FIA president Mohammed ben Sulayem has cited inflation as the reason for increasing the maximum fine handed out to drivers to $1m.
News of the four-fold increase sent shockwaves through the paddock with Toto Wolff claiming the sport needs a “reality check”.
“We need to do a reality check with real life, whether that is an adequate fine or not,” said the Mercedes boss. “I don’t think we’ve ever fined a driver 250 (thousand). So raising the ceiling is something that one needs to understand where it comes from.”
“Also. I don’t think we want to portray Formula 1 out there in a world where it’s tough enough to give drivers fines of a million, I think half of the grid wouldn’t be able to pay them,” he added. “And I don’t think it’s adequate considering… I don’t think we should be playing around with those numbers that seem very surreal for people that are watching us.”
“I would imagine to get a fine of that size, you’re going to have to do something pretty grave,” said Zak Brown. “So I would hope that no one on the grid will ever see anything near that level. So hopefully, all will just be business as usual.”
As one might imagine the drivers were even more rattled.
“I would like to know what that offence can be,” said Max Verstappen.
“One mil,” he whistled. “If touching a rear wing is €50k, then I would like to know what one mill is,” he added, referring to the $50,000 he was fined for touching the rear wing on Hamilton’s Mercedes after qualifying in Brazil in 2021.
“It is a huge amount of money,” agreed Charles Leclerc, “so again, I have no idea about what deserves a 1 million penalty, but it’s more than… I mean, some drivers are making less than that, so it’s a lot of money and… yeah… I don’t know.”
“I don’t know what offence it is to be a million but that sounds ridiculous,” laughed Kevin Magnussen. “I mean, Charles can give his watch, but I would disappear, never to be found again.”
While Lewis Hamilton was equally shocked, the seven-time world champion was more concerned about where the money would go.
“I think we need to… when it comes to things like this I really do think we need to be thinking about the message that this sends out to those that are watching,” he said.
“If they are going to be fining people a million, let’s make sure one hundred per cent of that goes to a cause,” he continued. “There’s a lot of money in this whole industry and a lot more that we need to do in terms of creating better accessibility, better diversity, more opportunities for people who wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to get into a sport like this.
“So many causes around the world… that’s the only way they’ll get that million from me.”
Ben Sulayem, who recently claimed a lack of funding as being the reason the sport cannot find a suitable technical solution to monitoring track limits, cited inflation as the reason for the increase in the fine limit.
“The price of everything has gone up,” he said. “The teams are now talking about billions in terms of what each team is worth, and we’ve still not improved our regulations dating back to Jurassic Park.
“We are not saying ‘go and pay’,” he insisted, “we are saying ‘Don’t make these unnecessary penalties’. If you don’t do it, you won’t get it. Nobody will impose something on you if you follow the rules. The rules are there to be policed and to be implemented.”
Asked to cite an example of what a driver would have to do in order to incur such a fine, he said: “Stick to the rules, and nobody will say anything, nobody will charge you anything. People are over-exaggerating about this.
“And if anyone is penalised, where does the money go?” he added. “To grassroots, investment back into the sport.
“I hope they can make life easier for our stewards by sticking to the rules instead of misbehaving. We obviously don’t want them to reach that, so we’re saying don’t do it. The rules are there, they’re transparent. We have nothing to hide.
“But I cannot tell you why the one million would be implemented. That’s for the stewards, not the president. The stewards are there, they are experienced, and they know what to do. And the drivers, they are very intelligent. They know about the rules before they jump in the car.”
When it was suggested that a number of drivers couldn’t actually afford such a fine, he replied: “It’s not about the money, it’s about sticking to the rules.
“The Federation has to have the power to implement the rules, to have the governance. If we don’t have strong governance in our sport, then what? We are into governance, to ensure that if rules are broken, then the regulations are very clear.”