Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Suzuka, 2022

Red Bull to clinch constructors title amid budget cap row? Six US GP talking points

2022 United States Grand Prix

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Max Verstappen has sewn up the drivers championship with four races remaining in the 2022 season.

Now his team is poised to clinch the constructors’ title this weekend. But the sport was plunged into controversy one week ago by the revelation the team failed to comply with the Financial Regulations during 2021.

That is likely to prove the main talking point as Formula 1 heads to Circuit of the Americas for its second race in the USA this year.

Red Bull set to clinch title

As is often said, the drivers’ title brings prestige but it is the constructors’ championship which determines how much money the teams win. It is therefore highly prized.

Mercedes’ run of eight consecutive titles will end this year. Ferrari retains a slender mathematical chance of winning, but realistically Red Bull are on course for a coronation. Unless Ferrari out-score them by 19 points this weekend, Red Bull will clinch the title in Austin.

But it comes after the FIA cast doubt on the means by which Red Bull achieved their titles. One week ago the sport’s governing body belatedly issued the findings of its examination of the teams’ 2021 finances, and noted Red Bull was the only team to have exceeded the $145 million spending limit. It, along with Aston Martin, was also found not to have fully complied with the procedures of the financial regulations.

What that means for the titles Red Bull won last year or their successes this year remains to be seen. There are few who seriously expected the FIA would retroactively confiscate a title from a driver or a team. But a lesser punishment might be too weak to deter others breaking the same rules in the future.

Mercedes’ victory prospects dwindling

After Mercedes’ deficit to Red Bull and Ferrari was confirmed to be genuine in the early phase of the season, there remained an expectation that the eight-time consecutive constructors’ world champions would eventually catch up to their rivals and be in the fight for race wins and even the titles themselves as the season progressed. Eventually, with each weekend that went by, that proved not to pass.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Suzuka, 2022
Mercedes have never had a win-less season in the V6 turbo era
But there are still four grands prix remaining of the 2022 season. With that, there are only four opportunities remaining for Mercedes to avoid their first winless season in the V6 turbo era.

Mercedes head to the United States following two rounds in Singapore and Japan where, by driver George Russell’s admission, they had “not scored the points we should have.” But two traditionally hot rounds in Austin and Mexico City could end up suiting them better, tyre warm-up having been one of their greatest weaknesses across the season so far.

Lewis Hamilton is facing the likelihood this will end his streak of 15 straight seasons with at least one win if he fails to take the chequered flag first by Abu Dhabi. While Hamilton himself insists he cares not for the record, it’s also true that even a single win would be an important morale-boost for the team heading into the off-season and a chance at a fresh start for 2023.

Perez vs Leclerc for runner-up?

In the course of six months, Charles Leclerc has seen his best chance of winning the world championship rapidly fade. Last weekend, Leclerc’s prospects finally became zero when he was penalised after the Japanese Grand Prix for leaving the track and gaining and advantage at the final chicane, handing second place to Sergio Perez and the title to Verstappen.

Losing second also meant that Leclerc dropped behind the second Red Bull driver in the driver’s championship also. Heading to Austin, Perez sits just a single point ahead of Leclerc, effectively creating a four-race shootout between the pair over the final four rounds.

Perez has finished ahead of Leclerc the last two rounds
The battle for second place in the championship is hardly a glorious one, with neither driver likely to be all that commiserated by winning the honour of being the first driver to be beaten handily by Verstappen in the final standings. However, with Leclerc winning more races than Perez and Carlos Sainz Jnr – the only other drivers to have taken victories this season – there will be a certain degree of pride at stake for Leclerc to not also be forever behind Perez in the history books when the Ferrari driver should have enjoyed more than just a trio of wins.

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Friday features

With next year’s F1 calendar featuring three races in the United States for the first year since the 1980s, the desire to have an American driver in Formula 1 is higher than it may have ever been before. And Formula 1 and its teams are also keen to have a driver from its fastest-growing market on its grid – with only the FIA standing in the way of IndyCar driver Colton Herta being almost guaranteed a seat in 2023.

Sargeant will appear for Williams on Friday
But this weekend, the US Grand Prix will at least feature a home-grown driver participating for the first time since Alexander Rossi back in 2015. Williams junior driver Logan Sargeant – currently third in the Formula 2 championship with one round remaining – will step into Nicholas Latifi’s FW44 in first practice. When he does so, the 21-year-old will become only the fourth American driver to participate in a grand prix weekend in the last 30 years, after Michael Andretti, Scott Speed and Rossi.

