Dispute over Max Verstappen’s F1 ‘cost cap championship’ rumbles | Gilles Richards

The Formula 1 budget cap was meant to draw financial lines in the sand. With fury over his breach by Red Bull still echoing, it appears to have instead become a rallying call to form battle lines in what is an increasingly combative and toxic atmosphere bemoaned by many in the sport.

Red Bull were deemed to have exceeded the £114m budget cap for 2021 by £1.86m and acknowledged this in a “breach of contract acceptedwith the FIA. The team admitted breaking the cap and agreed to a £6.05million fine and a 10% reduction in time spent in the wind tunnel.

F1 would have hoped it was the end of an unseemly row that has eclipsed the sport since the Singapore GP, and indeed Red Bull’s Max Verstappen winning his second title in Japan. Still, he rumbled through the final two rounds in the United States and Mexico with an increasingly noxious atmosphere.

Verstappen has been dubbed the ‘cost cap champion’ on social media, a narrative questioning the legitimacy of his title that has only fueled already existing anger over the way he won his first title , beating Lewis Hamilton in controversial circumstances in Abu Dhabi last year. The violation of the budget cap only exacerbated already deep-rooted feelings.

Red Bull were optimistic in their defence. Team principal Christian Horner cited mental health issues for team members due to allegations of cheating and described the penalty for breaching the budget cap as “draconianand influenced by the lobbying of his rivals.

Already partisan fans have jumped on it to defend the team and Verstappen, as have their detractors as a means of attack. Then there was the distinct sense of a bunker mentality when Verstappen and the team said they would do not talk to Sky TV at the Mexican GP due to comments by Sky broadcaster Ted Kravitz in which he said Hamilton had been “robbed” of an eighth title in Abu Dhabi.

Kravitz did not accuse Verstappen or Red Bull of robbing Hamilton, instead saying he was robbed by the decisions of FIA race director Michael Masi, who was later removed from the job and embroiled in the own FIA investigation which cited “human error” in decision-making. treat.

Kravitz has nevertheless drawn an avalanche of toxic reactions on social media and it’s hard not to feel that F1 is starting to fray a bit around the edges. Red Bull’s approach was seen as showing a lack of tolerance, a confrontational attitude of a binary nature, exacerbating the rift between the fans.

A senior sports official views the current situation with concern. “They seem to think that if you’re not with us, you’re against us,” he said. “That leaves no middle ground, because you’re either in opposition or in allegiance.” Nor is it limited to the relentless tit-for-tat match that now dominates F1 social media and below-the-line commentary. Earlier this week Matthew Syed took Horner to task in the Times, accusing him of lack of grace and gaslighting. “How dare the manager of Red Bull deploy sensitive moral issues such as bullying and sanity to distract from his own rule violation,” Syed wrote.

As if to illustrate that nothing in F1 these days goes without a reaction, even from the most unlikely source, the wife of Red Bull technical director Adrian Newey took to Twitter to lambast Syed. “What qualifies you to judge me, my husband or any member or family member of Red Bull’s mental state?” she wrote. “Provoking fans with toxic journalism adds to the problem.” “The growing fan enmity, the toxic atmosphere online, there is growing concern in the sport that neutral ground has disappeared,” another paddock insider noted.

This is not how F1 wants or needs to approach the end of the season with two races remaining. The budget cap is done and for all concerned to move forward, there must be a rapprochement, which must be led by leading figures setting an example for the fans. To draw a definitive line on what has become an unnecessarily vituperating climate.

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