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Cost cap “inequities” have triggered F1’s divided grid, says Szafnauer

Formula 1’s divided grid is the consequence of "inequities" that have existed within the cost cap, reckons former team boss Otmar Szafnauer.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-24, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W15, Yuki Tsunoda, RB F1 Team VCARB 01, George Russell, Mercedes F1 W15

While the introduction of a spending limit for teams in 2021 has helped compress the field, with the front to the back of the grid having never been closer, this season has witnessed an interesting split among the competitors

The top five squads – made up of Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren, Aston Martin and Mercedes – have appeared to break away from the back of the pack, which has helped them effectively lock out the points-scoring positions.

With all teams limited to the same cost cap restrictions, this divide has prompted some intrigue about the causes. Former Alpine and Aston Martin team boss Szafnauer thinks there are elements of the spending restrictions that have been the catalyst.

In particular, he thinks some teams have done much better at restructuring themselves to make the most of cost cap opportunities, at the same time as legacy infrastructures advantages have also been locked in.

Speaking at an event to promote his new EventR itinerary management app about why he felt the field has split, Szafnauer said: “There's a couple of areas I can think of.

“One, which I experienced, is there are some teams that have done a better job at cost cap structure. They can spend $10-15 million more than some others, and you have to remember this is at the margin of performance.

“Say that $15 million more that you've got, because of the way you organised yourself, you can buy more talent, or you can do other experiments that the other guys cannot do.

“Plus, although there's an OpEx (Operating Expenditure) and a CapEx (Capital Expenditure) cost cap, I think on the CapEx side, we inadvertently froze some inequities.

“There are some tools that the bigger teams have, and that the little ones are now trying to catch up and gain. And it takes time, because it was like $36 million over four years or something.

“I remember we faced this at Alpine. We couldn't buy what we wanted to buy, we had to do it over time. And the big teams, when they knew the cost cap was coming, because they had the money, they just bought all the stuff [there and then].”

Szafnauer said there were aspects of critical car performance that were reliant on teams having plenty of spending capacity left in the cost cap if they wanted to maximise returns.

“I'll give you an example,” he said. “Some of the teams run floors that are transparent, So you can actually see the flow, while others don't. They bought that stuff before.

“As a small example, when I was talking to my aerodynamicists [at Alpine], they said: We need a transparent floor, so I can actually see what's going on. Others have it!”

Szafnauer also thinks that one aspect totally outside the cost cap is important too – driving talent.

“Toto [Wolff] is always saying it, but the best drivers want to be in the best teams,” he added. “So that adds a little bit too, as you still have the best drivers in the best teams.”

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