Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, 2011

Team radio is F1’s wasted asset

CommentPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, 2011
Come in, Britney. Britney, do you read me?

Team radio has provided some of the most illuminating and entertaining moments in recent years in F1.

Despite that we still hear very little of it during races – less than three minutes on average in each race this year.

Here’s how team radio has been used in F1 this year and how it should change in 2012.

How many messages?

The FOM live F1 video feed is global, so television viewers in all regions hear the same team radio excerpts.

As you’d expect, more is heard from the more successful teams such as Red Bull and McLaren. At the other end of the scale, we’re yet to hear a message from Virgin or HRT during a race so far this year:

Driver Messages Duration
Lewis Hamilton 69 7’18
Sebastian Vettel 53 7’49
Jenson Button 49 5’33
Mark Webber 32 2’56
Fernando Alonso 30 3’16
Felipe Massa 28 2’54
Nico Rosberg 10 0’54
Michael Schumacher 7 0’45
Nick Heidfeld 4 0’22
Vitaly Petrov 4 0’12
Paul di Resta 3 0’22
Jaime Alguersuari 2 0’13
Heikki Kovalainen 1 0’12
Rubens Barrichello 1 0’06
Sergio Perez 1 0’05
Team Messages Duration
McLaren 118 12’51
Red Bull 85 10’45
Ferrari 58 6’10
Mercedes 17 1’39
Renault 8 0’34
Force India 3 0’22
Toro Rosso 2 0’13
Lotus 1 0’12
Williams 1 0’06
Sauber 1 0’05

The first thing that stands out is just how little audio is played. We’ve had around 18 hours of racing so far this year accompanied by just under 33 minutes of radio chatter – less than three minutes per race.

Anyone who’s watched an IndyCar or NASCAR race will know radio broadcasts play a much bigger part of the coverage. They also tend to be in real-time.

The relatively small number of broadcasts from Ferrari is also puzzling. However the sole message broadcast in a language other than English this year may give a clue as to why that is.

It was a message concerning strategy sent to Alonso during the Turkish Grand Prix. Are Ferrari sending their most sensitive messages in Italian to reduce the chance of them being broadcast and overheard by their rivals?

When were they played?

Between 17 and 40 different messages were played from each race, either in the live broadcast or in the post-race video edit posted on FOM’s website.

The fewest came at Monaco, where radio transmissions are disrupted by the close proximity of the buildings. This graph shows how many different messages were heard at each race:

Australia Malaysia China Turkey Spain Monaco Canada Europe Britain Germany Hungary
Lewis Hamilton 3 5 5 4 9 6 1 7 10 9 10
Sebastian Vettel 3 9 4 2 10 4 10 2 1 5 3
Jenson Button 2 4 5 1 6 3 15 3 2 1 7
Mark Webber 2 3 4 1 1 2 2 5 5 4 3
Fernando Alonso 2 5 0 4 3 1 2 3 2 5 3
Felipe Massa 3 0 2 3 2 0 6 2 3 3 4
Nico Rosberg 0 0 3 5 0 0 1 0 1 0 0
Michael Schumacher 0 1 0 0 1 1 1 0 1 0 2
Nick Heidfeld 0 0 0 1 1 0 1 0 0 1 0
Vitaly Petrov 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1 0
Paul di Resta 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0
Jaime Alguersuari 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
Heikki Kovalainen 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0
Rubens Barrichello 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Sergio Perez 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

What was said?

The messages that were heard were classified by different categories.

Of the 295 messages counted from the first 11 races, 120 were relating to strategy. This is potentially a controversial area, as if a team gets wind of a rival’s strategy via a radio broadcast they could gain an advantage. This is believed to have happened during one of McLaren’s pit stops at Silverstone.

The other main topics on the radios are instructions to speed up or slow down for tactical or technical reasons, and discussions of problems on the car.

