Formula Fun: Radio Ga-Ga and Remembering Jules

Before we get into the debate about radio use and how it should play into our sport, let us laugh at what we have listened to so far this year on the radio. And of course, I couldn’t write today’s column without briefly talking about Jules Bianchi, who we lost a year ago. 
Radio Ga-Ga: Radio. It’s been essential to motorsports for far longer than I have been alive, thusly F1 made a lot of noise last year when they started restricting what can and can’t be said over the comms to the driver. This has created problems in our new hybrid era, as electric faults and engine modes can mean a win, or a retirement. We saw this last race, as Mercedes was penalized for telling Nico Rosberg how to fix an issue with his gearbox. Taking his on-track second place and demoting it to a third after the steward’s decision.

So here comes the argument. If the FIA has mandated all of these rules creating a car that is this complex, have they made radio conversations like Rosberg’s a necessary part of F1? While I do think that it was smart of Mercedes to not protest this particular penalty, I think this has helped steer the public opinion away from this radio ban. And while Mercedes does have to respect that this rule exists currently, they do not have to, you know, respect the rule. I foresee that this rule will not stand the test of time. The cars have become too technical for anyone to remember how to fix all of it while lapping tracks. This is still a team sport, and good teams need to be able to work together. But for this season at least, looks like we might see more retirements or penalties thanks to the gag placed in all of the team’s mouths.
But enough about that, we have someone we need to remember this week. When we lost Jules last year, losing an F1 driver was a shock to all of us. And since then, many things have been said and done to try to prevent this from ever happening again. But at the same time, we still need to go back and celebrate the driver that we did lose. Jules was a bright shining star in the paddock, and I doubt he will be forgotten for a very long time. The official F1 channel put together a lovely tribute to him this time last year, and I want to put it here at the end so you can be reminded just what we lost.

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  1. engineerd Avatar

    What is the supposed reason for limiting radio chatter? Racing is a team sport and it seems counter-intuitive to restrict team communication.

    1. Monkey10is Avatar

      The rule had been brought in to stop what was being termed ‘driver coaching’ by radio. With the vast amounts of telemetry data available to the engineers in the pits and factory (and tyre compounds that were very tricky to keep within their temperature operating window without undue wear) the pit wall engineers were regularly advising drivers like this:
      “Nico, Lewis is braking 0.1sec later into Turn 7 — you can make up time there…”
      “If you deploy all of your KERS on the exit of Turn 10 Bottas will not be able to overtake you”
      “With this set of tyres you should be doing 1:23 lap times — ease off or the rears will overheat”
      Added to this, in the last couple of years fuel-saving has been a necessary strategy and it was deemed to be bad for the image of the sport for racing drivers to be told to switch to (slower) fuel saving modes.
      The FIA realised that if you tried to ban certain instructions then every team would invent code to get around this, so instead they limited what COULD be said; essentially only pit-stop calls and messages directly related to safety.

      1. theskitter Avatar

        Great explanation.
        All of those messages are interesting and important.
        The fuel saving and artificial tire variation less so.
        Simplify the rules to max fuel flow rate only.
        Without maximum fuel quantity rules on top of that.
        Maximum fuel quantity will always lead to fuel saving behavior.
        Without it, fuel saving will be limited to the teams who have sized their tanks too small for a particular race.

      2. mdharrell Avatar

        As long as any radio contact is allowed, there will be ways of using some combination of the content, the absence of content, and the timing thereof as a means of transferring extra information. Cracking down on it will just inspire more elaborate or subtle methods. Either let them talk freely or not at all.
        This could easily end up going the way of bidding in contract bridge, in which the surprisingly limited number of allowed words (fifteen, I believe) end up being used to convey other information, sometimes including the requirement to announce “alert” to let everyone know that this alternative use is about to occur, with an opportunity for opponents to ask about the alternative meaning, at which point one may just as well have blurted out the alternative meaning in the first place and been done with it, and so forth.
        If bridge players think this is all part of the fun, then more power to them, but it seems awfully silly from the outside. Such artificiality would not increase my respect for the reputed purity of F1.

        1. Monkey10is Avatar

          I’d be all in favour of them reverting to pit boards as the only means of communication (for Formula 1, not Contract Bridge) — with the radio kept for driver-to-pit and pit-to-driver for emergencies only.

          1. mdharrell Avatar

            Now I want to see a bridge tournament played using full-sized pit boards, with radio headsets worn at all times in the event of an emergency.