While the Formula 1 season is yet to enter its third season, the big teams are admitting that they cannot meet the regulations that limit their budgets – which they nevertheless voted for. Small teams are established.
A long climb
By 2019, teams could spend whatever they wanted—and more importantly, whatever they could.
In the 1980’s a team had a few million dollars a year, then budgets exploded with the rise of the big manufacturers – all of whom wanted to win and were therefore willing to spend whatever it took.
In 2001, this escalation took a sudden turn with the arrival of Toyota in F1. The Japanese brand has spent half a billion dollars each year to get almost no results — no profits, anyway.
Rival teams followed, although Toyota had set the bar so high that no other team surpassed its record.
But by the late 2010s, the budgets of Mercedes, Ferrari and, to some extent, Red Bull surpassed the 400 million mark per year. The hole widened with the small teams (Haas, Williams or Sauber) who had to make do with less than 100 million a year. From 2021 we will then agree on a limit of 170 million per year.
Covid has changed everything
The Covid-19 crisis is coming. The 2020 season does not start, Mercedes is making ventilators, there is panic in the stable, there are fears that F1 will disappear completely with the pandemic.
The team principals then come together and decide it’s time to be sensible and cut budgets even further. Small teams insist on 100 million per year, but large teams end up exceeding 145 million for 2021 and 140 for 2022.
The control mechanism is complex. It seems difficult to delve into the accounts of the teams, especially when they belong to groups like Daimler (Mercedes) or Fiat (Ferrari). The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) doesn’t have enough accountants to sift through everything.
However, the 2022 season starts with this cap of 140 million. After five races, Mattia Binotto, Ferrari boss, notes that Red Bull is developing so many new parts on the RB18 that it will be impossible for the English team to stay within budget.
And on Saturday the bosses of Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes all admitted that it will actually be impossible for them to reach the $140 million mark.
Inflation goes away
Above all, all three complain about the inflation caused by the Ukraine crisis, which is causing the costs for the transport of equipment and the prices for raw materials to explode.
For teams used to spending lavishly and developing new parts to solve the smallest problems in their cars, it’s difficult to hold back. “We use worn parts instead of replacing them like we used to,” reveals Andrew Shovlin, chief engineer at Mercedes. We carry fewer spare parts, at the risk of a serious problem arising in multiple accidents…but that’s not enough to offset the cost increase. We forecast and set a framework last fall, but nothing withstands inflation.
Fines in sight?
The problem, and it’s hard to imagine, is that nothing is planned to sanction the teams that would exceed the cap! Fines are foreseen from 5% (ie exceeding 7 million), but not below this 5%.
“We urgently need to agree on the possible sanctions,” admits Red Bull boss Christian Horner. I would hate if the 2022 season ended in litigation because we went over budget by a million!”
Fred Vasseur: “Turn off those fans!”
The small teams that don’t reach the cap (Haas, Williams and Sauber and even Alpine) logically refuse to change the regulations. “So what? You’re spending more than approved, and suddenly we’re going to raise the cap every two Grands Prix?” Thunders Frédéric Vasseur at Sauber. “It’s ridiculous. They just have to turn off their blowers, it saves them money!”
Inflation, for its part, is provided for in the regulation: a mechanism makes it possible to raise the ceiling in the event of high inflation. So the latter is now set at 141.7 million instead of 140.
Charles Leclerc in good shape
Will Charles Leclerc be able to overcome the Indian sign that prevents him from crossing the Monaco Grand Prix checkered flag? So far, the Monegasque has never finished a race in the Principality.
In 2021 he qualified on pole but couldn’t even start due to a broken hub. This year he wants to turn those qualifications into a win.
Of course, the elimination of Sergio Perez right behind him helped him a little as the Mexican blocked the track and prevented his opponents from improving, but he probably would have taken pole anyway. “I was really on the limit,” explains Charles Leclerc. We knew the car had the right pace but we still had work to do. The last lap before the red flag was very good, so the aborted qualifying didn’t change anything for me. The car was fantastic and it’s great to have Carlos (sainz) next to me for starters…”
Sergio Perez’s accident didn’t change anything for Charles Leclerc, but it changed everything for Carlos Sainz, who was desperately trying to do better than his Ferrari teammate: “I was on my fast lap, the Spaniard regrets, and Perez had his accident right in front of me, I braked but couldn’t avoid it. Once again a red flag ruins my chances here but this is Monaco, this is the game.
Max Verstappen, fourth, admits he could not have driven the Ferrari lap. “Both our drivers could have improved a bit, but we couldn’t match Charles’ time. Congratulations to him,” commented Red Bull boss Christian Horner.
So, this Sunday, “Daghe Charles” (Fonce, Charles) as we say in the Monegasque dialect!