This graph shows what messages were played at each race:

Australia Malaysia China Turkey Spain Monaco Canada Europe Britain Germany Hungary
Weather 0 4 0 0 0 0 17 0 0 0 7
Strategy 9 6 6 11 16 7 12 8 14 12 19
Celebration 2 3 4 5 6 1 2 2 3 3 2
“Speed up” 3 4 7 3 7 1 4 7 10 6 3
“Slow down” 1 5 3 3 4 1 0 6 3 4 5
Penalty 3 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1
Team order 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0
Technical 5 5 6 0 0 2 8 3 2 6 4

When the messages were broadcast

Last year there were a few notable examples of significant radio messages that were not played during a live broadcast appearing in FOM’s post-race video edit.

These included McLaren telling Lewis Hamilton that Jenson Button wouldn?t pass him during the Turkish Grand Prix – shortly before he did – and Fernando Alonso urging Ferrari to use team orders during the German Grand Prix.

We continue to hear more previously unheard radio messages in FOM’s race highlights videos:

When F1 radio messages were broadcast
When F1 radio messages were broadcast (click to enlarge)

More from the radios, please!

Team radio adds a badly-needed human dimension to F1 coverage. It gives a fascinating glimpse not only into the teams’ tactics in each race but also the demanding world an F1 driver inhabits between the red lights going out and the chequered flag waving.

FOM has access to all the teams radio broadcasts but at the moment they are being under-used with less than three minutes of radio broadcasts being heard on average during each race. It’s clear from services such as McLaren’s Pitwall this is a tiny fraction of the total messages sent between teams and drivers.

The focus on the front runners is understandable, but excessive. Over 70% of messages played live during races were from Red Bull or McLaren.

The delay in broadcasting messages is also frustrating. Many interesting clips are not heard until FOM release their video review of each race, often a week or more after it’s happened.

But even those that are played in races tend to be delayed out of a fear of inadvertently broadcasting swearing.

Next year, according to the FIA, team radio broadcasts will be “made available to broadcasters”. The ideal system would be complete, live, uncensored feeds of all team radios available online for fans to listen to and follow the progress of their favourite drivers or teams in real-time.

Sincere thanks to F1 Fanatics Paul Adamaszek, Vikas Singh, Vivek Manghnani, Oana Popoiu, Bastiaan Bunnik, ‘Mr T.’, Nilesh Gorsia, Laura Newman, Nikolas Gouloumis and James Scantlebury for their assistance in gathering the data for this article.

Notes on the analysis

Data includes all messages played during races in 2011, excluding any broadcast during race suspensions.

2011 F1 season

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Image ?? Mercedes

127 comments on “Team radio is F1’s wasted asset”

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  1. I imagine Ted Kravitz may disagree with you on this one, Keith.

    1. I can’t think of a good reason why he or anyone else would, but do enlighten me!

      1. Apart from the teams. Obviously it wouldn’t suit them.

      2. It’s just that I’ve noticed that virtually every time 5Live/MB and DC pass to him, he’s interrupted by team radio!

        1. Haha so true.

        2. “Oh, team radio…” I can hear him in my head just thinking about it.

          Besides that, the team radio message is always about something totaly different than what Ted is talking about.

      3. Let’s not get greedy. There are enough broadcasts already, although I agree that broadcasting them a lap after they’ve been said is a little silly.

        I can’t remember the race but broadcasting when the McLaren would pit was very helpful for the other top teams – perhaps these kinds of broadcasts should actually be reduced. The ones about how wet the track is and things like that are more insightful and fair to all.

        It reminds me of the fuel weights – everyone was wax-lyrical when we were told they would be published, but all it did was make the races more boring because we all knew when everyone would pit.

        1. Just had to say “stop talking to me while I’m typing” to my wife ;)

        2. yeah releasing the fuel weights was an odd and total pointless idea. and they released it at like 6pm in the evening? like who cares at that time? it would of worked better if they released it as cars went on the warm up lap or something.

          and the most stupid thing about it was the drivers would not say what fuel they had after qualy? and i think eventually someone like button or lewis eventually said ‘why am not say you are going to find out 3 hrs anyway’

        3. In their defense a lap after is still only going to be about one and a half minutes…

          Quite a tight time frame.

