposed penalty, which the team has to accept if they enter into it. If the team does not agree, they can go before the Cost Cap Adjudication Panel, or even pursue legal means as their next step.

However, the question is, why does Red Bull have to agree to anything at all? Since the FIA already announced that the team was in breach of the budget cap, we can assume that they are sure that the breach happened. If they are sure, why wasn’t a penalty handed out immediately? And what is there to negotiate? If a team breaks the technical regulations, let’s say they put an illegal rear wing on their car, the FIA will announce that there was a breach, and they will announce what the penalty is. The team can them lodge a protest, or even pursue the matter in court, but there will be no negotiation after the infringement was publicly announced.

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If the FIA is sure that the breach happened (and if they aren’t it shouldn’t have been announced in the first place), they must hand out a penalty, and it is up to Red Bull then to pursue any course of action they deem necessary. This ‘process’ Red Bull and the FIA are engaged in, makes it seem like the FIA wants to know what penalty the team can live with, so that this whole thing doesn’t create a big fuss. But how do you police a rule, if you need a team to agree to its penalty? It seems like a farce.

In an age where the FIA likes to throw the word ‘transparency’ around, the fact that they announced a breach, but withheld any details on what caused it, or what the penalty will be, their whole ‘process’ is anything but transparent. The FIA needs to be firm when policing its regulations, and all the ‘talks’ need to happen before a breach is ever announced. And this is usually the case with any breach, except it seems, a financial regulations breach. If these regulations are to have ‘teeth’, as F1 managing director Ross Brawn put it back in 2019, the FIA needs to stop this charade, announce a penalty, and let Red Bull deal with it in whatever way they see fit.

Now, it’s understandable that when your newly crowned champions have been proven to be in breach of the regulations, it’s a bit ‘inconvenient’. However, it’s going to be a lot more inconvenient if your indecision makes the whole system seem broken and unreliable. Not to mention, there are nine other teams who are waiting to exploit any indecision or precedent set by the FIA. It would be very inconvenient if next year there are a few more budget cap breaches that the FIA needs to ‘negotiate’.

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