Toto Wolff: ‘Nobody will dare’ bust cost cap after Red Bull ‘reputational hit’

Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, Mercedes, pursue Max Verstappen, Red Bull. Mexico, October 2022. Credit: Alamy
Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, Mercedes, pursue Max Verstappen, Red Bull. Mexico, October 2022. Credit: Alamy

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says the biggest cost cap deterrant set was actually the damage inflicted on the reputation of Red Bull.

It proved to be one of the biggest talking points of the season when Red Bull were found to have committed a minor breach of the 2021 budget cap, the first year that it was in operation.

The team were found to have not overspent intentionally, though were handed a fine of $7 million and a 10% reduction on their permitted wind tunnel time, as a first marker was set on how a team that goes beyond the cost cap limit could be dealt with.

Red Bull’s fiercest backlash though came from rival teams, Wolff among those giving his opinion, while McLaren’s Zak Brown went the furthest by writing an open letter to the FIA where he mentioned “cheating”. While not specifically naming Red Bull, the team of course took exception.

And Wolff said it was this reputational damage which served as the biggest warning shot to all teams that the budget cap is not to be tested.

Asked if he is happy with how the FIA dealt with Red Bull’s overspend, Wolff told ŚwiatWyścigów.pl: “Yes, I think it’s okay.

“I think the biggest penalty was not the 10% wind tunnel time [reduction] or the 7 million dollars. I think the biggest penalty was the reputational hit that the team got and in a way it’s unfair for the Red Bull mother brand which is fantastic in their field.

“But the racing team has just been having such a reputational hit and also the people. So I think nobody will kind of dare bring it close to that anymore.”

Red Bull would secure a dominant title double in 2022, while Mercedes struggled due to a bouncing issue with their W13.

Although the team eventually began to get on top of that problem, recording their season highlight of a one-two finish in Brazil as George Russell took the win, a title challenge was never on the cards as Mercedes’ dominant run ended at eight Constructors’ titles.

Wolff said it was hard enough seeing situations like in Baku where Lewis Hamilton had back pain due to the bouncing W13, but equally as hard to see the team struggling to solve the issue, which he had not anticipated.

“It’s hard to see him in pain, but it was equally hard to see this fantastic team that won the championship, and six months later isn’t on top of a technical issue,” said Wolff.

“We looked at it from every aspect, we couldn’t find the difference. And you see your driver getting out of the car that is too stiff and undrivable and we haven’t really found the solution. That was something that I didn’t think that we could end up in such a situation.”

But, while this issue left Mercedes months behind in terms of development, Wolff hopes that Red Bull’s wind tunnel penalty will play its part in helping Mercedes catch up in 2023.

“We got closer, we were quicker in Brazil, but we lost many months of development just trying to figure out what the problem with the bouncing was,” said Wolff. “And that’s why they [Red Bull] are in front of us.

“But they have a little bit less wind tunnel time, so I think that will help us to hopefully catch up.”

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