Team radio is F1’s wasted asset

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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:

http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/charts/2011drivercolours.csv

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:

http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/charts/2011drivercolours.csv

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


Browse all 2011 F1 season articles

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127 comments on Team radio is F1’s wasted asset

  1. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 17th August 2011, 13:25

    A good article, thanks!

    I expect that 90% of the RBR radio is Christian Horner congratulating Vettel and Vettel embarrassing himself afterwards.

    I have wondered for a while, how do they actually select what’s broadcast? It would be all too easy for someone at FOM to broadcast strategy calls for one team much more than the others, potentially creating a bit of bother for them.

    Is there a structured way on how they do things?

    For example, Germany last year. It was pretty obvious with or without Smedley’s comments that Massa had let Alonso through but if we never had heard that transmission perhaps it wouldn’t have exploded into the ordeal that it did?

  2. Cyclops_PL (@cyclops_pl) said on 17th August 2011, 13:39

    Anyone else’s thinking about Kimmi and his burning bottom in the NASCAR?

  3. I totally agree with this article, I remember the good old days of F1digital+ which used to broadcast team radios live and uninterrupted all through out the race. I remember Rubans crying on the radio after winning the german grand prix 2000, i especially remember Montoyas “******* Raikkonn……. what a ******* idiot” in quali for the belgium gp 2002.
    I remember when team radios came onto the world feed back in 2003 or 2004, there was a funny incident in the Chinese grand prix where one of the Minardi’s lost a wheel and the team enginner told the driver to drive off line and the driver replied “**** you”

    sorry about my spelling by the way lol

  4. Icemangrins said on 17th August 2011, 14:42

    Mind blowing stats. Thanks Keith and the team. I have heard many team radio communication happening during the free practice session where the drivers speak about set up challenges, tyres, fuels so on. An avid F1 follower would want to follow all the messages in those sessions too. Nick Fry once told that MSC gave a running commentry about the behavior the MGPW01 (gotta be cr*p) over the period of 3, 4 laps. It’s a shame. No one ever heard that.

    Team radio communications is a luxury to drivers in modern racing. Yet, most teams continue to use communication boards to convery crisp messages to the drivers like the gaps (+/-), IN or BOX this lap and so on. This article provides a different perspective on why FOM should allow all team communication to fans.

  5. raymondu999 (@raymondu999) said on 17th August 2011, 14:46

    I always love how Chris Dyer told Kimi “we’ll be on live TV later” on live TV :P http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qdXf-KPcEw4

  6. Rhys Coles (@lightmas) said on 17th August 2011, 14:54

    I agree, we need way more team radio!!!! Under 3 minutes of Rob Smedley is a crime :)

  7. JohnBt said on 17th August 2011, 17:33

    F1 fans are crazy people. We do need information though and it will never be enough. But it’s fun!

  8. Damon (@damon) said on 17th August 2011, 17:38

    - There’s a deer on the track.
    – Oh dear.
    – A DEER, like a horse with horns.

    :)
    Good ol’ times!

  9. matt88 (@matt88) said on 17th August 2011, 17:43

    I don’t get the full importance of radio messages. Yes, sometimes they’re very meaningful (as the infamous ‘Alonso is faster than you’) but most of the time is ordinary or not fully understandable to mainstream audience (such as ‘switch to plan B’ or stuff like that). Moreover, i think there’s also the language bareer that’s important in non-English speaking countries.
    The fact are those:
    1) sometimes they use jargon or they speak so fast that is difficult – with a ‘radio quality’ audio – to catch all the meaning
    2) commentators here sometimes can’t help to understand, also because the main commentator usually speaks over radio messages. Ivan Capelli (who’s the assistant commentator, as Coulthard is on BBC) is very helpful in a lot of circumstances, but if he isn’t paying enough attention to it, the message is lost.

  10. joey-poey said on 17th August 2011, 17:43

    I disagree on one major point: I don’t think they should be broadcasting strategy. I really don’t think the broadcast should in any way interfere with the race. And moreover, I agree with what someone said above: I *do* like a bit of the mystery. Spelling everything out so that it’s all transparent makes me feel like you can already see how it’s going to play out many times. Yes, I like hearing the chatter to help the atmosphere. I grew up with that watching Indy Car races. But they also never let all the cards show. This to me is akin to people wanting to know fuel loads during practice or testing. If you know exactly who’s running what then you can tell what their true pace is like and then it’s already obvious who’s faster than who. I like not knowing who can hold the better pace for a race weekend. We didn’t expect McLaren to beat Red Bull in Germany, yet they pulled it off. What if we all knew exactly what was going on? The surprise would be lost. Likewise, I’d rather see strategies play out before me than be warned ahead of time what they intend to do.

  11. OmarR-Pepper (@omarr-pepper) said on 17th August 2011, 18:11

    Well, just to remember some of my favourites (I’m sorry if I don’t remember the exact words):
    1. “Felipe, BABY, stay calm” (at the Malaysian storm where Button won half the points)
    2. “Alonso is faster than you, did you understand the message?” (Needless to explain when)
    3. Pit to Montoya in Austria:
    P: “There’s a deer on the track”
    M: “Oh, DEAR”
    P: “A deer, it’s like a horse…. with horns”
    (Montoya starts laughin)
    4. “Sorry mate, I’ve just vomited” (Webber in Melbourne , I think)
    And I’m sure there are some others rather funny or controversial
    (Like a PS I remember Alonso last year complaioning in Valencia about Hamilton overtaking the SC)

  12. Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 17th August 2011, 19:57

    Insightful analysis and I agree. I’d definitely like to hear more of the chatter from the teams lower down the order to supplement what we already get.

  13. More team radio would mean team radio constantly cutting into commentary.

    In other sports, you don’t get to know all the team communications, why should it be different in F1?

  14. Perhaps they could have a ‘red button’ for team radio only. They used to have it (and maybe still do – I’ve not got Sky Sports any more) for Fan Zone where two fans do the commentary, so why not a team radio button?

  15. Damon said on 17th August 2011, 20:38

    If I was mclaren I would swear every other word so they wouldn’t broadcast any of the radio calls. Maybe that would help them with there poor strategies lol

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