Dispute over budget cap divides teams as F1 heads to Azerbaijan
BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — How much is too much to spend on a world title? That’s the question dividing Formula 1 teams as the series heads to Azerbaijan’s waterfront street circuit.
The rivalry between Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc on the track is no less heated than the dispute between big and small F1 teams over the $140m-a-year budget cap.
Spending limits are likely to bite the most at the end of the season – potentially just as the title is decided. This could mean legal disputes over what exactly constitutes an expense and what the penalty should be.
There was a sign of the problems teams could face this week when Williams became the first team to be punished under budget cap rules since they were introduced last year. The $25,000 fine imposed on the British team was not for overspending, but for failing to submit financial documents on time.
Big teams like Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes have argued that the budget cap is too tight and want an increase to compensate for factors such as the increased cost of moving cars, parts and team members around. the world in the context of inflation and war. in Ukraine.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said his team needed to cut staff to hit the budget cap for this season and even suggested some teams might skip races.
Smaller teams, notably Alpine, believe any increase would effectively punish them for controlling spending, and say larger teams can simply scale back their car development throughout the season. The cancellation of the Russian Grand Prix following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine also reduced team costs.
The cap is set to drop to $135 million next year, which could fuel the dispute as the season progresses.
PEREZ FREE TO RUN?
Red Bull rewarded Sergio Perez with a new contract after winning the Monaco Grand Prix last month, but it remains to be seen what that will mean for his chances of becoming the first Mexican champion.
Victory in Monaco moved Perez within 15 points of team-mate and series leader Verstappen, and six behind second-placed Ferrari’s Leclerc.
Perez has often been called upon to help Verstappen on the right path, memorably holding off Lewis Hamilton in the final race of last season, but he told Red Bull ‘we have to talk later’ after being asked to pass Verstappen to win the Spanish GP last month. After his victory in Monaco, Perez is a title contender in his own right.
Azerbaijan will remind Red Bull of another team-mate competition that went too far. In the 2018 race, Verstappen and then-teammate Daniel Ricciardo were battling for fourth place when they collided, knocking them both out of the race in spectacular style.
Four years after that incident, Verstappen and Ricciardo couldn’t have had more different seasons.
While his former teammate is defending champion and leader of the standings, Ricciardo is struggling at McLaren with one point from seven races and less than a quarter of teammate Lando Norris’ points total.
Last year Ricciardo got off to a disappointing start with a surprise victory at the Italian GP, his first since 2018, but this year he has shown little sign of improvement to 13th, 12th and 13th in his three last races.
MERCEDES HOPE TO IMPROVE
Hamilton and George Russell were hoping Mercedes could once again compete with the best after appearing to overcome the problem of their car bouncing back at high speeds at the Spanish GP last month. Then came Monaco and another tough weekend on the bumpy track.
Baku will be a delicate mix of both for Mercedes. It takes place on public roads like Monaco with a few tight turns around the old town, but features high-speed sections like Spain, and could prove a valuable guide to Mercedes’ potential for the rest of the season.