5 of the Most Interesting Radio Messages from Mexican Grand Prix
Nico Rosberg claimed his fourth win of the 2015 Formula One season with a highly impressive performance in the Mexican Grand Prix.
The German converted his fourth consecutive pole position into a much-needed victory at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, but to say Rosberg was in control at the front of the field would be to overlook the most fascinating period of the race.
After Mercedes decided to change their strategy after becoming alarmed by information related to tyre wear, Rosberg's team-mate, Lewis Hamilton, initially refused to make a precautionary pit stop and threatened to steal the win from his rival.
The controversy played out over team radio, and Hamilton was eventually persuaded to do the honorable thing. He allowed Rosberg to take his first victory in four months and move back up to second in the drivers' championship on a day Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel spent much of the day complaining.
With analysis of Nico Hulkenberg's dispute with Force India and Marcus Ericsson receiving a vote of no-confidence from Sauber, here are five of the most interesting radio messages from Mexico.
Why Mercedes Decided to Change to a 2-Stop Strategy
According to Pirelli's Mexican GP qualifying report, the teams planning a one-stop strategy were advised to make their solitary visit to the pits on Lap 30 of 71, while those who preferred a two-stop strategy were encouraged to make their first on Lap 23.
As Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton continued to circulate on the soft-compound tyres until the mid-to-late 20s, it seemed as though Mercedes were giving themselves the freedom to take either of those options.
And it wasn't until Lap 25 that the race leader—with the preferential strategy, due to his on-track advantage over his team-mate—was told his first, and perhaps only, stop of the afternoon was on the horizon.
"So Nico, it's not gonna be long so start pushing hard now," warned his race engineer, Tony Ross, according to the FIA television feed. "Just a small amount of brake management."
On Lap 26—precisely halfway between Pirelli's strategy guidelines of Laps 23 and 30—Rosberg was told to pit, with Ross stating: "Box, box, box. Push hard now, brakes are in a reasonable condition."
After receiving a set of medium-compound tyres, Rosberg received confirmation that the team were, after all, intending to pull off a one-stop race.
"Prime tyres to the end," Ross added.
Mercedes' decision to pit so late, however, meant Hamilton's tyres were finished when he did finally enjoy some free air, with his final flying lap on the theoretically faster but ageing softs no quicker than Rosberg's first on the new mediums, according to the FIA's Race Lap Analysis data.
"OK Lewis, so box, box, box, box," said Hamilton's race engineer, Peter Bonnington, on Lap 28. "Nico faster on the prime."
As Mercedes boss Toto Wolff later told the team's official website, the Silver Arrows noticed "higher than expected wear levels" on their soft compounds, with Hamilton's tyres "even down to zero per cent rubber" at the time of his pit stop.
Those concerns were relayed to Rosberg, who was urged to preserve his mediums just four laps after receiving them.
"Nico, just information on the tyres: They were worn down to 10 per cent," warned Ross on Lap 30. "So managing the tyres, you've got a good position."
The team's findings no doubt sparked an intense conversation on the pit wall and, soon enough, the decision was made to switch from Plan A to Plan B.
A two-stop strategy, once a possibility, was now a necessity...
Lewis Hamilton Questions Mercedes' Pit Call
"We are gonna convert to Plan B," the call came from Bonnington on Lap 47, according to the FIA TV feed. "We're converting to Plan B, let us know if you'll need a flap adjust."
Hamilton, though, didn't want a flap adjustment. He didn't even want another pit stop, for heaven's sake. With Rosberg in the slow lane—having made his precautionary pit stop—and the lead now his, he only wanted to win.
And he was tempted. Very, very tempted.
His pit crew, suited and booted, were primed in the pit box clutching their wheels guns, their tyres and their jacks. But Lewis—his own person, his own man—didn't arrive, instead deciding to spend another lap mulling over the request.
"Can I ask why?" queried the three-time world champion on Lap 48, now contemplating a deed as dark and decisive as Sebastian Vettel's at Malaysia 2013. Did he, though, have the nerve, the bravery, the ruthlessness to steal a win and live with it?
As his driver considered the pros and cons of ignoring his team's request, Bonnington was prepared to combat Hamilton's stubbornness.
"So Lewis, we're just worried about wear, we're worried about wear on these tyres. We're down to the canvas, so box this lap," he pleaded, before dropping the line that ultimately won him the argument. "So this is for safety reasons, Lewis, so box this lap, box this lap."
With the safety seed planted in his mind, Hamilton's position was severely compromised, and his attitude soon softened. As satisfying as it would have been to get one over on Rosberg, there was no way he could do so with the risk of blood on his hands.
"Bono, you need to check his tyres. My tyres feel good," Lewis mumbled, his threat now reduced to a whine.
"So, Lewis, we were down to zero on the first set. We have to go longer on this set. We will be down to zero, if not worse, so this is boxing at the end of this lap. Instruction," spat Bonnington in the knowledge his driver was now under control.
Left with no choice but to pit, Hamilton reluctantly pitted for fresh mediums, and even as he rejoined behind Rosberg on Lap 49, he was still looking for answers.
"Please check those tyres and let me know. I want some feedback on them," he said, suggesting the loss of trust in the aftermath of Mercedes' pit-stop mistake in Monaco had yet to be fully re-established.
Bonnington, though, didn't respond. A superb man-manager—with a strong understanding of the personality he was handling—had rescued his team from a messy situation, and his job was done.
Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo Disagree over Early Collision
Sebastian Vettel had a rare off-day at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, which proved extremely costly for Ferrari on a day the team may have had the pace to challenge Mercedes for victory.
Starting from third, the four-time world champion was in an ideal position to capitalise on any potential silliness between Rosberg and Hamilton.
But after being beaten off the line by Daniil Kvyat, Vettel, who positioned his car on the outside of Turn 1, was unable to see the second Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo and promptly turned into his former team-mate, giving himself a rear-right puncture.
Although he initially appeared to emerge unscathed, Vettel struggled to negotiate Turn 4 and was swarmed by the cars behind.
"OK, check I might have a puncture," Vettel said, per the FIA TV feed, before a glimpse in his rear-view mirror confirmed the problem. "Yeah, puncture, positive! Ricciardo! Puncture, puncture!"
As Vettel trundled back to the pits for a new set of tyres, Ricciardo was able to continue and—as the stewards prepared to investigate the collision—wasted little time in blaming the German.
"Yup, Seb deserved that and he gave me no room at all," he said on Lap 2.
"Yeah mate, understood. He has got a puncture," replied his race engineer, Simon Rennie, also taking comfort from the fact Vettel was forced to pay for his first-corner crime.
As he embarked upon a recovery drive, Vettel still aired his frustration over the incident, showing the kind of hot-headed immaturity of his early days at Red Bull.
"Where the hell was he supposed to go?" he whined on Lap 7. "So he just put the front wing to my rear tyre? He had no chance to get me anyways, he just gave us the puncture."
That frustration, perhaps, led to Vettel's worst performance of the season, which saw him spin at the Esses before crashing at the same spot on Lap 52.
While his anger had earlier been directed at Ricciardo, Vettel had realised he had been his own worst enemy by that point.
"I did a s--t job today," he admitted, per the official F1 website.
Force India Put Nico Hulkenberg in His Place
Since the beginning of the season, we've wondered why the Force India drivers—particularly Nico Hulkenberg, despite his cool, calm tone of voice over the team radio—can often sound intimidated when reporting an issue to the team.
And as we enter the closing weeks of 2015, it seems we finally have the answer.
In an odd qualifying session, when drivers required two laps—an out lap and an initial, semi-serious flying lap—to fully prepare their tyres for the one that really mattered, Hulkenberg regarded his first timed effort of Q3 as nothing more than a standard warm-up lap.
That meant, when he misunderstood a message advising him of the gap to Valtteri Bottas, Hulkenberg was unsure whether to ease his pace and move aside for the Williams driver, which resulted in an astonishingly aggressive response from the pit wall.
"Bottas two-and-a-half seconds behind," said his race engineer, per Sky Sports, failing to clarify whether Valtteri was also on a warm-up lap or a flying lap.
"So I have to let him past, then, if he's pushing now?" asked Hulkenberg, innocently misinterpreting the information as an instruction to get out of Bottas' way.
"No you won't, you're pushing! You're pushing! Do not do that! You're pushing! We're on a timed lap now, Nico!"
"We're on a warm-up lap!"
"Sh-sh-sh-shut up!" barked his race engineer, with all the subtlety of a wicked schoolteacher. "We're on a warm-up lap, we're on a timed lap as well! Bottas is on a warm-up lap behind you. I'll tell you where the traffic is—you just concentrate on the driving. Watch the sliding, watch the sliding but keep the temperature."
The very fact that Hulkenberg himself—never mind the paying spectators and the watching world—was unsure whether he was on a warm-up lap or a full-blown flying lap only served to highlight the puzzle that is modern F1 tyres.
His race engineer's reaction—reminiscent of Kimi Raikkonen's mid-race argument with Lotus' Alan Permane in the 2013 Indian GP—and particularly his remark that Hulkenberg should focus only on his driving, was symptomatic of the arrogant, we-know-best attitude adopted by engineers across the pit lane.
Marcus Ericsson Receives No Support from Sauber
Throughout a grand prix weekend, race engineers use the pit-to-car radio to feed their drivers with nuggets of information, providing them with details on anything from weather conditions and pit-stop strategies to safety-car periods and reliability concerns.
And unless they happen to be employed by Force India, they also use team radio as a motivational tool, congratulating their drivers on a bold overtaking manoeuvre, for example, or offering encouragement whenever they need a mid-race boost.
Marcus Ericsson's partner in crime at Sauber, however, is not your usual race engineer.
With just three minutes of the second qualifying session remaining, Ericsson was rooted in 14th place after producing a lap that was around 0.7 seconds slower than what was required to reach Q3.
At a time he needed to improve, the Swede produced a substandard lap and—perhaps uncharacteristically for a racing driver—was modest enough to hold his hands up.
"Bad lap from me. Bad lap," Ericsson admitted, per the FIA TV feed.
The Swede's disappointment offered his race engineer the opportunity to become a hero, to give his driver the inspiration he so desperately needed to bounce back and force his way into the top-10 shootout.
But rather than reassuring his man or encouraging Ericsson to forget that one and focus on the next effort, the race engineer pulled no punches and acknowledged that the lap was, indeed, rubbish.
"Yeah, I agree, Marcus," he said in that amusing, eternally jolly way of his. "Try to use the new tyre grip in all areas."
Needless to say, Ericsson went on to qualify 14th.