Sargeant is not the only driver set to make a cameo appearance on Friday. His Formula 2 rival Theo Pourchaire will get his first outing at a grand prix weekend in Valtteri Bottas’ Alfa Romeo, while last year’s IndyCar champion Alex Palou will get to run in Daniel Ricciardo’s McLaren. With no rain expected on the long forecasts ahead of this weekend, this will be the best opportunity that Sargeant, Palou and Pourchaire will have ever had to prove themselves right in front of the eyes of the F1 pit wall.

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Bumps ahead

The Circuit of the Americas was built on unused land that included a large level of clay in the soil. Since the circuit opened 10 years ago, the track has received many complaints from competitors spanning many forms of motorsport for being excessively bumpy, with the racing surface becoming uneven in crucial areas, including some of its highest-speed corners.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Circuit of the Americas, 2021
COTA’s bumps are notorious
In 2015, Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa both retired their Williams cars due to suspension failures which the team later blamed on the excessive bumps on the circuit. The circuit was forced to take action when MotoGP riders’ complaints over the track reached a tipping point back in 2021, with eventual champion Fabio Quartararo likening COTA to a motocross track, with riders threatening not to race at the venue in 2022 if their concerns were not addressed.

In the off-season, the circuit took action and carried out extensive resurfacing work on the track. The fast, downhill right-hander of turn two and the left hand kink over the crest at turn 10 at the far end of the circuit had concrete pads installed to reinforce the asphalt above them. The stadium section from the left-hand corner of turn 12 at the end of the back straight through to the multi-apex sequence of turns 16, 17 and 18 was also being completely repaved.

F1 teams are not expecting silky-smooth surfaces awaiting them this weekend, but hopefully the bumps will prove to be less of a problem for this year’s event than last year.

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A record crowd?

Formula 1 has never been as popular in the United States of America than it is right now. Not just among Hollywood celebrities and superstar athletes across the North American sports world, but with American motorsport fans and casual followers too. The impact of Drive to Survive continues to be felt, with the sport generating more new fans in the richest country in the world over the last five years than at any other stretch in the over seven decades the world championship has been contested.

Over 380,000 filled the stands last year
Nowhere was that more viscerally demonstrated than in at CotA last year, where the American fans flocked to the circuit in their hundreds of thousands. After a year without a race in North America due to the pandemic, the US fans were more than ready to enjoy a race on home soil once more and produced over 400,000 spectators over the course of the weekend – with Formula 1 claiming it to be the biggest crowd ever for a three-day grand prix weekend, ahead of the four-day long Australian Grand Prix.

This year, that number is expect to rise even higher. A whole new grandstand has been built for the event on the inside of the track overlooking the Esses in the opening sector, while Formula 1’s popularity and profile has only grown in the last 12 months with the dramatic conclusion to the 2021 season, the newest series of Drive to Survive and the debut of the Miami Grand Prix in May.

The drivers championship battle may be over, but that is unlikely to put a dampener of what will almost certainly be the biggest event at the Austin circuit so far.

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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30 comments on “Red Bull to clinch constructors title amid budget cap row? Six US GP talking points”

  1. Red Bull set to clinch title – Maybe.
    Mercedes’ victory prospects dwindling – More & more.
    Perez vs Leclerc for runner-up? – I reckon the former.

    1. Red Bull set to clinch title – Maybe.

      Bought and paid for mate.

      Mercedes’ victory prospects dwindling – More & more.

      Barring four crashes (2 x RBR and 2 x Ferrari, I’d put those chances as so close to zero you can expect frost.

      Perez vs Leclerc for runner-up? – I reckon the former.

      I refer the reader to my first comment.

  2. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
    17th October 2022, 14:25

    There are few who seriously expected the FIA would retroactively confiscate a title from a driver or a team.

    I hope this is not the case as this is standard practice in sports and in F1 we have even coined the term “lasting advantage”. This violation clearly provided a lasting advantage to Red Bull that wasn’t limited to a single race or even a single season but has clearly affected 2 seasons and will more than likely affect the next one and the one after that.

    We have a situation where a team is literally enjoying compounded rates of return on the transgression. If the cost cap had been introduced before 2021 and Red Bull had breached the cap earlier, they could have rewritten F1 history in the hybrid era with Ricciardo and Verstappen winning championships and Mercedes perhaps not even being part of the sport by this point.

