F1 needs to move on from 2021 controversy.

Recent rumours surrounding Red Bull’s potential breach of the 2021 cost cap have reignited debate over last year’s controversial World Championship battle, and have fuelled suggestions that Verstappen may be stripped of his title. Whilst there is no precedent for cost cap rule procedures, there is unlikely to be any impact on Driver’s standings from last year or this.

All conversation on 2021 standings should be dead in the water. Whether the current safety car rules so late into a race are appropriate, is a seperate matter and should be discussed so, even after Monza earlier this year. The rules as they are, are absolute. Providing they are followed correctly, we cannot complain about results, only the spectacle or lack thereof.

When it comes to the 2021 season, the three main events that shape that year are the farcical Belgian GP, Max’s Brazil track limit debate and of course, the controversial ending to Abu Dhabi. If the FIA were
to intervene with what powers it has, Verstappen would still, technically, be World Champion. So first, let’s put that to bed.

Firstly, the Belgian GP was played out to the rules as written at the time. It is true that the updated rules for 2022 would have nullified this race’s results should there have eben a repeat, however they were brought in as a reaction, and the result was ratified by the FIA as legitimate. There is nothing that can be done, as any case brought before any legal system would vote in favour of acknowledging the result, as they were carried out to the rules.

Secondly, whilst Verstappen probably should have been given a time penalty for his track limit enfraction during the Brazilian GP, the FIA pose no power outside of the race stewards to impose post-race penalties in such a manner. It is woth noting, that yes, a 5-second time penalty would have dropped
Verstappen down behind Valtteri Bottas in the race classification, and would have gone into the final race 3 points behind Lewis Hamilton. However, as the FIA cannot overrule the stewards on issuing time penalties, and the only retrospective punishment they could have given was a grid penalty for the following race. So the result from Brazil stands, and given Verstappen’s pace, any grid penalty would have been unikely to have affected his ultimate finishing position.

Finally, Abu Dhabi. Verstappen and Hamilton were tied on points, but Verstappen was in the lead by vitrue of accumulating a greater number of race wins. Let’s not forget, Mercedes lodged a protest and legal action against the result, but were subsequently dropped. This is because the FIA does not have power to reclassify a race from a certain lap point. The only action they could have taken was to void the race result in its entirety. This would have had no bearing on the result of the championship, and was part of the reason Mercedes dropped their case. Furthermore, it could have harmed the reputation of the sport and its affiliates, so it is better off leaving the result as is from a business standpoint.

Now we’ve cleared that up, let’s see how the new developments weigh in on the debate.

The rumours are that Red Bull significantly overspent on its operations in 2021, which is somewhat believable when you consider that the FIA is investigating an as-yet-unnamed team for major breach of the cost cap regulations for 2021, and another for more minor infraction of the same regulations. All of Red Bull’s major rivals have come out together swinging, claiming it is the Energy Drink’s works team who are guilty as an “open secret” of the paddock. If rumours are true, and Red Bull are in serious
breach of the regulations, then the team could be facing a serious fine, amonst potential further punishments. But what could they be?

The most likely punishment depends on where and how most of the excess money was spent. If it was on the 2022 car build and development, the team could potentially face a points deduction or disqualifiaction from the Constructor’s championship this year. It is unlikely and also probably unfair if the drivers themselves will be punished regardless of where the money will be spent, so Verstappen’s ominous lead in the WDC should be unthreatened. However, the Constructor’s championship does come with additional caveats. Teams are now restricted on aero wind tunnel and CFD development time on a sliding scale, depending on their position in the constructor’s championship. Red Bull, last year’s runners up and are currently 1st by a
large margin, have the least amount of time available. Backmarkers Williams have the most. I assume that a punishment will include mitigation for points deduction in regards to development time.

However, if it relates to 2021, this is where rumours are flying in regards to last year’s WDC. The FIA have the power to disqualify teams and/or drivers retrospectively in instances of historical cheating being uncovered, however it is a power used rarely, and would need careful consideration. As the cost cap breach is considered a team issue, it would again be unfair to pin this on the drivers. Therefore disqualifying the Red Bull drivers from the 2021 WDC over such infringements is highly unlikely to happen, and would
most certainly be disputed. However, as with 2022, the most likely cause of action is solely Constructor’s disqualification. This would mean that RB would go from 2nd to 10th for 2021, and would likely need to return prize moneys and would be used to compensate the other teams for the subsequent loss of income. As the testing period from the 2021 positions has already been spent it is unlikely any development punishments will be made.

All the team principals are aware that if RB are found guilty that the only reasonable course of action in regards to the championships would be for only a constructor’s DQ. Any talk otherwise is nonsense and should be
considered so. Whilst I am sure that for the Silver Arrows, and their fans, learning that Red Bull may have illegaly bought their way to the WDC last year would be a bitter pill to swallow, the drivers are not in control of the team’s finances and resources. They can only race with what they are given, and fine tune their equipment with the help of their engineering team. What the teams spend their money on in terms of R&D, manufacturing components, upgrades etc is ultimately down to the heads of departments and the team’s upper management.

Any infractions on the cost cap must be punished properly to ensure that teams are deterred from doing the same thing again. Failure to do so will damage any effort to make the sport more financially viable, and also damage the sport’s attempts at building a more sustainable image. This could end up putting Audi’s 2026 entry into the sport in jeapordy and deter other potential teams and investors from joining the sport.

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