MEXICO CITY — Fancy dining and energy drinks. Social contributions and medical care for an employee who survived his illness.
These are some of the expenses Red Bull claimed on Friday to have misrepresented when submitting its 2021 financial report. This led to a breach of Formula 1’s spending cap, set at $145 million for its first season, and to sanctions imposed by the governing body of the series.
The FIA on Friday ordered the F1 championship team to pay a $7million fine and waste time in the wind tunnel as punishment for spending $1.8million in the championship’s first season. Max Verstappen. The FIA has found 13 discrepancies in an audit of more than 75,000 line items on Red Bull’s 2021 financial report, said team principal Christian Horner.
But he was adamant that overspending areas had no benefit on team performance. He called the penalties “draconian” and said the cost cap structure inherited by first-year FIA president Mohammed bin Sulayem was “immature”.
Horner also strongly hinted that Red Bull was being targeted because of its track success and blasted the initial leak that the FIA was investigating a potential spending breach. He said weeks of accusations of sniping and cheating in the paddock had damaged Red Bull’s reputation and the team had only “reluctantly” agreed with the FIA to end the saga that absorbed the largest motorsport series in the world.
“Not a penny was spent on the performance,” said Horner, who dismissed complaints that the penalty was too soft.
“It’s a huge sum of money that is payable within 30 days,” Horner said of the fine. He said the 10% loss of time in the wind tunnel “is between a quarter and a half second of lap time. It has a direct effect on next year’s car.
“I’m sure (any penalty) wouldn’t be enough. If you burned our wind tunnel, it wouldn’t be enough,” said Horner, who also likened Red Bull’s wind tunnel to “a Cold War relic “.
Horner held compulsive notes on the whole process, noting Red Bull were told they were over the cap exactly 19 minutes after Verstappen won his second F1 title on October 9.
The FIA also fined Aston Martin $450,000 on Friday for a breach of “procedure” over its 2021 expense submission. The FIA found that Aston Martin wrongly excluded or adjusted 12 separate costs, among including a signing bonus, the costs of desks and chairs and, like Red Bull, financial discrepancies in catering.
The FIA noted that neither team acted “in bad faith, dishonestly or fraudulently” in their respective breaches. The sanctions were deliberately delayed for a week out of respect for the death last week of Red Bull co-founder Dietrich Mateschitz.
Coincidentally, Horner argued on Friday that Red Bull drinks consumed by the race team and its guests should not count because they come from another part of the company.
To hear Horner’s nearly 50-minute defense of Red Bull spending, the saga seems trivial. He spent a lot of time defending high-end catering services and included a reference to Red Bull’s sick pay policy. Horner said the team pays sick leave to an employee as an exclusive cost, but “if the person had died, and thankfully they didn’t, the cost would have been excluded.”
Either way, the penalties have by no means satisfied Red Bull’s rivals, many of whom have called for stiff penalties ranging from stripping Verstappen of last year’s title to a reduction in future spending by Red Bull. Red Bull has already won both a second F1 title with Verstappen and the constructors’ championship with three races remaining this season.
McLaren boss Zak Brown had accused Red Bull of cheating by breaching the spending cap in a letter Brown sent to the FIA. The cost cap was put in place to even out the competition to prevent large, heavily funded teams from spending more than smaller organizations that struggle to keep up.
Most teams believed that if Red Bull only received a monetary penalty, it would encourage others to deliberately overspend and simply pay the fine as punishment. Horner was infuriated by Brown’s letter, which Horner said was just another baseless allegation that led to the bullying of children of Red Bull employees at school.
“It’s still a mystery to me how a team can publicly say they submitted comfortably in the cap and what’s up for grabs is around $200,000, when in fact they had exceeded $1.8 million, which is not an insignificant number,” Brown said. “There is a competitive advantage that has been gained by this.
Horner said the saga has not distracted Verstappen or teammate Sergio Perez, who is trying to become the first Mexican driver to win the Mexico City Grand Prix on Sunday. He is also trying to finish second in the standings behind Verstappen.
Horner said Verstappen fairly won his 2021 championship. Verstappen, meanwhile, said he knows many will never accept that title.
Verstappen beat Lewis Hamilton in a controversial finish created when the since-fired race director made a late change to racing protocol in the season finale that allowed Verstappen to overtake Hamilton for the win and the championship.
“From my side I can (accept it), probably they can’t and never will and that’s a problem for them,” Verstappen said.