One of the great recent innovations in Formula 1 television coverage has been the access to team radio broadcasts.
Listening in to the exchanges gives tremendous insight into strategy and the mindset of drivers. It also opened our eyes to the fact that F1 drivers get every bit as hysterical as teenage girls at a Justin Bieber concert.
Quite apart from the driver-team communication, the team radio has become the method of choice for getting messages through to Charlie Whiting in race control to try to influence stewards decisions or intervention.
Drivers report every little infraction back to the team in the certain knowledge that all broadcasts are monitored in race control.
From the very first corner of the 2011 Japanese Grand Prix, we had Jenson Button complaining loudly of Sebastian Vettel, “He’s got to get a penalty for that!” for the move to block the McLaren driver from the start.
It should be noted that Button is one of the more relaxed guys out there, and it’s rare to hear him complain on the radio.
He has (like all drivers) had moments before, such as yelling “I don’t know!” at his Honda team engineer when they repeatedly asked him if he needed a new front wing—but it’s a rarity.
This year’s Italian Grand Prix saw the team radio-race control link being pushed to its limit.
On one hand, we had Lewis Hamilton asking the question as to whether Michael Schumacher was breaking the rules by moving to block the McLaren driver’s passing attempts.
Mercedes, to counter the McLaren message, wheeled out big-gun Ross Brawn to remind Michael to leave room for Lewis, hoping to convince Charlie Whiting that everything was under control.
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso insisted repeatedly that his team take up the infamous Safety Car transgression by Hamilton with the stewards in Valencia in 2010. At other times he has understandably insisted that his team not tell him about things that he has no control over.
The inaugural Korean Grand Prix in 2010 saw the drivers using the race to try to influence the restart after rain brought out the safety car.
Half of the drivers (those who needed points) wanted to go racing, whereas those who had something to lose were happy to sit behind the safety car and complained that it was too wet.
Either way, they all used their radios to let Charlie know what they thought.
Apart from being used as a tool for drivers to have a whinge, the radio is also used for some timely driver management when things get tense.
The radio relationship between Felipe Massa and engineer Rob Smedley borders on maternal, with Smedley frequently being called upon to pacify the excitable Brazilian. Smedley’s mothering skills were put to the ultimate test in the wake of the infamous “team orders” incident.
We also had Mark Webber’s exchange with Christian Horner and the wonderful, “Not bad for a number two, eh,” and Horner’s retort: “Well, perhaps you can smile now then.”
McLaren’s Hamilton has made a couple of notable contributions to the world of team radio hysteria. In Germany this year, he quite forcibly told the team to stop talking to him while he’s racing.
In Japan, however, he felt the need to let the team know that his car was unsurprisingly under-steering after a safety car period and his tyres had cooled down.
Last year in Melbourne, he rather publicly expressed his frustration at being forced to pit to change tyres on the expectation that other teams would also be forced to do likewise. When it became apparent that the stop was unnecessary, Hamilton let the team know that it was a “freaking terrible idea.”
Team radio has also allowed us to be privy to things we would not have ordinarily been privy to. We were able to hear about Alonso being faster than Massa during the team orders scandal, and what Juan Pablo Montoya really thought about Kimi Raikkonen ('a f…ing idiot,' apparently!).
It also allowed us to hear things that we could probably live without hearing—gems like Mark Webber vomiting into his helmet while racing in Japan in 2007 (apparently that wasn’t the worst thing that Webber left in the car that day) or Jenson Button singing “We Are the Champions” when he became one in 2009.
Of course, the drivers don’t leave it behind when they get out of the car, either.
At Suzuka, we had Hamilton blaming Webber and Schumacher for his missing out on his final qualifying lap. The fact that his team told him not try to back other cars up meant little to him.
We also had Massa continuing his campaign against Hamilton, following on from his histrionics in Singapore, this time complaining the Hamilton hit him again when he put his car in a ridiculous position on the outside of the final chicane.
As interesting as this banter is, fans just want to see the drivers race, and to do that they need to shut up and drive.
Let the skills they get paid for do the talking.