The most controversial Formula One championship in history could take a new twist with reports that Red Bull are sweating over a potential breach of last year’s budget cap that could risk possible points deductions.
The Milton Keynes-based team dismissed the reports, which appeared in the German and Italian press yesterday morning, with team principal Christian Horner insisting the accounts Red Bull submitted back in March were “below the cap” of $145m (€148m) and saying he was “not aware of any breach”.
But paddock sources said yesterday it was an “open secret” that two teams would be found guilty of breaching the cap, with one expected to be a “minor” breach and the other a “material” breach.
The cost-cap regulations define an overspend of less than five per cent as “minor” and more than that as “material”.
Horner (inset) said there were “always going to be rumours” and repeated he was “confident in Red Bull’s submission”.
The FIA, world motorsport’s governing body, told the teams earlier this week they would be issuing compliance certificates with the 2021 financial regulations this coming Wednesday.
If Red Bull do not receive theirs, it could seriously overshadow Max Verstappen’s coronation as a two-time world champion, which is expected to take place in Japan next weekend, if it has not already happened in Singapore tomorrow.
The Dutch driver needs to win the race, and hope that Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and his own Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez finish well down the field, to stand any chance of wrapping things up in Singapore.
It is the 2021 title which is the current focus of speculation, however. Verstappen controversially emerged victorious in Abu Dhabi last December. But only after then FIA race director Michael Masi withdrew a late safety car with one lap remaining of the race, effectively handing him the title at the expense of Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton.
Masi was subsequently found to have erred in doing so and was relieved of his duties.
While there is no serious expectation that the result of that championship will be overturned, a breach of the financial regulations carries a range of possible sanctions depending on whether the offence is considered “minor” or “material” and also whether there are any aggravating factors. Aggravating factors include any element of “bad faith, dishonesty, wilful concealment or fraud”.
It remains to be seen whether any team is found guilty of a breach. Aston Martin, the other team linked with a potential breach in the German and Italian press, said they were “in discussion with the FIA and awaiting certification”.
If a team is found guilty of breaching the cap, the matter would be referred to the FIA’s cost-cap adjudication panel who would have a penalty catalogue to choose from. In theory both constructors’ and drivers’ championship points from the season in question are in play, on top of any financial sanctions.
Meanwhile, practice for the Singapore Grand Prix got under way yesterday, with Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz was fastest in second practice for Sunday’s Singapore Grand Prix, leading team-mate Charles Leclerc and Mercedes’ George Russell.
Sainz’s lap time of 1:42.587sec was 0.208sec faster than Leclerc with Russell just over a further tenth slower than the Monegasque driver around the Marina Bay circuit.
Verstappen, who only completed eight laps in a program that was out of sync with the majority of the field, was fourth, 0.339sec off Sainz.
Hamilton, who put his Mercedes fastest in FP1 earlier in the day, was fifth, nearly six-tenths down from the ultimate pace.
There were also dramatic scenes in the pit lane as Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri caught fire, and earlier in the day Aston Martin driver Lance Stroll crashed into the wall at the fifth corner and was forced to stop.
Telegraph Media Group Limited