      4. With any of the radio messages we hear now, I can only ever understand one half of the chatter, and that is from the guy in the pits, so I for one would not be a huge fan of more radio broadcasts. Everything driver’s response is indistinguishable.

  2. Stephen Hopkinson
    17th August 2011, 9:40

    Apparently, teams prevent sensitive messages from being broadcast by peppering them with profanity. Can’t wait for sweargate!

    1. Profanity didn’t stop a message from Barrichello’s engineer in Valencia 2009 begin broadcast :D

      “Okay, Hamilton’s ****** up his stop!” :D

    2. I actually love that, simple and ingenious. I think this calls for a “late night” or post watershed “uncut” F1 broadcast!

      1. the best one was montoya at spa “Raikkonen is a ******* idiot!!”

        I think that was in qualifying though

      2. (Hell, Australia could have that almost every race…) A midnight start is quite early by our standards.

  3. Perhaps Ferrari swear a lot when they pass on messages – that’s got to be a sure fire way to stop anything being broadcast “Get a ******* move on you little ****!!!”

    1. They are an Italian team, and so the only time they purposefully speak English is when they want it to be broadcast.

      1. I was under the impression (from somewhere) that English was *mandated* for radio broadcasts… maybe I’m wrong

        1. I heard so too, I heard that although Ferrari is an Italian team, they speak (almost) always enlgish in the team.

          1. After Jean Todt left they officialy changed their team language back to italian. But obviously they speak english about technical things and with people from different countries.

          2. Accidental Mick
            18th August 2011, 13:41

            Certainly when I was studying for my Yachtmasters ticket and had to attend a radio course, I was told that, under international law, ALL radio coms had to be conducted in English. Perhaps that only applys at sea – anyone know?

          3. There is no such rule for road based communication. Pilots have to speak English though.

        2. I thought the same. I’m puzzled. Of course if they speak Italian the messages won’t be broadcast, but shouldn’t they get a reprimand/fine (although a fine would be eccessive)?

          1. Too bad English speaking countries fail to tech foreign languages to their pupils…

          2. @Jcost

            No, they do teach foreign languages, but these are predominately Spanish, French and Japanese (at least in NZ) and more to the point they are not a required part of the curriculum and so most students prefer to do subjects that they are interested in rather than learning a foreign language

      2. As in “Fernando is faster than you”?

        1. Maybe Massa doesn’t speak italian?

          1. Felipe speaks fluent Italian but as his race engineer is English then it must make sense that at least 1 person speaks their mother tongue

  4. Totally agree on all points. This message “More team radio” has been around for many years, yet I wonder what does it take for FOM to make it true.

    I will accept the Italian from Ferrari or the German from Red Bull, or any other language, just broadcast the messages. Real-time – I don’t want to hear that Lewis has to slow down 5 laps after I see his times dropping 1 second per lap – I already know what’s happening.

    Perhaps someone could shed more light on the rules – frankly, an area where I’m lost – in terms of:
    – does the radio talk has to be in English
    – Do you have to send at least X public messages per race
    – What are you able to hide as a call, and so on.

    P.S. I would presume that teams with small count of messages simply have nothing to say.

    1. – Do you have to send at least X public messages per race

      The teams don’t control which messages are made public, FOM do.

      I would presume that teams with small count of messages simply have nothing to say.

      I doubt that – if nothing else, the likes of the HRT and Virgin drivers will get a lot of messages about being lapped. And they’re bound to be talking more about handling problems.

      Plus, we do hear from them sometimes in qualifying and other sessions (not analysed here).

      1. I don’t know why, but it’d be interesting to hear for once a message telling a drivers he will be lapped. It would be nice to hear what if any detail is involved about when and where they will be caught, and whether they’re instructed which line is optimum for them to avoid hindering the leaders.

        1. I agree. Particularly when you see the leaders bearing down on them – does Ricciardo get told, “Vettel’s coming up behind you and he’s got Hamilton right behind him”?

