By Anna Noble
The first corner of the Hungarian Grand Prix saw Valterri Bottas initiate carnage on the racetrack. Bottas crashed into Lando Norris forcing him into Max Verstappen before Bottas then also crashed into Sergio Perez. Lance Stroll then added to the chaos by hitting Charles Leclerc whilst attempting to avoid the other crash, in turn forcing Leclerc into Daniel Riccardo. The damage from these collisions was so extreme that five cars were immediately forced to retire (Perez, Norris, Stroll, Leclerc and Bottas), and although Riccardo and Verstappen were able to continue, they found their races were effectively over before the end of the first lap. Verstappen somehow managed to recover to 10th place (promoted to 9th following Vettel’s disqualification), despite only having half a car.
The damage to all seven cars involved was significant, with Ferrari, Mercedes, McLaren, and for the second time in two races Red Bull, looking at significant repair bills. The collision at the Hungaroring following the Hamilton-Verstappen high-speed shunt at Silverstone, which saw Verstappen hurtled into the barrier at 150mph with an impact of 51G, which itself cost Red Bull approximately $1.8 million in repairs. With Perez’s car being forced to retire and Verstappen finishing the race with effectively half a car more costly repairs were inevitable for Red Bull.
This is where a problem arises. Bottas and Stroll were fairly conclusively at fault in Hungary at turn one, similarly, Hamilton was also considered by the FIA as being “predominately at fault” in Silverstone, yet as a consequence of these mistakes it is the parties which shoulder less blame – Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari- who are facing costly repairs. Such repairs, as Christian Horner has repeated following the Hungary collisions, are even more significant in light of the 2021 cost cap regulations.
Formula 1 introduced a budget cap of $147.5 million for the 2021 season, meaning that each team is limited in how much they can spend on car development. This poses a new challenge, predominantly for bigger teams such as Mercedes, Ferrari, and Red Bull who have been accustomed to operating under larger budgets in which crash damage would not have been as significant, versus today where teams face heavy penalties if they break the cost cap regulations. Thus, is it fair that teams, not to blame for collisions, face significant penalties?
It is with the cost cap in mind that Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto suggested that the team determined to be at fault in a collision should pay for the repairs, stating “I think that what we may consider is that if a driver is faulty, the team of the driver should pay at least to the other teams for the damages and repairs. That will make the drivers more responsible.”
Whilst there are advantages to this approach, the incentive on drivers being responsible and the idea that this is perhaps a fairer approach that does not punish drivers or teams who are innocent victims of other driver’s mistakes, as was the case in Hungary, there are intricacies that are likely to complicate such an approach.
One complexity is how blame is assigned. If we take the Hamilton-Verstappen incident at Silverstone for example, who is to blame is perhaps a controversial question, since the FIA judged Hamilton to be ‘predominantly’ but not solely at fault for the collision. In that situation, who pays? Whilst there could potentially be a split cost argument, it is doubtful that both sides would agree to a percentage of blame scenario.
Secondly, it should be considered that whilst the big teams (Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari) have operated on budgets of several hundred million dollars a year, many of the other teams have operated on budgets around or less than the current cost cap yet, were still expected to pay for their own repairs. Therefore, on the question of fairness, is it fair to impose a ‘guilty party pays’ rule now the big teams are capped?
Furthermore, would introducing such a rule persuade teams to focus on ‘safe’ drivers in opposition to taking risks with rookie drivers that are likely to make mistakes and, potentially cause accidents whilst they grow accustomed to F1? Such could prevent future talent from being given ample opportunity in F1. Let’s not forget that Max Verstappen was once dubbed ‘Crashstappen’.
Finally, it should be considered that teams are allowed to breach the $147.5 million cap by 5% in specific circumstances. One of these circumstances is force majeure – something beyond the control of the team. It is therefore likely that a collision judged to be solely or predominantly to be the fault of a competitor from a rival team, such as the incidents in Hungary or at Silverstone would fulfil this requirement.
Thus, whilst there are advantages to a ‘guilty party pays’ system, these need to be weighed with the significant disadvantages and ultimately leaves the suggestion unlikely to be necessary.