5 of the Most Interesting Radio Messages from 2016 Singapore Grand Prix
For 45 laps, the Singapore Grand Prix was arguably the most forgettable race of the 2016 Formula One season.
The Marina Bay Street Circuit, as ever, looked immaculate under the lights, but there was little substance to complement the style until—in an effort to get their world champion on the podium—Mercedes decided to switch Lewis Hamilton onto a three-stop strategy.
Hamilton's unexpected tyre change re-energised the night race, as Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen tried and failed to keep the British driver behind for third place and Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo started to hunt down race leader Nico Rosberg.
Here, we analyse the best team radio messages from Singapore, with the complaints of Max Verstappen, Romain Grosjean and Felipe Nasr featured alongside the fights at the front.
Lewis Hamilton's Sudden Pit Stop Leads to Sheer Panic at Ferrari
When Raikkonen muscled his way past Hamilton at Turn 10 to take third place on Lap 33 of 61, he would have thought his job was all but done.
Ferrari's decision to pit the 2007 world champion at the end of that lap prevented Mercedes from immediately reclaiming the position with the undercut technique, and when Hamilton himself emerged from the pits at the beginning of Lap 35, he was around five seconds adrift of Raikkonen.
With Hamilton experiencing one of his off-weekends, criticising his team's decisions over the radio and forced to manage his brakes, all Raikkonen had to do, it seemed, was to manage the gap to his rival—on identical soft-compound tyres—and make no mistakes.
Yet Mercedes are not the type of team who admit defeat with almost half a race still to run, so when Hamilton rejoined the track several seconds behind Raikkonen, you could rest assured the Silver Arrows were making frantic calculations on the pit wall.
The gap had extended to around 5.5 seconds on Lap 38 when Hamilton's race engineer, Pete Bonnington, gave his driver permission to stress his engine to the limit in an effort to salvage a podium finish.
"So Lewis, there may be opportunity toward the end of the race so suggest you use all the power unit," he said.
A lap later, Bonnington told Hamilton of the team's plan to change from a two to a three-stop strategy, instructing him to close the gap to Raikkonen and put himself in striking distance for the undercut.
"OK Lewis, we're gonna switch to Plan B, Plan B. Just need to pull Raikkonen in."
Come the end of Lap 43, Hamilton had sliced the gap to around 2.6 seconds, almost the ideal window in which to exploit the undercut, but Ferrari's focus at that point still seemed to be on catching Ricciardo rather than watching the man in their rear-view mirrors.
"So you are quicker than Ricciardo ahead, keep squeezing up to him and keep the gap to Hamilton if we can," Raikkonen was told by race engineer Dave Greenwood.
Perhaps that message, which was broadcast at the beginning of Lap 44, provided confirmation that then—with Ferrari more worried about the car ahead—was the time for Mercedes to strike, with Hamilton pitting for supersofts at the end of Lap 45.
Bonnington's "Plan B" message to Hamilton made it obvious a stop was imminent, but Ferrari still seemed to be taken by surprise when the No. 44 car entered the pit lane.
"OK, Hamilton's in, push, push, push! Push, push, push!" Greenwood urged Raikkonen at the beginning of Lap 46.
After all the hard work of overtaking Hamilton, the sudden instruction to dramatically increase his pace left Raikkonen—who pitted for the durable softs just 13 laps earlier—understandably confused.
"So we are boxing this lap?" Raikkonen asked.
"I'll let you know, I'll let you know!" replied a flustered Greenwood, proving even at that point Ferrari weren't quite sure what to do.
Of course, Raikkonen pitted for ultrasofts at the end of that lap and rejoined a matter of metres behind Hamilton, who—despite being on a harder compound—was hardly challenged from behind for the rest of the race.
Although the Prancing Horse should have seen it coming, Mercedes put Ferrari in an almost impossible position in Singapore.
If they pitted, they would have been undercut; if they hadn't, Hamilton—on fresher, softer rubber—would probably have caught and passed Raikkonen come the end of the race anyway.
As Hamilton discovered to his cost in the 2015 Monaco GP, however, there is one golden rule when it comes to racing on street circuits: track position is king.
If in doubt, stay out.
Nico Rosberg Withstands Daniel Ricciardo's Late-Race Charge on Supersofts
Like Raikkonen, Rosberg seemed to be in a rather comfortable position as the final phase of the Singapore GP began.
Sure, he had to carefully manage his brakes almost from the start of the race, but with a comfortable advantage over second-placed Ricciardo, Rosberg was on course to claim a third consecutive win and reclaim the lead of the world championship.
As he later told Sky Sports' television coverage, however, "it's never easy in Singapore," and when race engineer Tony Ross attempted to inform him of the gap to Ricciardo, Rosberg silenced the airwaves.
"Gap to Ricciardo is 4.3..."
"Stop, stop, stop telling me that!" Rosberg snapped back on Lap 42, refusing to allow the threat of the Red Bull driver to disturb his rhythm.
