Op-ed: Stripping Verstappen of his F1 title would set dangerous precedent

Max Verstappen F1 World Champion

Red Bull Racing has been found guilty of breaching the F1 budget cap. So what punishment can deter future breaches without creating fanbase anarchy?

Red Bull and Aston Martin have been found guilty of breaching Formula 1’s budget cap, with the former said to have exceeded the cap by under 5%, which is in the lower of two categories. Speculation will now be rife as to what punishment will be handed to the team, as there is no set penalty. In the build-up to last Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix, fires were stoked by many within the F1 fraternity, including Lando Norris and Lewis Hamilton. Both suggested that the FIA needs to dish out a significant penalty should any spending infringements be found to have occurred.

Revisiting 2021

Hamilton is of course a potential focal point in this, as it has been speculated that Verstappen may have his 2021 World Championship taken away if Red Bull is found guilty, given that any potential rule-breaking would have taken place in that year. Of course, many Hamilton fans are licking their lips like ghosts at the feast in the hope that their man will win the title they feel was rightly his.

We need no reminder of what happened in Abu Dhabi, mostly because the #TeamLH and #SuperMax camps on Twitter won’t let us. Hamilton was cruising to his record-breaking eighth title, and then Michael Masi went all YOLO and seemingly made up a rule that gave Verstappen a free shot at Hamilton, which he took, along with the championship. Depending on which camp you’re in, you’re either still spitting feathers in fury or spitting Heineken in hilarity. For the record, I’m not in either of those camps, but I do feel that handing the title to Hamilton as the punishment for Red Bull would be the most unwise choice.

Reopening old F1 debates?

Never in the history of Formula 1 has anyone’s Drivers’ title been taken away. Doing so would not necessarily be an incorrect move by the governing body, but to take one away 10 months after the event would cause infamy. The setting of such a precedent could open-up debates from years gone by.

If Verstappen was to retrospectively lose the championship, are we to decide that Michael Schumacher drove into Damon Hill in Adelaide in 1994? Thus handing that year’s crown onto Hill’s now-silver-haired head 28 years later?

Whilst we’re at it, can we all agree that Ayrton Senna, as he admitted to, intentionally rammed Alain Prost off the road at the first corner of the 1990 Japanese Grand Prix like a 9-year-old on a fairground dodgem ride? Should he be stripped of that championship and given to Prost instead?

Preposterous, isn’t it?

In my humble opinion, this would simply be a case of two wrongs not making a right. The likely fallout of such a move would be seismic within Formula 1 to such an extent it would possibly cause irreparable damage to the sport. If Red Bull are found to have breached the rules, there are other ways to penalize them without it looking like a slap on the wrists.

The Sensible Route?

Firstly, take away all of their Constructors’ Championship points from 2021. A similar punishment was handed to McLaren for their role in the 2007 Spygate fiasco. Plus it is not too dissimilar to the complete removal of all of Michael Schumacher’s 1997 tally after being adjudged to have driven deliberately into Jacques Villeneuve in their title decider in Jerez. Nor would I stop there. Take away all of their Constructors’ points from this year, too. If there is an overspend and it is that large, then this is another way of deterring them, and all others, from doing so again.

Financial punishment should also happen. A fine of at least the amount they overspent should be issued, as well as a suspended ban. The suspended ban was also used to punish Renault after they were found to have ordered Nelson Piquet Jnr to crash on purpose in Singapore in 2008, enabling team-mate Fernando Alonso to win that race.

In virtually all of the controversial moments within Formula 1 history, there has always been a side that ends up happy and one that isn’t. In this case, I feel that what will be the most ideal, sensible, and logical outcome, will be the one that will probably result in pretty much everyone feeling unhappy to some extent. However, I feel that it will be the only way that will allow the sport of Formula 1 to draw a line under the incident concerned, and allow the majority – and not a noisy minority on both sides of the fence – to move-on and enjoy F1….until the next incident.

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