5 of the Most Interesting Radio Messages from Japanese Grand Prix

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistSeptember 29, 2015

5 of the Most Interesting Radio Messages from Japanese Grand Prix

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    Shizuo Kambayashi/Associated Press

    In the aftermath of Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix, Fernando Alonso voiced his desire to see the introduction of "private" team-radio messages in Formula One.

    But by that point, it was too late and the damage had been done.

    If anything, the two-time world champion's fierce criticism of McLaren's Honda engine at Suzuka proved exactly why pit-to-car radio should be here to stay, for it reveals what drivers really think behind those glossy, hollow statements we are so often fed through media interviews.

    Alonso's ploy to spoil Honda's homecoming party is to be admired, and it will either make or break his second spell at McLaren.

    With a look at Nico Rosberg's engine management, Lewis Hamilton's tyre troubles, Daniil Kvyat's misery and Sergio Perez's safety concerns, here are the five most-interesting radio interactions from Japan.

Fernando Alonso Reveals Frustration with McLaren's Honda Engine

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    Clive Mason/Getty Images

    Fernando Alonso doesn't do team-radio messages—he makes speeches from within the cockpit.

    Despite running out of time to win a third world championship, Formula One's political animal has been remarkably restrained in his criticism of his uncompetitive McLaren-Honda team this season, remaining faithful to their long-term plan.

    Yet that loyalty was based on the belief that progress with Honda's underpowered, unreliable and inefficient engine would be made, and the longer McLaren's struggles continued, the more likely it was that the most complete driver in F1 would struggle to hide his true feelings.

    Alonso's decision to ignore his team's request to save fuel in June's Canadian Grand Prix was the first indication of his discontent, but that was nothing compared to his criticism of the RA615H power unit on Sunday, per Sky Sports.

    And all this in Honda's home country, at a Honda-owned track and under the noses of senior Honda executives.

    After starting 12th—the reward for what he regarded as "the best lap" of his career at Suzuka, per McLaren's official website—Alonso fought his way up to ninth on the first lap. 

    But as the race settled down and willpower was overcome by horsepower, he was soon swarmed by faster cars behind, with Carlos Sainz Jr. and Marcus Ericsson passing him at Turn 1 in consecutive laps. 

    And it was being passed by Ericsson, whose Sauber became a roadblock later in the race, that forced Alonso to make his feelings clear, likening Honda's powertrain to an engine used in GP2, F1's feeder category. 

    "I'm being passed down the straights like a GP2...This is, er, embarrassing. Very embarrassing," he said on Lap 6.

    Despite his car's shortfalls, Alonso remained on the fringes of the top 10 until the halfway stage, when Max Verstappen's Toro Rosso's breezed past and ended the Spaniard's hopes of adding to his two points finishes in 2015.

    "GP2 engine! GP2! Argh!" Alonso cried on Lap 27 as though to emphasise his point, his primal scream offering an insight into the pain behind the proclamations of progress.

    If Alonso, in the coming years, goes on to win his third title behind the wheel of a Honda-powered McLaren, this will be remembered as the moment both team and engine supplier were shaken out of their daydreams and left with no option but to make the significant changes required to achieve success.

    Should, however, Alonso fail to fulfill his three-year contract with McLaren—despite his Twitter claims—it will be regarded as the day he burned his bridges with yet another team.

Nico Rosberg Forced to Manage Engine in Pursuit of Valtteri Bottas

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    KAZUHIRO NOGI/Getty Images

    Following the Japanese GP, Mercedes executive director Toto Wolff told Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble how Nico Rosberg was hindered by an overheating engine throughout, forcing the German to manage the temperatures and leaving him down on power.

    As we noted after the race, this was probably a consequence of Lewis Hamilton's plot to pass his team-mate at the start, with the British driver easing his pace at the end of the formation lap and ensuring Rosberg sat on the grid for a few extra seconds, losing tyre temperature and playing havoc with his engine temperatures.

