Could Red Bull be in breach of the 2022 cost cap too?

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By Adrian Mann

All eyes of Formula 1 fans and the media are on the FIA right now. Everybody is waiting to see how the governing organization will deal with Red Bull’s 2021 budget cap breach.

While no details of the breach have been made public, rumours have been swirling around that Red Bull and the FIA are in dispute over certain costs. According to these rumours, the points of contention could have to do with how the Austrian team has been interpreting certain costs. Some reports say the issue is the employment status of the team’s Chief Technical Officer Adrian Newey, F1’s most famous aerodynamicist, while other reports say the breach happened due to sick leave and catering costs.

While there’s no use in speculating what is true or not, with Red Bull publicly challenging the FIA’s findings, it seems pretty apparent that the main dispute really is about how the team and the FIA interpret certain costs. This could be an honest misunderstanding by Red Bull (although all other F1 teams seem to have understood the regulations just fine), or it could be a case of Red Bull doing some “creative” accounting. Whatever the case may be, if they have been doing this in 2021, who’s to say they haven’t been doing the same thing in 2022, at least until the point when the dispute with the FIA became apparent?

Now, earlier this year there has been talk about Red Bull developing a lighter monocoque for the RB18, something that other teams have been puzzled by. Earlier this year, both Toto Wolff and Mattia Binotto have said that their teams would not be able to do this because of the budget cap. Red Bull later said they did not develop this new monocoque, and it appears it will not be introduced this year.

Back in May, Binotto expressed his opinion that Red Bull might have been developing its 2022 car more than other teams did, which means they would have to hit the budget cap ceiling sooner than others will.

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“I hope, because there is as well a budget cap, that at some stage Red Bull will stop development,” Binotto said after the Miami Grand Prix.

“Otherwise I will not understand how they can do that,” he concluded.

At the same time, Red Bull’s advisor Dr Helmut Marko dismissed talks that Red Bull was burning through its development budget faster than other teams. Asked if Red Bull had spent more than Ferrari up to that point, Marko said:

“I don’t think so. We plan our updates in such a way that we always lose weight with each update, because unfortunately we still haven’t reached the minimum weight. And we won’t quite reach it with the next update either.

“I don’t think we are in a significantly different position to Ferrari in this regard. Especially since I wonder what effect it has on them that Carlos Sainz has already crashed the car several times.

“That can’t be cheap,” Marko concluded.

Just before Red Bull’s 2021 cost cap breach was announced by the FIA, Lewis Hamilton noted how back in 2021 it was strange to “see Red Bull every weekend or every other weekend bring in upgrades”. So talk of Red Bull being able to develop their car more than others has been going on for some time.

Considering how it’s likely that the team has continued conducting their business in the same way they did in 2021, it’s very plausible that they continued keeping their books in 2022 the same way they did last year. Of course, they did hear from the FIA about a possible 2021 breach earlier this year, so they could have, in light of this, changed their approach, but up to a certain point they were most likely doing the same thing they were doing last year.

This brings us to recent news that Red Bull has stopped developing their 2022 car. During his appearance on the F1 Nation podcast, the team’s Chief Engineering Officer Rob Marshall said:

“All attention is now focused on 2023. Yes, there are still a few minor things, but we should not expect any major updates between now and the last race in Abu Dhabi.”

Could this mean that they have really burned through their development budget, or that they had to change the way they were doing things after they found out their 2021 accounting will not fly with the FIA?

Well, since Red Bull has picked up the 2022 drivers’ title, and will soon have the constructors’ crown as well, it’s not strange that they would stop work on their current car. However, in light of all the rumours, and the fact that they did breach the budget cap in 2021, it’s also not that far-fetched to think that next year we might have another Red Bull cost cap scandal on our hands. We’ll just have to wait and see.

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