5 of the Most Interesting Radio Messages from 2016 European Grand Prix
After seven races of almost complete radio silence, Formula One finally saw the light in Sunday's European Grand Prix at the Baku City Circuit.
When, at the beginning of 2016, it became apparent the restrictions on pit-to-car radio would become tighter this season, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff told Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble how the crackdown would be positive for F1 and lead to a number of "freak results."
With Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton winning all but one of the first seven races, when the insight provided by frequent team-radio messages was taken away from spectators, that prediction has proved to be wide of the mark.
And after those regulations severely hindered Hamilton's progress in Azerbaijan, where the three-time world champion struggled to manage an engine-mapping issue, Wolff has revised his opinion.
"I think we need to look at the rules," he said after the race, per Sky Sports' Pete Gill and James Galloway, hinting the airwaves may become more active in the near future.
With a look at Sebastian Vettel's decision to override Ferrari's strategy call, Kimi Raikkonen's Lewis-esque struggles with the radio rules and the qualifying frustrations of Nico Hulkenberg and McLaren-Honda, here are the most interesting radio messages from Baku.
Lewis Hamilton Struggles to Find Correct Switch to Resolve Mercedes Issue
As team boss Toto Wolff admitted, per Sky Sports' James Galloway, "a messy Friday" in Baku had prevented Mercedes from configuring their power units "in the way [they] should have done," leaving Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton with engine-mapping problems during the race itself.
While Rosberg, a student of the Mercedes simulator, was able to resolve the issue, which left the cars with a shortage of hybrid power, "within half a lap," Hamilton took as many as 12 laps to find a solution.
And with the current restrictions on pit-to-car radio stopping the pit wall from advising drivers on such matters, the three-time world champion's difficulties were exacerbated.
"Have de-rates everywhere," fifth-placed Hamilton first reported on Lap 26, while running around five seconds behind Force India's Sergio Perez. "I'm sure that's not helping...Is there no solution to this?"
"We are working on it, Lewis," came the reply from his race engineer, Pete Bonnington, in the process of finding an external fix.
"You guys need to pick up the pace."
Five laps later, Hamilton had fallen more than seven seconds behind Perez and was becoming increasingly agitated.
"Can I not reset this thing?" he asked.
"OK Lewis, so the problem appears to be with the current mode that you're in," replied Bonnington, pointing his driver in the right direction without breaking the radio rules.
"I don't know what you mean, man! I don't know what's wrong!"
"Yeah, copy that Lewis. Hard to say what it is."
By Lap 33, the gap to Perez, who was pressurising Kimi Raikkonen for the final podium position, had extended to nine seconds, with Hamilton staring at the switches on his steering wheel almost as much as the track ahead.
"This is ridiculous, guys. I don't know, looking at my frickin' dash every five seconds trying to find a switch that's in a wrong position. I haven't changed anything or done something any wrong, as far as I'm aware," he moaned, stumbling over his words.
"Yeah Lewis, it's nothing that you're doing wrong, just got a setting that's incorrect."
"HPP?" Hamilton asked, hopeful he had finally identified the correct switch.
"Er, I'm afraid I can't say, Lewis."
"I might not finish this race cos I'm gonna try and change everything," Hamilton responded as his situation became ever more desperate.
"Er, we don't advise that, Lewis."
Hamilton's discovery of the HPP modes had, at the very least, flicked a switch in his mind, with the British driver prepared to lob ideas at the pit wall in the hope he would eventually come across the right one.
"Can I make suggestions and you say it's OK or not?"
"Nope, that's not allowed," insisted Bonnington on Lap 34, no doubt fearful his driver would broadcast the intricacies of the Mercedes steering wheel to the watching world and their biggest rivals. "Let's just get our heads down and focus on the job."
Radio Lewis remained silent until Lap 43 of 51, when the cure was finally found.
"OK Lewis, you're the fastest car on track," Bonnington declared. "Nine laps remaining."
"No s--t, man! Got power back!" Hamilton replied like a free man, albeit a free man who had fallen 14 seconds behind the car ahead.
Although Mercedes' inability to advise the three-time world champion highlighted the true dangers of the current radio restrictions, the episode—as noted after the race—exposed what is perhaps the last remaining flaw in Hamilton's repertoire.
Perhaps this 12-lap scare will encourage him to spend more time in the simulator he, per Motorsport.com's Adam Cooper, dismissed as "a very bad computer game" ahead of the European GP weekend.