    Punted down to fourth on the opening lap, Rosberg—stuck in the dirty air of Valtteri Bottas' third-placed Williams—was unable to provide his power unit with the respite it so desperately needed.

    And having evidently being told to detune his engine in the early stages, Rosberg was eager to be given increased power as he tried to pass the Finn.

    "Can I turn up the engine again?" he asked on Lap 5, per the FIA TV feed.

    "That's fine, Nico," replied his race engineer, Tony Ross. "When you can, go Strat 3."

    Just two laps after switching to a more-aggressive setting, however, Rosberg's engine—the same unit that was "contaminated" and had to be changed ahead of qualifying at Monza, per Motorsport.com's Charles Bradley—was again screaming for mercy, and at that point the true seriousness of the situation became clear. 

    "Nico, engine temps are high, causing damage," Ross explained on Lap 7, confirming a management issue was now a potential reliability problem.

    After another period of nursing his powertrain, Rosberg was given the all-clear to fight the Williams driver on Lap 11, with Ross stating: "So, push hard now and overtake Bottas. Push hard now."

    Ross' slight pause before instructing Rosberg to "overtake Bottas" seemed like a veiled message encouraging the use of the overtake button on his steering wheel—which gives drivers a temporary power boost as they try to gain or defend a position—suggesting the worst of the German's problems were over.

    Williams' decision to pit Bottas almost immediately after that message was broadcast meant Rosberg had to wait until Lap 17 to regain third place, but the damage done to his engine at Suzuka—following its problem in Italy—could come back to haunt him.

    With only one of his four allocated power units remaining, Rosberg may be hit with a grid penalty in the final five races as the season reaches its crescendo.

Lewis Hamilton Struggles with Flat Spot on Tyre

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    Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    Another race, another win for Lewis Hamilton.

    The reigning world champion produced yet another dominant performance in the Japanese GP, claiming his eighth win of the 2015 season, matching three-time world champion Ayrton Senna's tally of 41 victories and extending his advantage over Nico Rosberg to 48 points in the drivers' championship.

    Yet despite finishing 18.964 seconds clear of Rosberg, per the official F1 website, everything was not as serene as it seemed for Hamilton.

    Shortly after making his first pit stop of the afternoon for medium-compound tyres on Lap 16, Hamilton locked his brakes and flat-spotted a tyre.

    That left him with a violent vibration as he hurled his W06 car around the long, high-speed twists and turns of Suzuka, and the world champion was pleading to be given a fresh, unblemished set of Pirellis.

    "Vibration's so big...Struggling out here," Hamilton said on Lap 30, per the FIA TV feed, in that familiar, nervous tone of voice he often uses while sensing trouble.

    Mercedes listened to his calls and pitted Hamilton for hard tyres on Lap 32, with race engineer Pete Bonnington quickly reassuring his driver four laps later, stating: "OK, Lewis. Everything looks under control. Just need to watch out for flat spots. Look after this set."

    Hamilton later told BBC Sport how the vibrations gave him "such a headache," claiming he spent "15 laps" with "blurred" vision and fearing the tyre would "let go at some point."

    Having lost a comfortable win in May's Monaco GP due to the team's pit-stop error, Hamilton knows all too well a race is never over until it's over.

Daniil Kvyat's Car Fails Piece-by-Piece After Qualifying Crash

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    Clive Mason/Getty Images

    As reported by F1 journalist Tobias Gruner, Daniil Kvyat's spectacular crash at the end of qualifying at Suzuka forced Red Bull to change his chassis, engine and gearbox ahead of the race.

    Starting from the sanctuary of the pit lane, he managed to avoid the kind of first-lap incident that gave team-mate Daniel Ricciardo a puncture, but Kvyat's spare RB11 performed like a car that had been hurriedly fixed together, with the Russian developing a number of problems as the race progressed.

    His troubles began as early as Lap 14, when a steering-wheel switch failed to have the desired effect.

    "Multi 10, Position 9. Urgent," his concerned race engineer instructed, per the FIA TV feed. 