    What we’re experiencing now is probably an alternate version of F1 rewritten by Red Bull as was the case with Lance Armstrong and the Tour De France.

    For all we know, Ferrari deserved to dominate this season or scrap it out with Red Bull on even terms and Leclerc would have been a champion. Unfortunately, we shall never know.

    1. Some very valid points. On the one hand, the financial regulations are now sporting regulations. So a breach of those is the same as Lewis’ wing opening 0.2mm too much and being disqualified from qualifying in Brazil, or speeding in the pitlane by 1kmh. A breach is a breach. So disqualification has its merits. Plus there are the points that you mentioned that would make disqualification even more valid if they gained a lasting advantage. Its impossible to prove, or disprove, so any penalty applied would always have its detractors.
      On the other hand, the FIA saw this coming and added a clause in for minor breaches (there is no penalty for minor speeding in the pitlane, its all treated the same way) which gives them flexibility. Whether that restores any credibility remains to be seen.

      Unfortunately, the FIA have horribly mismanaged this. From delaying the announcement, to the lack of information on the nature and exact amount of the overspend. Even if Red Bull legitimately stuck to the cap and it was a procedural overspend on catering, the way its been managed has tainted the championship. And how did something that was supposed to be confidential until the findings were released become an open secret in the paddock? Someone needs to grill Toto and find out how he knew. That brings with it its own slew of issues.

      Last year we got one of the greatest seasons in F1, and it was all ruined by AD21. Now, Max’s brilliance has been overshadowed by this. He deserves better. The fans deserve better.

      1. Valid points well argued by both of you @freelittlebirds and JackL, I don’t expect the FIA to enforce it (and looking back, the ‘minor’ category ending at being several rear, even more front,or one to a few bodywork versions lacked vision), but it will be a further lack of appreciation for the organisation.

        There was a lot of good in this season and Verstappen definitely showed he’s a great driver yet again, but with the express intent of the cost bap being to start leveling the field, it’s really sad for the sport the way this went. Red Bull with Verstappen as a driver, much like Ferrari and Benneton with Michael Schumacher shouldn’t be skirting/cheating the rules to win all the while continuously insinuating others (it reeks of projection, frankly, and that’s a rank smell).

      2. Valid points in general, though I don’t get this part @freelittlebirds:

        If the cost cap had been introduced before 2021 and Red Bull had breached the cap earlier, they could have rewritten F1 history in the hybrid era with Ricciardo and Verstappen winning championships and Mercedes perhaps not even being part of the sport by this point.

        As far as I know there wasn’t a cost cap before 2021 and Red Bull could throw as much money at it as they wanted – yet they couldn’t catch up with Mercedes. But maybe I’m reading it wrong.

        The big blind spot in most argumentation though, is that Red Bull by many is already deemed very guilty. In my opinion JackL is right when he says “the FIA have horribly mismanaged this”. How big or small this ‘minor breach’ is, isn’t relevant – over the budget cap is over the budget cap. What is relevant though, is the wording: what falls within the budget cap? As highlighted above the FIA is notorious for being vague. Not just on possible penalties or the bandwith of overspending, but also in the rules itself. If Red Bull found a sentence in the rules that can be explained in multiple ways (and I wouldn’t be surprised about that) and exploited that loophole, to me that’s no different than the invention of the double diffuser, the s-duct or the x-wings. Some teams found loopholes where others didn’t. I feel that’s the argument between Red Bull and the FIA that yet has to be settled. Until that’s done Red Bull might be on the naughty list (and everyone can be critical about that), but I refuse to accuse Red Bull of the highest treason.

  3. What row?

    1. The one where the FIA has once again tainted a championship through its own ineptitude, lack of action and clarity, and a misunderstanding of their own role in relation to the commercial interests. And they can’t even blame Michael Masi this time.

      1. So far it seems that FIA has done the following: Review the budget submissions over 2021. Delay the announcement of compliance with a few days. Announce three teams had issues. Announce the next step in the process is to refer the outcome to the FIA Cost Cap Administration.

        That’s it. All other stuff is clutter from people speaking before their turn and the media willingly blowing things up.

        1. The FIA also went out of its way to declare that “there has been significant and unsubstantiated speculation and conjecture in relation to this matter” days before they confirmed that, just as the so-called speculation and conjecture suggested, Red Bull and Aston Martin did not pass the test and were going to be referred for further investigation and/or penalties.

