Budget caps, cranes and confusion: F1 risks losing new fans after latest chaos | Formula One

For fans new to Formula 1 – and there are plenty of those at the moment – it can be a mysterious beast at the best of times. If it is to avoid alienating this new blood then you really have to better consider the optics. The past two days have been seen as shocking, confusing and almost absurd. Not a good look for what former FIA president Jean Todt has always called the “peak of motorsport”.

The bulk of those issues now lie in the hands of Todt’s successor, Mohammed bin Sulayem, whose record so far has been spotty at best, including in the ineffectual investigation into the Abu Dhabi controversy last year. .

He made a name for himself this year by showing up on race day, hugging the drivers and appearing on the podium. He announced the 2023 calendar ahead of F1 itself, delighting in celebrating the sport’s popularity, being gleefully quoted when the good times roll.

Yet over the past few days he has stood out for his silence as the FIA ​​writhes in ungainly ways that are incomprehensible to seasoned watchers of the sport, let alone newcomers.

Sunday’s Japanese GP should have been a climactic, celebratory affair with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen chasing the title. Instead, there was righteous fury from drivers when a crane was allowed onto the lane in the pouring rain, with no visibility. Pierre Gasly overtook him at 200 km/h and was candid in saying he would have died if he had hit him. The rest of the grid echoed his anger.

The FIA’s response has been to state the bare facts that the use of a recovery vehicle behind the safety car is allowed in the rules. Oh, and fine Gasly for speeding. A monumental example of organizational gaslighting and an even more egregious failure to read the play. He will investigate his procedures but Ben Sulayem did not comment.

Then there was the stuffing. Verstappen duly won the title, but only after neither he nor any F1 team knew he had done so. The rule changes on the points scored in the event of a suspension of a race had surprised everyone: what was planned was perhaps not what was actually written.

The latter was what mattered, all points were awarded and Verstappen was champion. He was told in the middle of the post-race interview and then had to be convinced that was indeed the case. Across Suzuka, in the paddock, among the media and on UK television, the calculations were all based on a sliding scale of points awarded after the race was delayed due to rain.

The FIA ​​knew this was not the case but chose not to inform anyone. The confusion that reigned at the end – of a decisive World Championship – could have been avoided with just one email. It could have been written on a piece of paper, pinned to a dog and sent out for walks around the paddock and it would have done the trick. Again on this subject, there was not a word from Ben Sulayem.

Then Monday may be the most damaging time of all. The long-awaited announcement of the teams’ budget cap proposals came after two weeks of allegations and rumours. Yet after the sound and the fury, it revealed the square root of almost nothing. Red Bull, we were told, slightly exceeded the $145m (£131m) budget cap for 2021: less than 5%.

There were no details on how they did it, by how much, only a simple statement of fact that the process would now likely move to the cost cap administration process, if Red Bull stuck with it. to their insistence that they were in the ceiling. Everything indicates that they will. The team is in a no-win situation, its interpretation (and it is the interpretation that will be key in this case) of the spending rules remains unknown. All that’s there is the statement from the FIA ​​that they broke the rules.

Within hours, the hashtag #F1xed was trending on Twitter, which would have infuriated the owners of the sport. The process, already slow and impenetrable, will continue for an indefinite time and the questions remain. Why did it take 10 months to evaluate submissions from 2021? Why was the “minor” violation level set at 5%, a sum that would amount to $7 million – a huge plus if reached?

FIA President Mohammed bin Sulayem (left) was notable for his silence after a chaotic few days for F1. Photography: Antonin Vincent/DPPI/Shutterstock

Cost capping is a great idea. An attempt to level the playing field and give small teams a solid financial future. However, to function, its integrity is essential and it must be understood by all, teams and fans. This requires the transparency that Ben Sulayem promised when he campaigned for the presidency, but is he even involved? Again, his name was not even mentioned in the communication regarding the cost cap, the biggest issue facing the sport since Abu Dhabi.

These few days have been long, but the most severe test remains because the question asked is more and more: is the FIA ​​fit for purpose? The expectations of the sport are higher than ever. Its governing body must mobilize to respond to it.

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