    "I am, I am! It doesn't work!" came the reply from the cockpit.

    Just four laps later, Kvyat—in a car he had been unable to get the car to his liking—was robbed of the tool that could have rescued his race, with the pit wall stating: "Danny, this is a reliability issue: do not use the overtake button. Do not use the overtake button. For reliability."

    On Lap 23, Kvyat's attention moved from the steering wheel to the brakes, and he complained he was unable to slow the car down at the hairpin, the slowest corner on the circuit and where the 21-year-old had struggled throughout the weekend.

    "No brakes in Turn 11," Kvyat reported.

    "OK Danny, we have a split on the front axle again. So just keep working them hard and hopefully that problem will resolve itself."

    As noted by Martin Brundle, the former grand-prix driver, during Sky Sports' television coverage of the race, "a split on the front axle" is engineer-speak for a "temperature difference across the front-brake discs."

    And while the issue seemed to be rectified, it returned with a vengeance on Lap 44, nine laps from the chequered flag, when Kvyat said: "I am losing the brakes, guys, again. The last chicane, absolutely no brakes."

    Per the official F1 website, Kvyat appeared to be overcome by frustration as his car failed piece by piece, at one stage asking the team: "Can I f-----g use the overtake button or not?"

    With a lack of pace and mounting reliability problems on Kvyat's car, it was a surprise Red Bull decided against retiring both drivers—Ricciardo told the team's official website how he had to contend with floor damage—in the hope of saving mileage on their Renault power units.

    Yet with their participation in the 2016 season increasingly uncertain—team principal Christian Horner told Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble how their search for a new engine supplier is now "critical"—the team may be beyond caring about their performances in the latter stages in 2015.

    And besides, Red Bull may have wanted to use their struggles as a political statement, forcing the world to watch the most-successful team of the last decade suffering to such an extent.

Sergio Perez Expresses Safety Concerns over Carlos Sainz's Broken Front Wing

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    Front wings look so flimsy when they're dislodged from the car and smashed to smithereens after a crash, so much so that it can be easy to forget just how strong they really are.

    Justin Wilson's fatal accident in an IndyCar accident at Pocono in August, however—in which a front-wing element from another car struck the British driver's crash helmet—was a reminder that debris on an active race track is incredibly dangerous.

    That made it all the more surprising that Charlie Whiting, the FIA race director, chose not to deploy a safety car—virtual or otherwise—following Carlos Sainz Jr.'s pit-lane blunder in Japan.

    As he told Scuderia Toro Rosso's official website, Sainz was closing on eighth-placed Pastor Maldonado on Lap 27, when he was told "to do the opposite" to the Lotus driver as they approached the main straight. Assuming Maldonado was about to pit, Sainz initially positioned his car to continue on the circuit.

    But Maldonado, in fact, stayed out for another lap and the Spaniard had to make a late swerve to the right to enter the pit lane, colliding with a bollard, damaging his front wing and scattering debris beside the racing line.

    And it was Sergio Perez, of all people, who was most vocal in his calls for a safety car to be deployed.

    "That's a lot of debris on the main straight!" he told his Force India team on Lap 28, per the FIA TV feed.

    His fellow drivers would almost certainly have expressed concerns of their own, but as the laps ticked by no action was taken by Whiting, leaving Perez pleading for the race to be neutralised.  

    "Please tell Charlie there is a lot of debris," he said on Lap 33. "Please clean the track."

    The front-wing fragment was eventually blown to a safer area, removing the need for a safety car.

    But the fact Perez—who later complained Sauber's Marcus Ericsson was "moving under braking"—repeatedly requested a safety car illustrates the changing psyche of F1 drivers following the fatal incidents of Wilson and Jules Bianchi at Suzuka, a circuit the sport has, arguably, outgrown.

    Those tragedies have made the current breed of drivers more vigilant than at any stage over the last two decades, and even a driver such as Perez—a specialist when it comes to high-risk manoeuvres—is no longer willing to take unnecessary chances.

    If only those in race control would listen to their calls.


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