Should those responsible for crashes pay for all damage? Teams are divided on cost cap debate

Extensive damage sustained from accidents is leaving multiple team principals with a grim outlook for the season ahead

By Olivia Kairu

Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas caused a big accident in the opening lap of the Hungary Grand Prix (Photo: F1/Twitter)

The 2021 season marks the first time Formula 1 teams are operating under a spending limit of $145 million US.

The financial limitations were introduced to try to deliver a more competitive championship through bridging the gap between F1’s big spenders and those with smaller budgets. Sounds good, but it might not be perfect just yet as controversy surrounding car damage costs arose mid-season.

Red Bull has reportedly suffered $1.8 million in damages following Max Verstappen’s lap 1 incident at Silverstone. The Austrian team has sustained more financial drainage from the carnage caused by Valtteri Bottas’ huge crash at the start of the Hungarian Grand Prix.

Both Sergio Perez and Verstappen’s cars are at risk of facing engine-related penalties later in the season due to excessive power unit changes. 

This past weekend, Red Bull fitted Verstappen’s car with its third power unit after discovering a crack in the one used during the British GP. Perez also faced power unit failure after getting caught up in Bottas’ large lap 1 crash, causing his early retirement from the race. 

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner spoke of his frustration with the costs of damage stating that the engine damages are “not due to reliability, it’s because of accidents that we haven’t caused.”

“Is he going to pay the bill?,” Horner inquired when asked if he expected an apology from Mercedes boss and CEO Toto Wolff in a post-race interview with Sky Sports. 

“It’s racing. Toto wasn’t driving a car, the driver was driving a car. I’m sure he didn’t tell him (Bottas) to ‘crash into the Red Bull’. I’m sure he wasn’t that sorry to see the result, but I’m sure he didn’t tell Valtteri to do that. But the consequences of that for us are brutal.”

Horner continued his calls for the FIA to revise the cost cap following the costly damage the Red Bull’s pair of RB16s have faced in the first half of the season.

“Look at the first half of this year. We’ve had six Grand Prix victories, the races we’ve lost were with a tire explosion, we were taken out at Silverstone and this race this weekend. In a cost cap environment, that needs looking at by the FIA. Obviously, you’ve got to look at what’s within the cap,” Horner added in a later interview.

“It’s spare parts and it’s the engines as well, which is particularly concerning. I think we need to revisit this with the FIA because ultimately it’s something that can affect all teams, not just Red Bull.”

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Red Bull’s Chief Advisor Helmut Marko has recently made a few big splashes in headlines by saying he strongly believes Mercedes should be held responsible for the damages on both RB16s from both the British and the Hungarian Grand Prix.

He has also criticized AlphaTauri driver Yuki Tsunoda for the frequency of his crashes and the cost to repair them, describing the rookie Japanese driver as “impetuous.”

Ferrari also have reasons to complain

Ferrari finds themselves in a similar predicament after announcing that they are forced to write off Charles Leclerc’s engine as a result of the colliding with Lance Stroll in Hungary. 

“Examination of the number 16 SF21 carried out yesterday in Maranello, revealed that on top of this, the engine was irreparably damaged and cannot be used again, following the impact from Lance Stroll’s Aston Martin,” said Ferrari in a statement released on Tuesday.

“This is a further blow for Scuderia Ferrari and the Monegasque driver. This damage has a financial impact and also racing ramifications, given that over the remaining 12 race weekends this season, it is highly likely the team could be obliged to fit a fourth ICE to Charles’ SF21, thus incurring grid penalties.”

Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto suggested an alternative to the cost cap similar to that Christian Horner advocated for. Binotto argues that those who cause the collisions should pay for all damages and costs incurred. 

“I think there is value for discussions in the near future with the other team principals, FIA, and F1,” he said. “Obviously if you’re not guilty, having such damage in the budget cap is something which is even more of a consequence now.

“Should we add exemptions? I’m not sure that’s the solution, I think it may be very difficult to be policed. But I think that what we may consider is that if a driver is faulty, the team of the driver should pay at least to the other teams for the damages and repairs. “That will make the drivers more responsible.”

Seidl and Steiner disregard Horner’s claims

On the other hand, teams that have been working with lower budgets are under no issue subscribing to the terms of the cost cap.

McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl believes that the financial spending limitations should not be revised and criticized Horner’s contempt for the cap. 

“I definitely will not go in the direction Christian is going, mentioning in every second sentence the cost cap and how much you get hurt by it by every accident on the track,” Seidl said. “In the end, that is part of the game we are in, it is down to us to manage the budget in the right way.”

Racing with two rookie drivers in 2021, Haas has been faced with large sums to pay for damages incurred over the race weekends so far.

Team principal Guenther Steiner has mentioned his tolerance is withering with the costly crashes both Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin have been involved in due to the weakness of the team’s financial position.

Schumacher was involved in an incident at Turn 11 in Hungary during FP3 leaving the Haas mechanics less than enough time to patch up his car for qualifying. 

“Mick in the last five races had quite a few big ones,” said Steiner. “If you have a spin or something like that, this happens. But these accidents are quite heavy. It’s a lot of money and for no good reason.”

Unlike Christian Horner and Mattia Binotto, Steiner is in agreement with Andreas Seidl on his satisfaction with the cost cap. 

“And obviously the budget is the budget and you need to stick to it. You always have to have ideas how to get around it when you have these accidents,” he added. “At the moment, obviously we feel it but we can still deal with it. But soon we will be in a position where it’s like, yeah, we need to find new ways to overcome this. Because they are getting a little bit too frequent and too heavy.”

Other implications

The cost cap has also affected teams in other ways.

Due to the restriction in spending, multiple teams have had to reappoint employees to different projects or, in other cases, even let them go.

Red Bull and Mercedes released a large number of employees while Ferrari was able to reallocate some workers to their Le Mans Project as well or the Haas unit in Maranello.

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