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F1’s cost cap makes fightbacks more "painful", says FIA

Formula 1’s cost cap may have helped close up the grid, believes the FIA, but there has been a downside in it preventing troubled squads making swift recoveries.

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Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Since 2021, F1 teams have had to operate under a budget cap limit which was introduced to put grand prix racing on a more stable financial platform.

The evidence of the past few years is that the grid overall has closed up, especially because previous big spenders have not had the luxury of throwing more money at added performance to help them pull clear.

But while a closer grid overall has been positive, one of the unintended consequences has been that teams are now more limited in making amends for mistakes with their cars – as they no longer have the spending power to invest in extensive revamps.

This has been especially highlighted this year when both Mercedes and Ferrari knew that their 2023 car concepts were no match for the dominant Red Bull RB19 – but were unable to make the kind of overhauls that would have been possible under open spending rules.

Reflecting on the impact of the cost cap, Tombazis said that the gains it had delivered had not been without some downsides.

“The problem with the financial regulations is, on the one hand, they do mean that somebody can't spend three times more than somebody else, which is good,” he said.

“But on the other hand, they do also mean that if you're behind somebody, you can't just throw everything at it and make an upgrade.

“In older times, some teams would occasionally start a season and be in a really quite bad place, because they would have maybe messed up the project or concept or whatever. They arrive and are humiliated for the first few races.

“I've been involved in such a situation, but then you just make a massive upgrade package for Barcelona for Canada or something, and you'd virtually redesign the whole car like crazy for three or four months and then be winning races during the season.

“The [current] financial regulations limit the amount of upgrades you can do. So, if somebody is further back, the recovery can be quite long and painful.”

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14, leads Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR23

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14, leads Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR23

The imposition of a cost cap, which means team spending can never get out of control, has triggered some thoughts over recent months in it allowing F1's other rules to be relaxed.

For with no risk of there being a spending war if teams were given greater freedom with technical rules, there is a belief that F1 would gain from having a greater variety of solutions.

Tombazis is aware of the pros and cons of such a situation, with the FIA having been keen over recent years to make regulations ever tighter.

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Asked if the philosophy of prescriptive rules was something to reconsider for the new era from 2026, Tombazis said: “There is a fine line between too much limitation – and clearly this is a technological sport, and has to remain so.

“But on that side, with too much freedom, there is then potentially very big gaps between the cars, and that's a very difficult line to follow.

“Clearly, if you ask an engineer from a team they will say it's too much limitation. I'm an engineer myself, I would love it if all cars were a complete technological battle. But we do need to consider that there's other factors at play that are important for the sport.

“Additionally, compared to the older days, when maybe there was a bit more freedom, we have financial regulations and we have to also try to limit some of the activities that take place. Otherwise you could have teams building some advantage through an R&D project of some sort, and then having an advantage for a long, long time to come, with no chance of other teams catching up with restrictive regulations.

“So, there's this line between freedom and having a competitive championship, plus the financial regulations put us in a very small spot. So, I don't think there's a perfect answer.”

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