          1. I agree too, especially in a tense moment because there are times when we are shouting at the TV for guys to get out of the way. It would be a good addition to hear the message as it was happening too….not 5 minutes later when it’s irrelevant.

        2. Just imagine what Rob Smedley will have to tell Felipe Baby in such a case!

    2. I’d say half the problem is rather going through the sheer quantity of messages. They’d need a few people to do it at least.

      1. That might be part of it, but it could be helped if Broadcasters had access to them, and could look at what is said to explain what they are seeing.

      2. That’s just because they’re creating work for themselves by not broadcasting messages live.

        In IndyCar, for example, they play the radio chatter live during pit stops. Even if it doesn’t provide any particular information, it adds to the atmosphere. And when something unusual does happen, it adds to the excitement.

  5. I don’t actually like the introduction of team radio at all. I feel it has the ability to (slightly) rob us of interesting races. How many times have we seen a driver respond to another’s strategy simply because that strategy was broadcast over the television and the team was able to pass it on?

    1. Apart from that example at Silverstone I can’t think of any off the top of my head. But even if it were happening a lot I wouldn’t care. Strategies are usually pretty transparent.

      Team radio has given us loads of information and entertainment we wouldn’t have had before. There are far too many examples to list them all, but here’s a smattering:

      Top ten… Team radio moments

      Generally, the argument that less information should be provided to keep things a mystery doesn’t wash with me. I think the sport should be as open and clear as possible, so we can better appreciate the skill of those participating in it.

      1. Transparency is exactly what the teams are looking for as well.

        At the FOTA Fans Forum Martin Whitmarsh spoke in detail how Mclaren and Ferrari had spent millions creating encrypted radio systems so that each could not eavesdrop on the others radio/strategy conversations!

        However all of this was dropped when FOTA was started and since then the teams have allowed all radio transmissions to be available to FOM for use in broadcasting. It is CVC and FOM that we need to get on to about the lack of Radio Comm’s making it on to the F1 broadcasts.

        I think Keith is particularly correct about the smaller teams. I would love to hear whats going on at Team Lotus, Virgin and HRT if they are really struggling or if they feel they are right on the limit etc. Whilst at the FOTA Fans Forum, Graeme Lowdon described a perfect example with Timo Glock in Monaco, who pushed the VR02 well beyond it’s limit in qualifying. The team and the driver were ecstatic about there performance and several radio messages were exchanged to celebrate this…but we didn’t get any of them, and a great moment in F1 for one of the developing teams was lost.

      2. Keith, Virgin had their team radio message broadcast during on of the last Free Practices where Timo was expressing his frustration (which was later elaborated as a joke), the day before he had his contract renewed..

        1. I know… sorry I’m not sure what your point is?

    2. I don’t agree at all. Strange enough these little bits of information we do get often add a lot and help end stupid speculation.

      Why would we be getting over exited about say Hamilton reeling in Vettel, when we could have heard Vettel being told to just slow down and save the engine etc a few laps earlier.

      Strange enough the messages leave a pretty strong awareness about the race, so much so, that I was actually supprised about how little of them there actually were when looking for them in the broadcast.

    3. Strategies would be noticed on the fly regardless of team radio. The radio chatter is a bit delayed anyway so even though on the rare instance teams are notified of a strategical change through team radio, that change in strategy may have already been made (new tires). As Keith mentions, in IndyCar, the radio chatter really adds to the atmosphere, most of the commentators may talk over it but it increases viewer involvement and increases the awareness of that all important human aspect to racing.

  6. I was totally under the impression that all team radio was open to every team no matter what, and that FOM just selects tid bits to broadcast during the race. Wasn’t there a rule or change like that enacted this past year or two? Or did I misunderstand it?

  7. I like the swearing explanation regarding Ferrari’s radio transmission. :-)

    About the language issue: I remember hearing something about the FIA and FOM requiring team radio to be in English, and not in Italian (Ferrar, STR), French (Renault, although that’s effectively a British team) or Swahili for that matter. Is that true?

