Budget caps, cranes and confusion: F1 risks losing new fans after latest chaos | Formula One

For fans new to Formula One – and there a lot of them at the moment – it can be an arcane beast at the best of times. If it is to avoid alienating this new blood then it really has to better consider the optics. The last couple of days have been perceived as shocking, confusing and almost absurd. Not a good look for what the former FIA president Jean Todt always referred to as the “pinnacle of motorsport”.

The bulk of these issues now lie squarely in the hands of Todt’s successor, Mohammed ben Sulayem, whose record thus far has been patchy at best, not least in the ineffectual inquiry into the controversy at Abu Dhabi last year.

He has been noticeable this year in turning up on race day, hugging drivers and appearing on the podium. He announced the 2023 calendar before F1 itself, taking pleasure in celebrating the sport’s popularity, happily being quoted when the good times roll.

Yet over the last few days he has been conspicuous in his silence as the FIA contorts in an ungainly fashion, incomprehensible to seasoned watchers of the sport let alone newcomers.

Sunday’s Japanese GP should have been a climactic, celebratory affair with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen going for the title. Instead there was righteous fury from drivers when a crane was allowed on track in teeming rain, with no visibility. Pierre Gasly passed it at 200kmh and was blunt in saying he would have died had he hit it. The rest of the grid echoed his anger.

The FIA’s response was to state the bald facts that the use of a recovery vehicle behind the safety car is permitted in the rules. Oh, and to fine Gasly for speeding. A monumental example of organisational gaslighting and an even more egregious failure to read the room. It will investigate its procedures but Ben Sulayem made no comment.

Then there was farce. Verstappen duly took the title but only after neither he, nor any F1 team, knew he had done so. The regulation changes on points scored in the event of a race’s suspension had caught everyone out: what was intended may not have been what was actually written.

The latter was what counted, full points were awarded and Verstappen was champion. He was informed mid post-race interview and then had to be convinced it was actually the case. Across Suzuka, in the paddock, amongst the media and on the TV in the UK the calculations were all being based on a sliding scale of points being awarded after the race was delayed for rain.

The FIA knew this was not the case but chose not to inform anyone. The confusion that reigned at the end – of a world championship decider – could have been avoided with a single email. It could have been written on a piece of paper, pinned to a dog and sent for walkies in the paddock and it would have done the trick. Again on this there was nary a peep from Ben Sulayem.

Then on Monday perhaps the most damaging moment of all. The long-awaited announcement of the teams’ budget cap submissions was made after two weeks of allegations and rumour. Yet after the sound and fury it revealed the square root of almost nothing. Red Bull, we were told, breached 2021’s $145m (£131m) budget cap to a minor degree: less than 5%.

There was no detail on how they had done it, by how much, only a bald statement of fact that the process will likely now move on to the cost cap administration process, should Red Bull stick to their insistence that they were within the cap. Every indication is that they will do so. The team are in a no-win situation, their interpretation (and it is interpretation that will be key to this case) of the spending rules remains unknown. All that is out there is the FIA statement that they broke the rules.

Within hours the hashtag #F1xed was trending on Twitter, which would have had the sport’s owners fuming. The process, already slow and impenetrable, will grind on for a still unspecified time and questions remain. Why has it taken 10 months to assess the submissions from 2021? Why was the “minor” breach level set at 5%, a sum which would amount to $7m – a huge advantage if it was reached?

Mohammed ben Sulayem
The FIA president, Mohammed ben Sulayem (left), has been conspicuous in his silence after a chaotic few days for F1. Photograph: Antonin Vincent/DPPI/Shutterstock

The cost cap is an excellent idea. An attempt to level the playing field and give smaller teams a solid financial future. Yet to work, its integrity is paramount and it has to be understood by everyone, teams and fans. It requires the transparency Ben Sulayem promised when he campaigned for presidency but is he even involved? Again, his name was not even mentioned in the communication regarding the cost cap, the single biggest issue facing the sport since Abu Dhabi.

It has been a long few days but the sternest test remains as increasingly the question asked is: is the FIA fit for purpose? Expectations of the sport are higher than ever. Its governing body must step up to meet them.

Source link