Sebastian Vettel Questions Ferrari's Strategy After Previous Mistakes
Sebastian Vettel should have won at least two of the opening seven races of 2016, but strategy mistakes by Ferrari—a team operating with more bravado than brains these days—cost him dearly in Australia and Canada.
The four-time world champion led the opening phase of the season opener in Melbourne, only to finish a distant third after the team switched him to supersoft tyres, rather than the more durable mediums selected by eventual victor Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton.
Vettel also jumped the Mercedes off the line in Montreal, yet he soon conceded his advantage when the pit wall again decided to make an extra pit stop, gifting Hamilton free air and allowing him to pull off a one-stop strategy.
On each occasion, Vettel—"not a big fan of blaming anyone or anything," he said, per Sky Sports' James Galloway—was, rather surprisingly for a driver obsessed with racking up grand prix victories, reluctant to criticise the Prancing Horse.
Instead of ruing and complaining about those missed opportunities, he thought, Ferrari should ensure they avoid making such race-defining errors in the first place.
So when the team felt they had to react to third-placed Daniel Ricciardo's first stop on Lap 6 of the European GP, Vettel encouraged them to think very carefully before making a final decision.
"Box, Sebastian. Box," instructed his race engineer, Riccardo Adami, on Lap 8.
"Are you sure about this?" Vettel responded warily, questioning the pit wall's wisdom for the first time. "Pace is looking good."
"We are going to be undercut by Ricciardo," replied Adami. "Box now."
Despite his race engineer's seemingly unbending stance, Vettel didn't box at the end of that lap and went on to extend his first stint until Lap 20 while team-mate Kimi Raikkonen was handed the more reactionary strategy.
On a weekend Mercedes enjoyed one of their most dominant performances since 2014, and the threat of Red Bull and Ricciardo was extinguished with extreme rear-tyre degradation, the choice of strategy was somewhat inconsequential.
But just seven days after the disappointment of Canada, it was crucial for Ferrari—with the help of Vettel, who ultimately finished a comfortable second behind Rosberg—to produce an operationally flawless race.
Kimi Raikkonen Also Frustrated by 2016 Radio Restrictions
Was it a coincidence that the two drivers renowned for their dislike of extracurricular activities—simulator work, track walks, mastering each and every button on the steering wheel—were the ones who struggled to manage their cars in Azerbaijan?
While Lewis Hamilton's frustrations with Mercedes' engine-mapping issues received the most attention, Kimi Raikkonen also encountered problems with his Ferrari SF16-H, leaving him roaring at the pit wall in the latter stages of the grand prix.
That late-race rant was yet another release of the frustration that had built up throughout the European GP.
Raikkonen's problems started when a carrier bag became lodged in Sebastian Vettel's front-right suspension in the opening laps, with the 2007 world champion forced to dodge fragments of bright-blue plastic on the pit straight.
"There was some f--king plastic flying around, I had to avoid it!" he was heard shouting on Lap 7.
Perhaps the risk of having shards of plastic entering his sidepods encouraged the Finn to remain on the left-hand side of the main straight on Lap 6, when he towed Daniel Ricciardo's Red Bull RB12 as it headed for its first tyre change of the afternoon.
His crossing of the white line denoting the pit entry resulted in Raikkonen incurring a five-second time penalty, and with Vettel lurking in his rear-view mirrors on Lap 28, he decided to slow and gift second position to his team-mate.
"Thank you, Kimi," said Dave Greenwood, his race engineer. "Thank you."
"Yeah, but now you tell him to push, cos I don't want that he's in front of me." replied Raikkonen, unwilling to sit in the turbulent air of Vettel, whose soft-compound tyres were 12 laps fresher.
As the race entered its second half, Raikkonen found himself being harassed by Sergio Perez and his chances of keeping the Force India behind suffered a blow when his pet hate—lapped traffic—saw him lose 0.8 seconds on Lap 38.
"Hey, where the f--k is the blue flag?" he asked, complaining about Sauber driver Marcus Ericsson's reluctance to move aside.
"We are on it, Kimi," reassured Greenwood, confirming Ferrari had contacted FIA race director Charlie Whiting to force Ericsson to respect the blue flags. "There's nothing we can do with 'em."
"I've been following the whole f--king lap now, so..."
"We're on it with Charlie, we've complained, we've complained."
