Rivals call for ‘tough’ penalties for Red Bull overspending

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AUSTIN, Texas — Max Verstappen has already been crowned champion in one of the most successful seasons in Formula 1 history. His Red Bull team is also heading for the constructors’ title.

And yet the big question hanging over this week’s US Grand Prix is ​​what to do about Red Bull’s 2021 cost cap breach and whether the team and its drivers should be punished?

Red Bull Spending Questions

As Verstappen struts around as a two-time champion in a pursuit for a record 13th win this season, rival teams and drivers say F1 must find a way to penalize Red Bull for breaking a critical rule which is meant to curb the big-spending teams and leveling the playing field from the front of the grid to the back.

Although the show’s governing body called the spending violation “minor,” it could still be worth several million dollars. The FIA ​​has not announced any penalties or revealed the amount spent by Red Bull.

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What the FIA ​​decides to do will be seen as a major test of first-year president Mohammed Ben Sulayem’s leadership. A spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for an update or whether the FIA ​​will announce anything before the end of the season.

Red Bull rivals want action.

McLaren team boss Zak Brown called any spending violations cheating.

Ferrari, the series’ biggest legacy team and Red Bull’s closest rival this year for the championship, has called for “maximum penalties” for overspending. Ferrari has also argued that any improper boost in car development affects not just one season, but many, as teams are in a constant arms race for the future.

Potential penalties for minor overspending range from a reprimand to reduced budgets or even the deduction of championship points for drivers and teams. But few people think the FIA ​​would do anything as harsh as stripping Verstappen of the 2021 title or reopening this season’s championship.

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Alfa Romeo driver Valtteri Bottas, who was Lewis Hamilton’s team-mate last season at Mercedes when Verstappen won the championship from Hamilton on the last lap of the final race, said “tough” measures were needed.

“It must be something that hurts,” Bottas told The Associated Press. “If you spend more money than other teams are allowed to spend, obviously you gain an advantage. It should be tough.”

Verstappen looked carefree in the paddock on Thursday.

“It’s something between the team and the FIA,” Verstappen said. “I think it’s because we’re doing well. They’re trying to slow us down in every way they can.”

So far Red Bull has said nothing other than the team believe they have stayed within spending limits in 2021, and are “surprised and disappointed” by the FIA’s findings on violations.

Formula 1 first announced a budget cap would be put in place in 2019, and it started last season with a cap of $145m. It was reduced to $140 million for 2022 and drops to $135 million for 2023, excluding driver salaries and engine costs. Calling the breach “minor”, the FIA ​​said Red Bull’s overspending was less than 5% of the total budget.

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Even though the spending break is seen as minor, rival teams point to the razor-thin margin between Verstappen and Hamilton in last season’s Championship. Verstappen won 10 races, Hamilton eight.

“We all know how much one, two, three, four… million can mean for the development of a car,” said Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz. “I just hope that if there is a penalty, it is relatively important to suppress the appetite.”

Two-time champion Fernando Alonso shrugged off the controversy. The Alpine driver said there was a long history of championship teams pushing the boundaries of “grey areas” in the rules.

Those winners usually prompted copycats or rule changes, he said.

“It’s the nature of F1,” he said.

In a letter this week to the FIA ​​president and copied to F1 chairman Stefano Domenicali, McLaren’s Brown said any team found guilty of overspending should be penalized that amount and face an equal reduction next season.

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Violating teams should also be penalized in competition, such as wasting time in the wind tunnel for car and engine development, Brown wrote.

“The bottom line,” Brown wrote, “is that any team that overspent gained an unfair advantage in both the development of the current year’s car and the following year.”

Haas team principal Guenther Steiner told the AP that any sanctions should be applied in the future, even for several years, if F1 expects to force teams with big money to respect the rules.

“It doesn’t just have to be financial (punishment), because just financial is too easy. You pay to get out of it. It has to be competitive, you get deductions, something that has to be more than money. money,” Steiner said. says AP.

But, Steiner said, there’s no point in taking a championship away from a driver.

“The celebrations are over. Now having a new champion? Who cares?” Steiner told AP. “The majority of people already believe who they think won.”

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Hamilton said it was essential F1 maintained its integrity. But he didn’t want to get drawn into the question of whether Verstappen should be stripped of last season’s championship.

“I’m looking at how I can win another championship,” Hamilton said. “I have my own opinion on what we did as a team and how we did it last year and I’m really proud of that.”

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AP Auto Racing Writer Jenna Fryer contributed.

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