We have spent a lot of time over the last three weeks talking about crash damage, placing blame, and off-track demands for reprimand and fair compensation in Formula One. It’s all a mix of bullshit grandstanding and seeking absolution, as it distracts from the on-track action and makes F1 all about the post-race litigation. A couple of weeks ago Red Bull called for Mercedes to pay up when first-lap contretemps led to Max Verstappen’s multi-million dollar car being a total write off. Other teams have joined the call this week, for obvious reasons, seeking payback for crash damage.
Some F1 teams are calling for the sport to reconsider how the newly-introduced cost cap regulations take into consideration crash damage and who is at fault. Red Bull, for instance, has had massive bills to pay after two cars were scrap binned in the last three weeks. Ferrari’s Mattia Binotto, similarly, has called the cost cap into question after team driver Charles Leclerc was force exited from the grand prix at turn one by Lance Stroll’s Aston-Martin-shaped torpedo.
According to Binotto, “I think there is value for discussions in the near future with the other team principals, FIA and F1. Obviously if you’re not guilty, having such damage in the budget cap is something which is even more of a consequence now.
“Should we add exemptions? I’m not sure that’s the solution. I think it may be very difficult to be policed. But I think that what we may consider is that if a driver is faulty, the team of the driver should pay at least to the other teams for the damages and repairs. That will make the drivers more responsible.”
Teams have been forced to commit to a budget of just $145 million in 2021, and that will further decrease to $140 million in 2022 and 135 million thereafter. Throwing a car into the wall and needing to build a new chassis is allegedly a little over one percent of a team’s annual budget. If you’re a bleeding edge team like Mercedes or Red Bull, that’s going to hurt your annual number. It is, as they say in the business, a big fucking deal. But, crashing occasionally happens in motorsport, and placing blame on a driver and thus punishing that team financially for it, is a very very very dumb idea.
The very act of trying to find a pace advantage on the competition ahead of you means taking risks and driving to the razor’s edge of performance. I’m not going to absolve Valtteri Bottas or Lance Stroll of the role they played in the massive crash on Sunday morning that took a third of the grid out of the race in one corner. They both made moves on a wet racing surface that didn’t pay off. They both were forced out of the race prematurely. It’s pretty easy to lay blame in this instance, but Mercedes and Aston Martin should not be forced to pay McLaren, Ferrari, or Red Bull for the damage caused. Sometimes racing doesn’t go your way.
I think IndyCar driver JR Hildebrand put it best with this succinct tweet.
But I think even this take on the matter is slightly short sighted. The cost cap is good, and teams just need to learn to work within their budgets. If the cost cap means spending less on some other aspect of the program to keep a little wiggle room in the budget for accidental damage, so be it. The whole point is to make things equal for teams, so if you get crashed out early in the season, maybe that means you don’t get to introduce a mid-season front wing design change like you wanted to. Them’s the brakes.
Should the cost cap be amended to include exemptions for crash damage? Hell no. A budget is a budget and if you go over you get penalized. You’ll want to keep a few extra million in the bank to cover stuff that you can’t predict. That’s what racing is. If you can’t build a fast enough race car with 130 million dollars, leaving an extra ten million in there for rainy days in Hungary, then I don’t know what to tell you. Maybe take up a sport that doesn’t have wheel-to-wheel driving at 200 miles per hour.