“We can tell two top teams are about the same but another spends more”

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff says it is clear one of the leading teams in Formula 1 has been spending more than the others.

His opposite number at Red Bull, Christian Horner, yesterday criticised rivals for alleging his team exceeded the budget cap during 2021. It followed reports the FIA, which is completing its assessment of data submitted by teams on how much they spent last year, has found two teams in breach of the Financial Regulations, which were introduced last year.

In response to Horner’s claim the comments made about his team were “defamatory”, Wolff called the exchanges between team principals over the row “noise”.

“There’s a process,” he said. “On Wednesday there’s going to be certificates of compliance that are going to be issued or not and then if somebody has not complied, there’s a process and a governance that’s in place.

Christian Horner, Red Bull Team Principal, Singapore, 2022
Report: Red Bull demand rivals withdraw ‘fictitious, defamatory’ claims they broke cost cap

“For me, I’m 100% sure that the FIA is going to do the right thing. So everything else is all chatter until then. For us it’s important that the cost cap is being complied with. It’s cornerstone of the new regulations and I very much hope that all the teams have done that.”

Horner raised doubt over the accusations levelled at his team, asking how a competitor could have knowledge of their finances. Wolff said the information Mercedes had gathered by observing their rivals indicated one team’s spending was out of line with the others.

“We obviously monitor closely which parts are being brought to the track from the top teams every single race, ’21 season and ’22 season,” he said. “And we can see that there is two top teams that are just about the same, but there is another team that spends more.

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“So we know exactly that we’re spending three and a half million a year in parts that we bring to the car and then you can see what difference it makes to spend another 500,000 – it would be a big difference.”

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Singapore, 2022
Mercedes had to slow their development due to the budget cap

Wolff said his team had to make compromises in order to keep their spending within the cap. “We haven’t produced lightweight parts for the car in order to bring us down from a double-digit overweight because we simply haven’t got the money,” he said. “So we need to do it for next year’s car.

“We can’t homologate a lightweight chassis and bring it in because it’s just two million that we would be over the cap. So you can see every spend more has a performance advantage.”

He pointed out that even a “minor” breach, which the regulations define as up to 5% over last year’s $145 million cap, could run to several million dollars and confer a major advantage.

“Is it a so-called ‘minor’ breach? I think the word is probably not correct because if you’re spending five million more and you’re still in the ‘minor breach’, it still has a big impact on the championship,” said Wolff.

The financial regulations stipulate a variety of possible penalties for any team which has overspent, including fines, a reduction in future spending, points deductions and more. Wolff urged the FIA to impose a stiff sanction if a team is found to be in breach of the rules.

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“So in terms of the penalties, there is a catalogue of penalties that the FIA needs to decide what’s appropriate or whether this goes to the cost cap adjudication panel, which is the governance and we have no say in this. We shouldn’t have an opinion on this either, we need to see what the outcome is and then one can comment.

“But again, all the stakeholders in the sport, all the teams that have complied to the regulations, the FIA, Formula 1, need to make sure that these regulations have teeth because of the reasons of performance – you can gain a real competitive advantage.”

However he admitted it is a difficult call to hand down a penalty which could affect a driver’s finishing position in the championship.

“I tell you, I don’t want to be in the shoes of judges. To judge on that, drivers driving their guts out in order to be on top and there are decisions that the team takes that they are not involved in. But still, at the end, you sit in a car that’s maybe on steroids. So it’s such a tough, tough call.

“I wouldn’t want to make a judgement call. And to be honest my thinking isn’t so far [ahead], it’s more about the principle of how is this going to pan out in the future.

“How robust are these regulations? How are they being enforced and policed? How is the governance process going to run? Because we don’t know when it goes to the adjudication panel how the judges will decide. Then it’s learning by doing, I think, for all of us.”

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2022 Singapore Grand Prix

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