          Helpfully, the FIA also indicated then that there was no way that the FIA had been leaking information, noting that “any suggestion that FIA personnel have disclosed sensitive information is equally baseless”. It seems the FIA thinks everyone else is too silly to put two and two together, namely that the FIA was leaking, the teams did know, and it wasn’t speculation that Red Bull and Aston Martin had fallen foul of the rules.

          Whether the FIA didn’t know what was going on in the paddock, didn’t or doesn’t know who is leaking, lied to pretend the leaked information was wrong, or delayed the release to change the narrative that Wolff and others had started – none of it is a good look.

          1. I think that part is just a clumsy attempt to get everybody back within the regular process following Toto’s antics (once again). They shouldn’t do these things but instead discipline Toto and the FIA co worker leaking, behind closed doors. There is a hugely obvious candidate but unlike Toto’s antics and about 90% on this forum I give this one the benefit of the doubt and do not condemn until this FIA co worker is found guilty. Very worrying stuff there is this connection between a team and the FIA. I would call it a competitive advantage and cheating, equal to an overspend situation. Who knows what WCCs Mercedes has won because of their ties within FIA.

    2. The induced by some media one.

  4. Jelle van der Meer (@)
    17th October 2022, 15:11

    “There are few who seriously expected the FIA would retroactively confiscate a title from a driver or a team.”

    Be honest Keith, don’t say “a few” but say “I Keith”, it is so blatantly obvious you are still refusing to accept the 2021 outcome.
    * No article was written in 2021 about Max Verstappen the new World Champion.
    * Any chance you get you post clickbait articles with very suggestive titles.
    * There are very few slightly positive sections or articles appearing on Racefans and none are written by Keith.

    Better to rename the website back to because you are far from neutral and actually one of the worst biased British media available online.

    Racefans used to be my number 1 F1 website by now it is 4th or 5th, in terms of British Media I very much prefer The Race these days, actually might as well skip Racefans website all together.

    1. No article was written in 2021 about Max Verstappen the new World Champion.

      18th December 2021: Call F1’s championship finale tainted, but not its deserving new champion

  5. Perez hasn’t finished ahead of Leclerc the last two rounds, he was merely classified as such, both times in no small part to having the stewards on his side. And wherever they finish in the standings, they were both resoundingly beaten by Verstappen. At least Leclerc has the better excuse, being in a different team and car.

  6. Coventry Climax
    17th October 2022, 16:23

    But the sport was plunged into controversy one week ago

    Haha, that’s one of the best jokes I’ve heard for ages.
    F1 has been wading, neck deep, through a swamp of controversy for the past decades already.
    Mainly due to the FIA’s own incompetence.

  7. I have a problem with the idea of “minor” in F1. If the cap was, say, $100m, and the rules said “minor infractions of up to 5% will not be penalised”, the teams would read this as “The budget cap is $105m” and would spend up to that limit.

    1. If the cap was, say, $100m, and the rules said “minor infractions of up to 5% will not be penalised”, the teams would read this as “The budget cap is $105m” and would spend up to that limit

      Instead they have a “limit” of £145 with an apparently negotiable penalty for any amount, unless I missed something that states >5% is a certain DSQ.
      I say “negotiable penalty”, as the info we have is that FIA and RBR are in discussions. Where is the neat and tidy table that equates $10k to a specific points deduction and financial whack?

      Everyone seems to be predicting a Ferrari style sweep it under the carpet, “oh dear they did wrong, but we won’t reveal how much…”

      1. Everyone seems to be predicting a Ferrari style sweep it under the carpet

        Nobody really knows, not even Toto Wolff – who somehow seemed to know everything about the report before it was published. It makes sense, though, because nobody is interested in the shenanigans that would result from an outright disqualification, or sticking the label ‘cheaters’ on Red Bull’s two titles (three counting the 2022 constructor’s).

        In any case, while Ferrari’s situation was indeed kept under wraps – Ferrari did suffer two years of significantly reduced competitiveness as it had to rework their engine. If Red Bull goes on winning in 2023, that would be an entirely different situation.

        1. sticking the label ‘cheaters’ on Red Bull’s two titles (three counting the 2022 constructor’s).

          Too late for that.

          They have already been labelled cheaters, by the very entity that allowed them to be the beneficiaries of rule bending shenanigans throughout last year, the motives behind which are still unclear – but let’s be charitable and suggest it was to ensure a grandstand finish to the season.

