OPINION: Red Bull bites back

OPINION: Red Bull bites back

It’s hardly been a quiet spell to be in charge of Red Bull, has it?

I’m not sure there’s ever been a quiet spell, to be fair. It entered the sport as a disruptor in 2005, started winning races in 2009 and titles a year later. Then from 2014 onwards it struggled while hamstrung by the Renault V6 power unit, and was left fighting with its engine supplier before making the switch to Honda in 2019.

I guess that’s where things sort of calmed down for a couple of years, although it had driver instability to deal with during that time before opting for Sergio Perez in 2021 and becoming title contenders once again.

But that Max Verstappen title remains a point of contention among many Formula 1 fans, and still causes vehement arguments to this day. So the last thing the team needed was anything to cast a cloud over this year’s success.

That’s exactly what the budget cap breach did, and in many ways, Red Bull has only got itself to blame.

Red Bull was in total control of the accountancy firm it hired, and the submission it made to the FIA earlier this year. It was also in full command of its own ability to ask questions of the governing body if it had any doubt whatsoever regarding the Financial Regulations.

Those are the facts that mean it has to take the punishment it has been given on the chin, because if it had dealt with the new regulations better, then it wouldn’t have faced such scrutiny.

Team principal Christian Horner was left fuming at the fact its breach had been leaked before it had even been confirmed by the FIA, but the catalyst for that anger was the fact that the team had indeed been deemed to have been in breach. Without that issue, there would be no leak for anyone to worry about.

That said, when the final figures were made public it became pretty clear that Red Bull’s misdemeanors had been far more clerical than financial. It was punished for being $2.2million over the budget cap – a significant amount – but the FIA still acknowledged that it was the team’s own poor accountancy that made for such a number.

Red Bull’s head bull Christian Horner was unhappy about the budget cap breach being leaked, although the problem was one of the team’s own making. Carl Bingham/Motorsport Images

Tax that others had rightly excluded had not been omitted by Red Bull as it could have been, amounting to some $1.7m. And then when it came to unused parts, Horner insists there could have been a further $1m-plus saved by designating them to a heritage department within the team, as he claims others did.

At this point, we can only take Horner at his word, but the latter would have brought Red Bull’s submission under the cost cap without any change in spending, and left it only in procedural breach – like Aston Martin – for the other items such as catering that have been the subject of much focus. Against that backdrop, ‘cheating’ is certainly too strong a word to be associated with the situation.

But aside from the two mentioned, no other team had a single line item that was deemed to be incorrect. Aston had 12 points that needed addressing but even when they were amended it remained under the cap, and that was it.

Horner might be skeptical of how that’s happened, but that includes the Red Bull-owned AlphaTauri team, as well as a variety of other set-ups and countries, so the proof is there that the procedures can be accurately met, even if he’s sure that’s the only reason his team ended up in a position of overspend.

Of course, Red Bull now wants to move on, not for the first time in the past 12 months. I guess in writing about it once more I haven’t quite let it yet, but it has been Sky Sports that has really caught the team’s eye on that front.

Ongoing comments from presenters – specifically Ted Kravitz – were viewed as disrespectful towards the team. I’m not privy to any private discussions other than seeing one of the Sky senior producers sit down for a chat with the head of Red Bull’s communications department after the ban was put in place over the weekend, but you’d hope Sky had been made aware of the unhappiness prior to such action being taken.

As someone who works in the paddock and is broadcasting before and after races, I don’t see most of Sky’s coverage, so can’t comment on the majority of it, but I did see Kravitz’s comments from Austin and while I understand Red Bull might not like them, they weren’t directly aimed at the team.

Quite the opposite. They were aimed at Lewis Hamilton’s situation, with the knock-on impact being that they might not please Red Bull, even though Adrian Newey was heavily praised.

Verstappen and the rest of the team gave Sky the cold shoulder after the Mexican GP, which had a knock-on effect for countries that take Sky’s world feed – including the U.S. Sam Bloxham/Motorsport Images

But I can understand Red Bull’s reaction, because in that context it was being painted as the bad guy of the movie – a role it sometimes brings on itself, but in the case of Abu Dhabi should be attributed to the FIA – and coming amid the budget cap row that had felt like another topic that overshadowed its success. The team and Verstappen believed their performances were being belittled rather than celebrated.

That’s not the only reason why I bring up the topic, though. Get ready for a pivot, but it’s also to do with a nagging feeling that it highlights a flaw in the attempts to grow F1 in the United States.

ESPN has committed to taking Sky’s broadcasts of races rather than producing its own as it moves into its latest deal to bring the sport to the U.S. audience. And yet if someone in the U.S. wanted to hear from Verstappen after he broke the record for most wins in a season, or Horner at the end of such a tumultuous two weeks, they needed F1TV or the SpeedCity broadcast on SiriusXM (yes, that’s the one I report for, it’s a bonus plug).

Subscribers to ESPN were being punished for something that has nothing to do with ESPN other than that it takes the Sky coverage that is not tailored to it in the first place.

It’s not a dig at Sky, because the situation is an example that hurts the UK broadcaster, too. Sky should feel fully entitled to take its own stance, and not have to worry about the fact that its coverage might lead to some unhappy partner broadcasters. If Sky upsets a team but wants to stand by its position, then surely that decision is made tougher by the consideration it must make for the companies that it sells its product to.

With Horner confirming normal service will be resumed in Brazil, it’s only a small blip that will be forgotten in a few weeks, but as the sport becomes more partisan, it becomes harder to provide coverage that is one-size-fits-all across the globe.

That partisanship will always mean contentious matters incite debate that won’t die down, and if there’s a lesson for Red Bull to take, it’s to not be the catalyst.

Abu Dhabi is too big to ever be forgotten – and it needs to never be repeated – but Verstappen and his team can’t do anything about that. It might also be the main reason Red Bull is struggling to get the benefit of the doubt from some fans despite the facts of the budget cap settlement (a punishment system agreed on by all teams), but if it had been squeaky clean it wouldn’t have faced such a reaction.

Still, once the teams get through the final two races of the season – including the return to Yas Marina – then maybe, just maybe, things will quieten down for a while.