Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has demanded Formula One’s governing body the FIA takes robust action over reports Red Bull broke the rules when Max Verstappen beat Lewis Hamilton to last year’s world championship.
On the eve of the Singapore Grand Prix – a race which could see Verstappen secure his second title in as many seasons – his controversial maiden triumph is under the microscope amid allegations Red Bull overspent.
F1 introduced a budget cap of 145million US dollars (£114m) last year. But Verstappen’s Red Bull are facing accusations – reported in Auto Motor und Sport and Gazzetta Dello Sport – that they went beyond that figure, potentially by over five per cent, which would equate to more than USD7.25m (£5.6m). One source said the number could be nudging USD10m (£7.7m).
Red Bull deny the accusations.
The FIA is assessing Red Bull’s finances, with a verdict set to be revealed on Wednesday. Sanctions available to the sporting federation range from a reprimand to financial penalties to a deduction of drivers’ championship points. The latter would have an impact on last season’s result.
Hamilton was denied a record eighth crown when he was beaten by Verstappen at a deeply contentious winner-takes-all finale in Abu Dhabi on December 12. Verstappen took the title by eight points.
Speaking on Friday evening, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said he was not aware of any breach.
But rival boss Wolff urged the FIA and its president Mohammed ben Sulayem – elected in the days after the Abu Dhabi fiasco – to follow the rules.
“It is of huge importance for a demonstration that these regulations are policed and I have no reason to believe otherwise,” Wolff told the BBC.
“The FIA, particularly Mohammed, has shown a pretty robust stance on enforcing all kinds of regulations.
“So if we are talking now about something big, he will show the same integrity and leadership that he has done before.”
Later, in an interview with the PA news agency, Wolff, who spoke directly to Ben Sulayem on Friday night, added: “I don’t know by how much Red Bull have overshot, and where, and what that means as a consequence for last year’s championship, this year’s championship and next year’s championship.
“The catalogue of potential penalties is huge. And the independent judges will come to their conclusions.
“For us, we had to make people redundant, and change our whole process. We suffered because of the cost cap.
“We put used parts on the car. We couldn’t deduct the weight from our chassis because we didn’t have the budget. We have made big compromises in terms of performance because we have not been able to do the things we wanted to do in order to comply.
“We have had a massive restructuring process in the organisation to save USD50m, and it has been overwhelming, distracting and a development deterrent. If somebody has been challenging that system, it is a major difference between winning and finishing third.
“We are 10 kilos overweight at the moment, and that is three tenths of a second. For USD2m, we could have taken 10 kilos out, and produced two lighter chassis so we are talking about a second or more in performance.
“I have seen Mohammed act on regulations, minor or major, and what I like in the new system, whether it is Ferrari or Mercedes, is that they just follow the regulations. The FIA will do the right thing, and judge what the impact of such a breach was.”
If Red Bull exceeded last year’s salary cap, that would have also had a potential impact on the make-up of Verstappen’s current car which has carried him to victory at 11 of the 16 races staged in 2022.
Verstappen, who has won the past five races, will be crowned champion on Sunday if he triumphs at the Marina Bay Circuit and sets the fastest lap, and team-mate Sergio Perez and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc finish lower than fourth and eighth respectively.
“We are certainly not aware of any breaches,” Horner told Sky Sports.
“The accounts were all submitted to the FIA way back in March, so it’s been a long process with the FIA and we are in that process as we speak.
"Our submission was below the cap"
Christian Horner responds to questions about the budget cap in Formula in 2021 and whether some teams have exceeded it 👇 pic.twitter.com/bchAhAiLgO
— Sky Sports F1 (@SkySportsF1) September 30, 2022
“Next week is when they declare their certificates. Our submission was below the cap and it is down to the FIA to follow their process which they are currently doing.
“We are confident in our submission. There are always going to be rumours. I’ve heard of major breaches but I’m certainly not aware of that.”
An spokesperson for F1’s governing body said: “The FIA is currently finalising the assessment of the 2021 financial data submitted by all Formula One teams.
“Alleged breaches of the financial regulations, if any, will be dealt with according to the formal process set out in the regulations.”
On track, Hamilton topped a practice session for the first time this season when he went fastest in the opening action of the weekend.
Hamilton finished fifth later in the day – six tenths adrift of Carlos Sainz who set the pace for Ferrari. Verstappen, who turned 25 on Friday, was fourth, a third of a second back.