          Talent not withstanding and through no fault of his own, both Verstappens championships have large asterisks against them.

          1. For clarity, I don’t think the rule bending by the FIA last year only benefitted Red Bull, their stewards made a lot of dodgy decisions for and against both championship contenders… but Red Bull and Max were the end beneficiaries of it.

          2. Emerson ticktum
            18th October 2022, 2:50

            I keep seeing this notion that stewards decision making equally benefitted and hurt both contenders but that’s just like straight up a lie, even before you account for AD.

            We all watched max run lewis off the road in Brazil with Jonathan telling masi “it’s all about letting them race” and nothing came of it. no investigation necessary

            To call the penalty for Max’s brake check in Jeddah a slap on the wrist is generous and that’s before the numerous dive bombs and frankly desperate driving that entire GP that went unchecked

            How lewis snagged a 10 sec penalty for Silverstone and max SOMEHOW got away after planting a car on Lewis’ head still eludes me, throw in a few move or we crash moves from that same GP preceding the crash that also went unchecked and I’m dumbfounded

            Imola… i still maintain that move stretched the definition of lap one shenanigans

            And that’s just off the top of head as I lay in bed catching up on the news

  8. Zac Brown covers it perfectly in his letter – its cheating

    1. Is it cheating as well when using more PU components than allowed?
      Or is it not, only because in that case the penalties are clearly defined?

      Budget Cap: to me it’s not necessarily cheating if RBR spent more than the $145M and admitted to it (the final phone bill came in late and was higher than expected).
      But it would be cheating if they reported <$145M whilst knowing (and hiding) that there was an overspend.

      1. Read what he has said, he articulates it perfectly – all teams knew exactly what was acceptable in 2020….

        Redbull cheated, black and white – FIA has royally messed this up.

        Not sure how F1 recovers face on this.

        Verstapean is a 2 time champ to me, I dont think Lewis would even want the 2021 title now if he Ver was stripped of it.

        F1 and FIA have come out the worse, and Redbull F1, in particular Horner has not come out well at all

      2. jff, when it has come to other sporting penalties, the FIA or its representatives have taken the line that, just because the party involved had co-operated with them, it doesn’t mean that they have not been guilty of a breach of the regulations. Similarly, the FIA has not treated omissions by accidental means as a defence against breaching the regulations either.

        We have had that scenario play out earlier this year with Williams when they were late with submitting their interim accounts. The Cost Cap Administration noted that Williams did not seem to have sought to deliberately deceive them and that Williams was quite co-operative with them in their investigation – but that didn’t change the fact that Williams were still deemed guilty of breaching the rules and were penalised for it.

        At most, what the co-operation of Williams seemed to achieve there was that the FIA steered Williams towards an Accepted Breach Agreement, or ABA, where Williams accepted that it had to pay a fine, plus compensation to the FIA, and agree to improve their reporting procedures to avoid another similar breach within a specified timeframe.

      3. It would indeed be cheating to use more engines than allowed if a team then claims they haven’t used more engines than allowed. In this case, Red Bull flat out denies they broke the cost cap, claiming to be enormously ‘surprised’.

        The FIA’s statement praises Williams’ and Aston Martin’s attempt to work with the FIA for a reason. Governing bodies tend to be precious about their own authority and don’t appreciate being bamboozled.

        1. Indeed (also as an answer to anon above),
          I define (see my post above) it as cheating if knowingly spending more and then hiding this.
          It is not cheating (in my book, or according to the dictionary) if you spent more without knowing it.

          And then there is a third option, which is mostly also cheating, when you spent more without knowing it (higher phone bill) and then tried to hide it (which is different from ‘trying to argue that it should not be included’).

          Unfortunately, there is too much grey area in this (except maybe for FIA and RBR). Thus neither I nor Zak, know if this is cheating or a more benign mistake/oversight.

      4. Emerson ticktum
        18th October 2022, 3:09

        The fact that you have quantify and qualify cheating should be your dead giveaway. Your rebuttal has “not necessarily cheating” and this cognitive dissonance somehow eluded you?!

        Also to answer your question, no. Exceeding the free allotment of engine components and being penalized for it isn’t cheating. I honestly cannot believe RB fans have latched onto this talking point like it’s some sort of gotcha.

  9. The bumpiness of CotA will force some teams into a compromising setup to avoid excessive porpoising. Red Bull having historically not been one of those teams should have an easy time securing maximum points this weekend barring and technical issues.

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