There are numerous rules that Formula 1 drivers and teams can fall foul of, both on and off the track, and it isn’t uncommon to see financial punishments handed out. The scale of the fines is huge and can leave F1 fans wondering where the money from fines ends up and what it is used for.
Money generated from F1 fines is largely donated to the FIA Foundation. The Foundation is split between three different funds that help with safety infrastructure and training at all levels of motorsport, road safety initiatives, and accessibility and participation in motorsport across the globe.
In this article we’ll discuss the FIA Foundation’s work in detail and explain the rules and regulations involved in handing out and paying fines. We also give some examples of times where drivers and teams have ended up landing themselves some major financial repercussions.
What Are Fines In F1?
Fines are monetary punishments that can be handed out to F1 drivers or their teams for breaking or bending the rules. These fines vary in amount depending on the severity of the misdemeanour, with stewards able to fine drivers up to €250,000.
These fines will be charged to the driver’s team, but teams will often dock their driver’s wage to fund them. Fines must be paid within 48 hours and can be done so using any form of payment the team decides. The decision can be protested, which gives teams a little more time to pay. But protests and appeals can cost up to €6,000 (about $6,300), so it’s not cheap.
Should a team decide to delay their payment by over 48 hours, they will be suspended from the Championship for as long as it takes them to part with the cash. If they do this and miss a race, the financial burden will be much greater than it would have been if they had just got their debt sorted in the first place.
A notable, recent example of a steward handing out a large fine was when Max Verstappen was charged €50,000 for touching Lewis Hamilton’s rear wing in 2021. It was deemed that Verstappen had breached the International Sporting Code (ISC), which prohibits drivers and staff members from touching the cars of rival teams. Verstappen later revealed that Red Bull had made him pay the fine himself.
Maximum Fine In F1
Stewards can fine drivers up to €250,000, but what about the fines that teams can be made to pay? Well, that is when the numbers can skyrocket. The largest fine ever handed out to an F1 team was the $100 million charged to McLaren in 2007. This fine, as well as being stripped of their 2007 constructor’s points, was the result of one of the biggest F1 controversies: Spygate.
Spygate was a saga where Chief Ferrari mechanic, Nigel Stepney, was found to have shared around 800 pages of strictly confidential details regarding specifications of the Ferrari cars to McLaren’s chief designer, Mike Coughlan. The whistle was blown on the wrongdoing by none other than a worker at a photocopying company who had been tasked by Coughlan’s wife to duplicate the entire document.
The results of the FIA’s subsequent investigation proved that none of the secret information had found its way onto the McLaren car. However, because of the ordeal, both Coughlan and Stepney were relieved of their duties by their respective teams and McLaren were stripped of their constructor’s points and handed a mind-blowing $100 million fine.
Lewis Hamilton, then in his rookie F1 season with McLaren, and Fernando Alonso were both allowed to keep their drivers’ points. During that stage of the season, they were in first and second place, although Kimi Räikkönen would eventually go on to win the 2007 Driver’s Championship.
Where Does The Money From F1 Fines Go?
The money from F1 fines goes directly to the FIA Foundation, where it is then distributed to three different funds that each support the sport. These include the Motorsport Safety Development Fund, the Mobility Development Fund, and the Sport Development Fund.
The Motorsport Safety Development Fund
The Motorsport Safety Development Fund was founded in 2008, using the FIA’s share of the Spygate fine. This fund is used to improve the safety infrastructure of F1 tracks, with large parts of it being spent on improvements to crash barriers and track-side debris fences. It is also used in the testing of crash impact on F1 cars and researching ways that they can make the cars safer for drivers.
The training that F1 marshals receive is also paid for by this fund, helping to improve the overall safety of Formula 1. It’s not just F1 that benefits from this fund, as it also supports medical training for those involved in motorsport, from the very bottom level to the top.
The Mobility Development Fund
This fund is used to help road safety initiatives outside of the racing sphere. The fund has supported initiatives in over 100 different countries, involving everything from prevention of mobile phone use in cars to campaigns encouraging children to wear a helmet when riding their bicycle to school.
The fund even supports charities including the Child Seat Donation Platform that encourages people across Europe to donate unwanted child seats to low-income families. So far, over 500 items have been donated and shipped across the continent.
The Sport Development Fund
The third fund is the Sport Development Fund. This fund was started in 2014 and offers grants to motorsport associations around the globe to put on events and increase the appeal of motorsport. A major example of this project’s ambitions was their help in funding and organising a Formula 4 championship for the USA and Australia.
The fund has also supported grass-roots motorsport in the USA, making racing more accessible to beginners, and increasing participation in general. This seems to have had a real positive impact with viewership of Formula 1 increasing each year, something that is sure to increase further with the addition of the Las Vegas street circuit to the F1 calendar in 2022.
What’s The Biggest Fine An F1 Driver Has Received?
The biggest fine an F1 driver has received is unclear as there is limited information on the largest fine handed out to a driver. However, they have been major time and point punishments handed out over the years. One of the most notable being 78 points stripped from Michael Schumacher in 1997.
This example was a punishment on Michael Schumacher for intentionally crashing into title rival Jacques Villeneuve at the Spanish Grand Prix in 1997. In the crucial Championship-deciding race, Villeneuve made a move to overtake the German during the final third of the race.
This prompted Schumacher to turn his car towards Villeneuve, a move that would see Schumacher spinning into the gravel while Villeneuve went on to finish the race, seizing the title. The FIA decided to take disciplinary action against Schumacher, disqualifying him from the Drivers’ Championship and dropping the 78 points he’d earned that season. This also affected his sporting integrity.
The Most Fined Drivers Of The Last Decade
Some drivers make a name for themselves as repeat offenders, racking up tens of thousands of dollars in fines. Retired Venezuelan driver Pastor Maldonado tops this list having amassed €130,000 (about $137,000) worth of fines over the course of his 95-race F1 career. Known for his wild and sometimes reckless driving style, Maldonado was branded with the unflattering nickname ‘Crashtor.’
In one of his most eventful races at the 2015 Hungarian Grand Prix, Maldonado racked up three penalties, one for speeding in the pit lane, one for overtaking while under the safety car, and another for colliding with Force India driver Sergio Pérez.
Sergio Pérez is himself no angel when it comes to F1, and is currently the most fined active driver, costing his teams a total of €113,200 ($119,000) as of April 2022. Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton is in seventh place on the all-time list with €65,000 ($68,500) in fines to his name, while 2021 champion Max Verstappen takes the tenth spot, largely due to touching Lewis Hamilton’s car in 2021.
F1 fines go directly to the FIA Foundation and are then distributed evenly to three individual funds that support motorsport in general. These funds are reinvested into the betterment of the sport at all levels, and they take initiative to help save lives on roads around the world.