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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