    1. That would be very unfair to those who dont speak native english. The qualify of the information sent to and from the garage would be very low compared to native english speaking teams.

      1. I doubt it, they all have pretty good command of the English language. They will likely be well versed in all technical jargon.

        As far as i’m aware all transmissions have to be in English but of course some do ‘slip through’.

  8. It was said at one of the recent races that the teams have been swearing in their team radio messages to ensure they are not broadcast. Mclaren i believe have been very vocal about how fed up they are with their pit strategy being broadcast for all to hear.

  9. Personally, I’m not that bothered about team radio. Most of the time it’s something we already knew anyway, and it only serves to give rival teams extra knowledge about what strategy they may or may not be doing.

    I like the mystery of not knowing what’s going on, the surprise of a driver pitting early, the suspense of waiting to see when a driver will eventually pit, and the estimations of pit reporters such as Ted Kravitz.

    When I hear something like “Ok Lewis, we’ve got 11 more laps to go on these tyres” it takes away some of the suspense from watching a race. I’d actually like to see less team radio during the race, but more available post race.

    1. But the fact its something we already know (or strongly suspect) is often due to the delay in playing them.

      I mean, i like to speculate a bit during the race, but I like knowing why things happen, if they have been told.

  10. In the Graph “What was said” the colours are wrong?

  11. I’d love to know what percentage of Lewis’s comments are negative.

    1. I can assure you, that in the Monaco race it was quite a bit of what was said by him!

  12. Thanks for the nice article, well done. I feel like it’s 12 days of Christmas instead of F1 summer break and Keith gives the readers each day a new present (a quiz or an interesting article).

    I think there is a simple solution to the swearing issue. Every driver who swears while talking to his team on the radio gets a drive-through penalty. I’m sure the rudeness would stop immediately.

  13. Sauber’s is probably so low because they are pit so rarely.

  14. What I find interesting when you compare what is shown in the edits and what is shown in during the race its really mostly completely different (my guess is, that the celebration messages are the only ones displayed in both at all the races).

    And during I had the feeling for edits the radio messages are used as commentary to make you get whats happening (as it shows you the whole race in a few minutes), telling us when people go pit, where they are etc.
    During the race it might be more focussed on colourfull comments and confirming to us what strategy teams are going to do after we/the commentators guessed it already.

  15. That’s an impressive load of data. Well done to everyone who helped compile it.

  16. Actually thinking about it, I would really like to try a broadcaster to do the commentary largely by radio messages.

  17. As long as the commentators can maintain their train of thought during the interruption of team radio. It seems to happen to Brundle and Coulthard alot that they forget to pick up what they were saying.
    And can the teams not sound so scripted and rehearsed after they’ve won. Unless race engineers actually talk in soundbites because they’re not the type for spontaneous whooping and hollerin’.

  18. Keith is quite right, team radio gives F1 a much needed human face and as far as I’m concerned FOM have missed a trick by broadcasting so little of it.

    F1 is a team sport and it is sad that the only members of the teams we know are the drivers and the team principals (on the whole). Team radio gives us a great insight into how the teams work, what they think and they help give personalities to the people mounted on the “prat perch”.

    Just think, would we all have soft spots of Rob Smedley, Rocky and Co if it wasn’t for team radio?!

  19. And if any driver reacts like Senna after Brazil ’91 (as heard in the movie) “Aaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrgggggghhh I won the *flipping* race!” we need to hear now not 20 years later.

    1. Good point. That was one of the bits of the film that really took me by surprise. His reaction was so extreme. Hearing that as it happened would have been awesome.

      1. It’s not on the official ’91 F1 review video is it? (I’m guessing not!) The way these broadcasts disappear into the archives for decades has a whiff of Soviet State Secrets about it.
        And the Rally boys never seem to have any problem with ‘language’, just google “Irish rally co-driver” for some examples!

  20. Brilliant article! This is the sort of thing I visit F1 Fanatic for!

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