- The Inside Line
Blowing the whistleKate Walker February 10, 2014
While taking the logical and obvious step is a rarity in Formula One, sometimes it proves to be unavoidable.
With competition costs still sky-high and the bulk of the grid facing varying degrees of financial difficulty, the decision over the winter to impose a cost cap from 2015 was one that had to be taken, irrespective of whether some teams find the notion a bitter pill to swallow.
Whatever the occasional chatter regarding three-car teams and the like, in their heart of hearts all of the teams know that the sport is more appealing when there are a greater number of entrants. To save the sport, even the high-rollers need to start saving cash.
There's no denying a cost cap is necessary. But it's not infallible, as Luca di Montezemolo pointed out, acknowledging in a recent interview with Autosport that the manufacturer teams were best-placed to manipulate any controls.
"For the first time it has been said that we have to define a [cost] cap," he told the magazine. "You know why I have doubts about the cap - because it is very easy to cheat - particularly for [manufacturer] teams. And Ferrari could be one. I could go to Chrysler in Detroit to ask them to do something for us. Mercedes could ask their company. We have to find something that is credible but the cost is the problem number one."
Montezemolo's argument is one often heard as a counter-argument to cost caps, and it's a hard one to ignore. While forensic accountants have all sorts of tricks up their sleeve to get to the bottom of complex finances, many of the teams have external research divisions or manufacturing arms, and who's to say that x bit of road car research didn't help the race team in some way?
Which is why Bernie Ecclestone's proposal of a €1 million reward to any whistle-blowers whose information proves accurate is an excellent incentive. From a team perspective, €1 million is nothing. But for an individual staffer? It's enough money that it's likely to influence someone's decision to come clean on behalf of their team.
Those working in finance and accounts will have the best knowledge of the labyrinthine inner workings of each supply relationship, and the ebb and flow of money, but they are not the only team employees who come into contact with enough information to blow the whistle. There are also external relationships to take into account, suppliers who know the difference between amounts spent and amounts invoiced (or similar).
Whatever official policing methods are put into place by the FIA, rewarding honest whistle-blowers will create an atmosphere of self-policing that should make life a little easier for the forensic accountants.