AUSTIN, Texas — Red Bull team boss Christian Horner denied his championship-winning team gained any competitive advantage by what has been deemed a “minor” breach of Formula One’s spending rules, and called suggestions that it amounted to cheating “shocking.”
Red Bull has been dogged by questions at the United States Grand Prix about driver Max Verstappen’s championships last season and this year after F1’s governing body revealed the team had a “minor” violation of the 2021 spending cap.
But that still could amount to several million dollars and some teams and drivers have demanded harsh penalties to punish Red Bull and protect the integrity of the sport.
McLaren chief executive Zak Brown wrote a letter to the FIA that didn’t specifically name Red Bull but said any overspending should be considered “cheating.”
Horner and Brown sat next to each other for F1’s weekend news conference, and Horner angrily complained that Red Bull had been put “on trial” even though few details of the spending violations have been released.
“Suddenly we are tried and subjected to three weeks of effective abuse. And then to be seeing a letter accusing us of cheating and being fraudulent, it is just not right, and this has to stop,” Horner said.
“It is tremendously disappointing for a fellow competitor to be accusing you of cheating, to accuse you of fraudulent activity is shocking.”
Horner even said that allegations of cheating have led to the children of Red Bull employees being bullied at school.
Brown defended his letter, which said overspending teams should be hit financially and face future car development restrictions.
“My letter set out that if a team spent more than the cap, they’re going to gain an advantage,” Brown said. “We’re not taking a view if they did or didn’t. My letter was if someone has, these are the things that should be addressed.
“I didn’t mention any team, it was a general response now that we are into the cost cap era, here’s what we think the ramifications are.”
The cost cap breach is particularly controversial given the close finish to last season’s championship. Verstappen won 10 races to eight for Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, and the Red Bull driver won the title when he passed Hamilton on the final lap of the final race.
And since teams typically begin developing the next year’s car at midseason, any overspending could be viewed as gaining a a future advantage. Verstappen has been untouchable this season with 12 wins. One more ties the single-season record.
Red Bull insists it always believed it was in compliance with the spending rules, which Horner called exorbitantly complicated.
But teams have had time to adjust to the limit and the bookkeeping. And no other team is facing the same overspending claims as Red Bull. Brown called the regulations “manageable.”
Formula One first announced a budget cap would be implemented in 2019, and it started last season with a limit of $145 million. It was scaled down to $140 million for 2022 and drops to $135 million for 2023. It excludes driver salaries and engine costs.
By calling the violation “minor,” the FIA indicated Red Bull’s overspending was under 5% of the total budget.
Horner said he hoped to have the issue resolved with the FIA by the end of the race weekend in Texas. If not, it could drag out for several more months should the team appeal any findings and punishments.
Horner promised the ultimate resolution will be transparent.
“There is going to be no private, secret deal,” he said. “It will all be absolutely above board.”
It’s been a difficult week for Red Bull, which also is dealing with the death of co-founder Dietrich Mateschitz.