As noted by Sky Sports' Ted Kravitz, the No. 7 car then developed an electrical issue on Lap 45, forcing the 2007 world champion to manage the problem in the same way Hamilton struggled to resolve his.
"(Inaudible) Is it the same like last race, let's say?"
"I can't answer, Kimi," Greenwood responded, his hands tied by the radio restrictions. "I can't answer, I'm sorry."
"For sure you can say yes or no!" Raikkonen boomed, revealing his poor understanding of the new rules.
"I can't, Kimi. I can't."
Make that another driver who needs to brush up on his homework.
Nico Hulkenberg Eliminated from Q2 After Lack of Communication with Force India
As early as Friday practice, Force India were convinced they had a car capable of securing a second podium finish in three races in the European GP.
But while Sergio Perez had an almost magnetic attraction to the podium, overcoming a five-place grid penalty to finish third behind Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel, Nico Hulkenberg—as ever when a top-three result is up for grabs—was a step behind his team-mate.
After finishing 0.398 seconds adrift of Perez in the first segment of qualifying, the German suffered a spin at Turn 16 on his first run of Q2.
As Hulkenberg later told the team's official website, that error meant he was "under pressure" to secure a place in the top 10 on his final run, but he encountered traffic and could only improve to 11th place.
Upon completing that lap with just 50 seconds of the session remaining, Hulkenberg should have kept his foot to floor and produced another last-gasp lap.
Yet—either assuming he had already done enough to make Q3 or that he had enough time in hand to return to the pits, reset and try again—he lifted off the throttle and coasted through Turn 1.
And when he did eventually realise he was stranded in P12, it was far too late.
"We don't have time for one more, do we?" he asked.
"No!" came the reply from his race engineer, Bradley Joyce. "No fuel for one more and no time for one more, you needed to carry on on that one."
"Well, you have to tell me that on the lap!"
"I did," responded Joyce, addressing his driver in a fashion not too dissimilar to his rant at Hulkenberg in qualifying at last year's Mexican GP.
With both parties protesting their innocence, it is difficult to blame driver or pit wall for the misunderstanding and the No. 27 car's failure to reach the top 10.
But given his occasionally volatile relationship with Joyce and the amount of times Hulkenberg has allowed strong results to slip through his fingers in recent years—he is still awaiting his maiden podium, while Perez has four in less than three seasons at Force India—a change of race engineer may be beneficial.
Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso Frustrated as McLaren-Honda Flop in Qualifying
After going 23 races without appearing in the third segment of qualifying since the beginning of 2015, McLaren-Honda have made a habit of starting inside the top 10 in recent weeks.
Having spent the last 18 months behind the wheel of a car only semi-competitive at maximum-downforce venues, Fernando Alonso forced his way into Q3 at three very different circuits in Spain, Monaco and Canada, injecting a little belief back in McLaren.
Yet the team's run of pleasantly surprising Saturday showings came to a disappointing end in Azerbaijan, where Alonso and team-mate Jenson Button were the victims of a messy session riddled with errors and yellow flags.
Button had been the faster McLaren driver in the buildup to qualifying, finishing no lower than ninth in the three practice sessions.
But after two untidy laps at the beginning of Q1—one of which saw him lockup and run wide at Turn 15, flat-spotting his tyres—the 2009 world champion put himself under massive pressure in the final minutes of the session.
An improved time elevated him from last to 17th before one of the best laps of Felipe Nasr's career demoted him back down a position, placing a huge emphasis on his final lap as he sought to avoid becoming the first McLaren driver to be eliminated from Q1 in 2016.
Forced to navigate traffic in the tight castle section, Button's survival hopes evaporated when the dreaded yellow flags appeared in Sector 2, leaving him with no option but to abandon his effort.
"Yeah, it's not happening. F--k it!" F1's gentleman driver commented as he trundled back to the garage, frustrated enough to use the same language now common among his fellow competitors.
As he later told the team's official website, Alonso was also hindered by an ill-timed yellow flag, with an incident at Turn 3 preventing him from using DRS on his final lap of Q2.
"Well, it cannot be any worse than this!" the Baku City Circuit ambassador whined after the session concluded. "It cannot be any worse, the traffic management, the traffic luck..."
If Alonso thought 14th on the grid was bad, he might like to wonder where he would have qualified had Baku, featuring the longest straight in F1, been on the calendar just 12 months ago.