If Rosberg was nervous at that point, he would have been trembling with anxiety when he learned Ricciardo, with nothing to lose, had followed Raikkonen and Hamilton into the pits for fresher, faster tyres at the end of Lap 47 as he pursued his first win in more than two years.
The activity behind had encouraged Rosberg's side of the garage to switch to a three-stop strategy, too.
And in preparation for a pit stop, Ross instructed his driver to switch to one of the most powerful engine settings and hit the Overtake button, which is normally used to deliver an extra boost of power in the heat of a wheel-to-wheel battle, on Lap 48.
"Push hard now, Nico, push hard now! Go Strat 5 and Overtake! Push hard now!"
As reported by Sky Sports' Ted Kravitz, Mercedes were preparing to service the No. 6 car at the end of that lap when the pit-stop predictor used by strategist James Vowles indicated that if Rosberg were to pit at that point, he would rejoin behind Ricciardo.
Reluctant to sacrifice track position, Mercedes instructed the leader to remain on track and, all of a sudden, Ricciardo and Red Bull had Rosberg—stuck on ageing soft-compound tyres—exactly where they wanted him.
"OK Daniel, so Rosberg, there's no way he can cover us now," Ricciardo's race engineer, Simon Rennie, explained on Lap 50. "He would come out behind Raikkonen."
Although Ricciardo was catching Rosberg by almost three seconds per lap, Kravitz noted that Red Bull's factory-based engineers were expressing concerns the Australian's supersoft tyres would begin to wear before he moved into a position to snatch the lead.
However, Rennie ignored those warnings and cold, hard figures to keep motivating his driver, insisting Ricciardo would comfortably catch Rosberg with plenty of time to spare.
"At the current pace, you would catch him with four laps to go," he said later that lap.
Rosberg had been wary of thinking too far ahead just 12 laps earlier, but now he had no option but to establish a plan of action.
"How much more can I take out of the brakes at the end of the race?" he asked on Lap 54, concerned that the need to pull out of Ricciardo's reach would only stress the brakes he had been trying so hard to protect.
"We'll let you know, Nico, we'll let you know," Ross replied, highlighting how anxious Mercedes were at that stage before confirming Rosberg would be given more power, more brakes—more everything—if necessary.
"So we'll definitely give you more at the end, Nico. More at the end," he said later that lap.
A game of cat-and-mouse on a street circuit would be nothing without a bunch of backmarkers getting in the way, and on the penultimate lap—precisely when he didn't need it—Rosberg found himself approaching Kevin Magnussen, Daniil Kvyat and Sergio Perez, who were fighting for the lower points positions.
"So, we've got a slow bunch of backmarkers in front of you, we expect you to come up to them before the end of the race. Just be aware," Ross informed his driver.
Rosberg caught the lapped cars toward the end of the final lap, but rather than passing them, he was happy to trundle behind the trio for the final few corners, ultimately crossing the finish line just 0.488 seconds ahead of Ricciardo.
"Woohoo! Brilliant drive!"
"Yes, come on guys! Come on! Yeah!" Rosberg shouted back, fully aware he had just taken the most impressive, hard-fought victory of his career.
"At last in Singapore!" replied Ross, referring to his driver's previous misfortune on the city streets.
Ricciardo, meanwhile, was once again the bridesmaid, the beaten man, as his wait for a grand prix victory went on. But after a performance as fierce as that, there could be no disappointment with the end result.
"That was a super drive, Daniel," commented team principal Christian Horner. "We obviously went for it to cover the others with a three-stop, but you gave it everything. Well done, well done."
"Thanks, guys. Yeah, appreciate it, thanks for trying something. That was fun at least."
Red Bull Order Max Verstappen to 'Deal with It' During Practice
When the Red Bull radio airwaves are next opened up during a grand prix, spare a thought for Gianpiero Lambiase, who during his career as a race engineer has had to work alongside some of the most miserable gits to race in the modern era.
During his spell with Force India, Lambiase engineered Paul Di Resta, who spent much of his three seasons with the team convinced he was bigger and better than anything they had to offer.
He earned his big move to Red Bull at the exact time Sebastian Vettel, the most successful driver in the team's history, fled for Ferrari, and spent the next 23 races trying his best to help Kvyat avoid being dropped by the team.
And now? Now he has to put up with Verstappen.
Of course, working closely with the most exciting youngster in a generation and watching that talent flourish must be a great privilege for Lambiase, yet such is the nature of his role that he must also tolerate the darker side of a driver who learned almost everything he knows from the Seb Vettel School of Whining.
With less than 10 minutes of the second practice session remaining, Verstappen came across slower cars and vented his frustration over the radio.
"Yeah I know, but I mean this is not long running," moaned Verstappen, clearly responding to an earlier comment that was not broadcast. "I'm always in the traffic."
On a tight and twisty street track with 20-odd cars all trying to prepare for the race as best they could, Lambiase was not willing to listen to the moody teenager any longer and urged his driver to simply get on with it.
