The efforts of Formula One's biggest teams to raise the sport's budget cap are an attempt to claw back an unfair advantage and indicative of poor planning, according to the Alpine team principal Otmar Szafnauer.
With the cap intended to level the playing field, Szafnauer insists teams are using claims of inflationary pressure as a smokescreen to spend more looking for performance and said that he and others will attempt to prevent any regulation change.
F1 introduced a budget cap for the first time in 2021. It was set at $145 million (€133.8 million) and this year dropped to $140 million (€129.2 million). It is due to further decrease to €135 million (€124.57 million) next year. The measure was seen as vital to control ever spiralling costs and to close the performance differential between the big three, Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, and the rest of the field.
The process was difficult for the major teams, who had to let staff go and adapt to operating without an ability to merely throw money at problems. It was welcomed by the midfield teams who in most cases were already spending below the cap. This season, however, there has been a vociferous call to raise the cap again to $147 million (€135.65 million), which Szafnauer maintains is actually evidence the system is working.
“If it wasn’t going in the right direction the big teams now wouldn’t be crying to increase it,” he said. “It’s ironic that once the season is underway and the relative performances of the cars are known, people want to increase the budget cap.”
The argument being made in favour of increasing spending is that global inflationary pressure has increased costs in areas such as logistics and freight. Szafnauer insists that potential inflation issues were well known in December when budgets are decided. He contends that they would have planned for those pressures and that teams were once more seeking a performance advantage or to spend to solve issues with their cars.
“It’s just another excuse to raise it again,” he said. “It’s probably 80 per cent a smokescreen and 20 per cent that they were unable to predict the inflation would be this big.
“If everybody learns the cap is not going to be increased, they stop lobbying for it and they actually plan better.”
Significantly McLaren and Aston Martin, previously strong backers of the budget cap, are understood to now support raising it, but both have underperforming cars this season. Alpine, by contrast, are in fifth place in the championship with a solid car that has considerable potential. Szafnauer believes it would be fundamentally unfair to punish teams who have ensured they are within the rules.
“We planned for this and made decisions that are irreversible,” he said. “We have done a good job, so I can’t support increasing the cap because others haven’t. It would definitely tilt the playing field and favour those who took risks we didn’t take.”
Haas and Alfa Romeo are also understood to oppose the change, both teams with cars that have been impressive in the opening rounds. The issue will likely be discussed at a meeting of the F1 commission on April 26th. To change the regulations would require a super majority of eight of the 10 teams.
Ferrari, meanwhile, have extended their contract with driver Carlos Sainz to the end of 2024, the team announced in Imola. The Spaniard is currently third in the championship. – Guardian