The Suzuka Circuit in Japan has an amusement park attached right next to it. The heart of the so-called Motopia Park is a Ferris wheel with a red framework and red gondolas. If you let it rock you through the air during a race weekend, and that is strongly recommended, you can let your gaze wander over the winding route, smaller and larger industrial cities, and the landscape is even a little green in Mie Prefecture on Honshu , the main island of Japan.
There, at the foot of the Ferris wheel, sat Thursday Lewis Hamilton very earthly on a chair, but he let his thoughts wander in such a way that the listeners realized: In order to understand the connection of things, you need a spatial and temporal bird’s eye view. So Hamilton looked west from Suzuka 9202 kilometers and 16 months back – until the race in Spielberg at the end of June 2021. From Hamilton’s point of view, that’s where the disaster about the current budget debates took their course.
“More updates were coming for the other car,” and Hamilton thought, “My goodness!”
In beautiful Styria, his Mercedes was owned by the Red Bull Max Verstappen was so inferior for the first time that the defeated Hamilton climbed out of the car and shouted desperately into the first reporter’s microphone: “I need an upgrade, give me an upgrade!” The reporter was the wrong addressee. But Hamilton didn’t bring in much with his calls. Hamilton now reminded him in Suzuka that he had received new parts once again: at the Silverstone race in mid-July – five months before the final of the World Championship in Abu Dhabi, which was only controversially decided in favor of Verstappen in the last lap. And it is like this: Thanks to the new parts in Silverstone, his Mercedes rolled almost three tenths faster, Hamilton now calculated – and they would have cost less than a million dollars!
Thereafter? No more fancy new grand piano for him, not even odds and ends. Stop development! Mercedes pooled its financial resources for the development of the car for 2022, as explained by team boss Toto Wolff at the time. “But then I saw these trucks from the others, updates for the other car continued to come,” said Hamilton in Suzuka, “and I thought: My goodness! It will be difficult to beat them in the world championship if they continue to update bring.”
He did not reveal which driver Hamilton locates in this other car. His then title competitor Verstappen, however, should feel addressed, for whom the presumption of innocence still applies in this leaden debate formula 1 keeps a firm grip. Ever since the rumor spread through the paddock on the fringes of the race in Singapore that two teams had broken the newly introduced budget cap of $148.6 million per team and season last year. Conveniently, the names of the suspects were whispered in the paddock: Red Bull and Aston Martin.
If the result of the audit is certain, Verstappen could already be world champion
It was “an open secret,” said Toto Wolff, that one of the two teams was “massively” over the limit. He was seconded by Mattia Binotto, Ferrari team boss, who immediately came up with an interesting calculation: For the rumored overrun of the budget by ten million dollars, he could have employed 100 engineers with a salary of 100,000 dollars for a year, who would not have been involved with anything else , than to optimize the red racing cars from morning to night.
The Red Bull team boss Christian Horner, who was not even mentioned by name, claimed damage to his reputation because he had to feel addressed: “That is defamatory.” He is certain that his team has strictly adhered to the financial framework. Horner probably also rubbed himself against the fact that the competition might not only have launched the information, but also demanded penalties. “We want these statements to be withdrawn. It is not acceptable to say something like that.” And even the actually apolitical driver Verstappen murmured outrage: “I think that’s a bit stupid, just shut up!”
If the world automotive association Fia had already presented the results of the investigation on Wednesday, as announced, then perhaps everyone would shut up again. Or the debate would be running at full speed because there would already be quarrels about the announced sentence, which will certainly be judged too lax (from the point of view of the deceived) or too hard (from the point of view of the scammers). The results of the audit should now be announced on Monday of all days. The day after Sunday, on which Verstappen has the first realistic chance of winning his second world championship in Suzuka – this time a race win in combination with the fastest race lap is enough for him to crown it.
Even the five percent overruns equate to $7.4 million
If it turns out that teams have cheated – for example, by hiding personnel costs in sub-contractors – then the Fia is in a dilemma. There is no clearly defined catalog of penalties, but in addition to high fines, there are also bans and point deductions. The latter also retrospectively. In extreme cases, this could result in a completely new result in the 2021 World Cup table. On the one hand, the Fia would have to punish so hard out of self-interest that possible free riders would be shocked. On the other hand, she will try to avoid rock-hard legal battles, which in turn will likely set the betrayed teams on fire. Even if there are only “slight” violations of up to five percent, as is now rumored and for which the Fia provides a lower penalty than for serious offenses. Even the five percent correspond to an amount of 7.4 million dollars.
Either way, it will most likely get dirty.
Not only development costs fall under the upper limit, but also the operation of the company headquarters, energy costs, personnel. It is therefore not only those racing teams that are racing ahead who are interested in strictly adhering to the budget. The small teams, which thanks to the cost cap are supposed to compete for race victories and titles in the long term, are understandably upset.
Frederic Vasseur, the Alfa Romeo team boss, calculated that they only have $2.4 million available for development – for the entire season. And Andreas Seidl, who is responsible at McLaren, talked about layoffs and salary cuts that he had to enforce at the Woking headquarters last year because of the cost cap. At the same time, there are “mainly two teams that hired people incredibly aggressively and continue to hire them,” complained Seidl. Among other things, they threw “incredible salaries” around.
Another, very decisive argument of the advocates of harsh penalties is: A team that would have enriched itself above the allowed budget in 2021 will also benefit from it this season – and possibly even in the next. Because it was already able to use more resources in the past to design the car of the future. That’s probably what Lewis Hamilton thought of when he traveled back in time at the foot of the Ferris wheel in Suzuka.