"It's a street circuit, mate," he replied. "We'll have to deal with it."
The amusing interaction between Verstappen and Lambiase during final practice, when a "giant lizard" was spotted running across the track, underlined the good relationship between the pair, but it was refreshing to hear a race engineer ordering to his driver to just shut up and drive.
Perhaps a Lambiase-like figure would be welcome down at Haas...
Romain Grosjean Keeps Moaning at Haas as Car Struggles Continue
Having recorded two top-six finishes at the beginning of this season, Grosjean couldn't speak highly enough of the new Haas team and their Dallara-built, Ferrari-powered VF-16 chassis.
After finishing as high as fifth in the Bahrain GP, he referred to the car as "probably one of the best" he had ever driven, per ESPN F1's Nate Saunders, in between all the cliches about living the "American Dream."
From the moment he climbed out of the VF-16 in parc ferme at the Sakhir circuit, however, that dream became a nightmare.
Grosjean has repeatedly criticised the team and their equipment in recent months, making unhelpful comments over team radio on an almost weekly basis, to the point where Haas' lead driver has only dragged them down further.
And all that frustration boiled over at Marina Bay as the car turned even more evil.
The Frenchman was unable to set a lap time in the first practice session after an engine issue and, when he did take to the track later that day, the car spat him into the barriers at the final corner, knocking the endplates off his rear wing.
The handling had barely improved the following day, forcing Grosjean to let rip at the close of final practice.
"I don't know why we change the [inaudible] on the car, it's the worst car I've driven for a very, very long time," he commented as he returned to the pit lane.
As usual, Grosjean's moaning failed to magically resolve the issues, and he limped on into qualifying, when he was classified 15th after the first runs of Q2.
On his final lap, he had only just dabbed the brakes and eased the steering wheel toward the apex of Turn 10 when the car suddenly swapped ends, sending him backward into the crash barrier directly at the end of the short straight leading to the corner.
"I don't know what happened right now, mate," he addressed his race engineer, groaning in discomfort as if he had been slightly winded by the relatively hard impact.
"Are you OK?"
"I don't know what happened under braking."
"Yeah, but why? It's front locking [inaudible]," he added, still breathing rather heavily.
"OK, are you OK?"
"OK, sorry dude."
Grosjean's issues continued on race day, when a gearbox change dropped him five places on the grid before a brake-by-wire glitch prevented him from starting a grand prix for the first time in his career.
It was a black mark against his name but a blessing in disguise for Haas, who managed to keep Grosjean's complaints behind closed doors for once.
Felipe Nasr Criticised by Red Bull After Blocking Daniel Ricciardo in Practice
Perhaps we're wrong, but Nasr doesn't seem to be the most popular driver among his peers.
The Brazilian has had a troubled relationship with Jolyon Palmer since their time in GP2, and even his own team-mate, Marcus Ericsson, told Autosport (h/t Eurosport) he is not exactly "best buddies" with Nasr following their battles in F1's official feeder series.
That lack of respect between the pair was there for all to see in this year's Monaco GP, where the Sauber drivers had a race-ending collision after Nasr chose to ignore team orders.
And Nasr seemed to make another couple of enemies in the second practice session in Singapore, when—with around 15 minutes remaining—he emerged from the pit lane directly ahead of Ricciardo.
Rather than giving way to the Red Bull driver, Nasr ensured he stayed in front of Ricciardo by employing the DRS on his outlap.
"What the f--k is Nasr doing?" Ricciardo asked the Red Bull pit wall. "Just come out the pits, he's using DRS and all sorts."
"Yeah, understood. I think you need to remember it is Felipe Nasr," replied Rennie, who couldn't resist a slight dig at the Sauber driver.
One of the reasons Nasr appears to be disliked is that, whenever he is involved in an incident with another driver, he rarely admits he was in the wrong.
We witnessed that at the Italian GP, when after his race-ending crash with Palmer, Nasr seemed to blame the Renault driver for the incident during Sky Sports' television coverage despite being handed a 10-second time penalty.
And we saw it yet again in third practice at Singapore, when he attempted to overtake Esteban Gutierrez—another driver who has been frequently criticised by his fellow competitors in recent months—at Turn 13, ran too deep and came to a temporary halt beside the outside wall.
"Felipe, let us know what happened," enquired race engineer Jorn Becker.
"Ah, it's all OK, just Gutierrez...I don't know what he's doing on the road," Nasr responded, pointing the finger at the Haas driver who, on this occasion, was totally innocent.
In this sanitised era of grand prix racing, a driver unafraid of making enemies in his search for strong results should be lauded.
But at a time Williams are set to sign teenager Lance Stroll for 2017, Renault's driver plans are uncertain and Sauber are owned by Longbow Finance—a group closely linked to Ericsson, per Forbes' Christian Sylt—Nasr needs to be careful his confrontational attitude doesn't ultimately cost him a place on the grid.