Against the backdrop of accusations that double F1 2010 World Champions Red Bull Racing transgressed the spending limits en route
to clinching the drivers' and constructors' crowns last year, the Formula One Teams' Association (FOTA) has revealed that it is to conduct an investigation into possible abuses of the Resource Restriction Agreement (RRA).
The RRA – a FOTA initiative – came into being in 2009 following the failure of then FIA President Max Mosley's controversial budget cap and as an alternative means of keeping escalating expenditure in-check, stipulating increasingly stringent limits on staffing levels, aerodynamic development and external spending.
However, just after Christmas, Mosley – no fan of the RRA – suggested that the energy drinks-backed outfit might have flouted the agreement by overspending in one or more of the above areas [see separate story – click here
], and a number of rival teams seem to concur.
“At the last FOTA meeting, Red Bull asked for amnesty for non-compliance of the cost-reduction plan,” the 70-year-old told German publication Auto Motor und Sport
. “If these reports are true, that can only mean one thing – Red Bull spent more than they are allowed to, and now they are asking other teams to give them the 'okay'. It will be interesting to see how their opponents react.”
RBR is not the only team under scrutiny, and all twelve contenders have now submitted their budget accounts to FOTA for examination. Although no alteration to the 2010 results can be made – since the RRA is not an FIA regulation – a sliding scale of penalties does exist, by way of which any team found guilty of breaking the rules in one season stands to see their allocation for the following season accordingly cut dependent upon how much they overstepped the mark.
“The Formula One Teams' Association has all the tools to manage the situation,” assured Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali, until recently FOTA vice-president. “We respect the rules, that's all I can say. I think all the teams that signed have complied.”
The allegation is tantamount to a charge of cheating and is, unsurprisingly, one that Red Bull team principal Christian Horner fiercely denies. With the current RRA due to expire in 2012 and renewal negotiations amongst the sport's competitors at something of an impasse
, the Milton Keynes-based squad has been accused of attempting to block efforts to extend it up until 2017.
The Englishman, however, insists he considers the rule to be a 'positive' introduction and cost-cutting essential – urging only that revisions must be implemented in order to make the RRA completely consistent and fair in its application. The fundamental details were agreed over the Singapore Grand Prix weekend in September, with the understanding that the new RRA allows teams to spend slightly more and employ a few more staff, in exchange for stricter policing and sterner penalties for exceeding the limits – but Horner argues that more still needs to be amended.
“The RRA is a positive thing for F1,” the 37-year-old – who also chairs the FOTA Sporting Regulations Working Group – told BBC Sport
, explaining that in its current format it remains flawed and going on to allude to the fact that it is far from the first time his team has had the finger pointed at it as a consequence of its dominant form last season, and that it has not been found to have broken the rules yet. “I think a solution can be found for the outstanding issues; it just needs some sensible discussion between the teams, because the thought of an unrestricted spend in F1 is unpalatable for all the teams.
“It is a matter of achieving transparency and a fair and equitable system between all independent and manufacturer-owned teams, so that no party is at an advantage or disadvantage. The resource restriction needs to be sorted quite quickly, because at the moment it is unclear what rules we are working to in 2011 in many respects, so it's important a solution is found and I think one will be found.
“We've worked in accordance with the RRA limits since they were introduced. With tremendous hard work and internal efficiencies, we believe we've absolutely adhered to it. Red Bull has committed its budgets wisely and it's obviously surprising that people will feel that way, but it's inevitable, I guess, when you're at the front and winning races.
“We expect other teams to potentially challenge [whether we have overspent], as they have done on front wings and ride-heights and everything else in the course of last year – but we don't have any issue. Red Bull probably has the third or fourth-biggest budget in F1. We spent prudently and have achieved great efficiency within the factory, and we have to top that in 2011.”
“On something as fundamental as this, on something that's there to make the whole business you're in sustainable, if someone was to even breach the spirit of that, then that's extremely disappointing,” opined Graeme Lowdon, CEO of F1 2010 newcomer Virgin Racing. “I cannot see how anyone can level a criticism at an RRA. If it made a worse show, or watered it down, then there would be a case to answer – but it doesn't, so it's very disappointing if teams ignore something as fundamental as this.”
The confidential, commercial rights-governing Concorde Agreement will similarly expire in 2012, meaning the era of politics prevailing over racing may be far from over yet. Discussions are expected to accelerate this summer, with the spectre of a 'breakaway' threat – championed in particular by Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo – refusing to go away.