Max Verstappen won the Formula 1 World Drivers’ Championship last year by overtaking rival Lewis Hamilton on the last lap of the last race.
On Monday, motorsport’s governing body, the FIA, found Red Bull – winners of the Constructors’ Championship in 2021 – guilty of exceeding the budget cap last season. However, as the investigation revealed the team’s overspend was only “minor”, Max Verstappen will be allowed to keep his maiden title. The FIA’s decision has dragged what was already the most controversial Championship in years back into the spotlight.
Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen traded the Championship lead throughout the season last year, going into the final race in Abu Dhabi level on points. In a thrilling showdown, the Dutchman got the better of his British adversary on the closing lap.
This year’s overhaul of the technical regulations – which forced all teams to completely redevelop their cars – saw Mercedes fall behind rival frontrunners Red Bull and Ferrari.
On Sunday, Verstappen cruised to victory in a rain-soaked Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka, clinching the 2022 title after his closest rival Charles Leclerc incurred a penalty in the last few corners of the race.
However, just a day after being awarded his second World Drivers’ Championship in as many seasons, the legitimacy of the Dutchman’s first title was thrown into doubt.
According to the FIA, Red Bull exceeded the $145million (£114million) spending limit during the 2021 season, although the offence was found to be “minor” – the lesser of the two categories of breach.
This means the team overspent by less than five percent, or $7.25million (£5.6million) – far less than the speculated £10million originally reported. Had the breach amounted to more than five percent, Verstappen could have been stripped of last year’s crown.
Both the Aston Martin and Williams teams were investigated for small discrepancies, but no other team was found to have overspent. The FIA did not disclose by how much Red Bull had exceeded the cap or how it had done so, but it has been reported the breach relates to the salary arrangement of Red Bull chief designer Adrian Newey.
In a statement, the Milton Keynes outfit said it noted the FIA’s findings with “surprise and disappointment”.
The team added: “Our 2021 submission was below the cost-cap limit, so we need to carefully review the FIA’s findings, as our belief remains that the relevant costs are under the 2021 cost-cap amount.
“Despite the conjecture and positioning of others, there is of course a process under the regulations with the FIA which we will respectfully follow while we consider all the options available to us.”
However, rivals instead took issue with the FIA’s ruling to not take last year’s title away from the Red Bull driver. On Sunday, Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto said that even a “minor” budget breach could have a significant impact on competitiveness.
“It is about 2021. And also over the following seasons. I am expecting full transparency and clarity on the discussions they have had.”
Toto Wolff, team principal of Mercedes F1, echoed the call for details about the FIA’s assessment.
On Monday, the FIA confirmed they were still deciding on an appropriate sanction for the violation.
With the deduction of Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championship points ruled out, penalties remaining on the table include a reprimand, a suspension, limitations on testing or a reduction of the Red Bull’s cost cap going forward.