Button’s complaint shows we need more team radio


Jenson Button, McLaren, Bahrain International Circuit, 2013The battle between Jenson Button and Sergio Perez was one of the highlights of the Bahrain Grand Prix.

It was made all the more interesting because Button’s increasing irritation at being given a hard time by his team mate could be heard in clips played from the team’s radio broadcast.

“He just hit me up the back,” complained Button at one point, adding: “Calm him down.”

Though McLaren has since cleared the air between its drivers, Button remains unhappy that his conversation with the team was heard by television viewers.

“The problem with the radio is that my message is not meant for the masses, it’s meant for the team,” explained the 2009 world champion, who said he did not intend his comments to be made public,” he said later.

“In a way it’s a pity that TV companies just choose the messages they want, because they can come across in the wrong way.

“I was obviously angry, but the anger was supposed to be kept within the team, because I am radioing the team, I’m not radioing TV companies.”

It is, of course, not “TV companies” but Formula One Management who listen in on the radios and decide what gets broadcast. Button’s dissatisfaction at being opened up to that kind of scrutiny is exactly why we need to have more of it, not less.

Formula One is not like most sports. Watch at a football stadium, a cricket pitch or a golf course and the reactions and emotions of every player are there fore you to behold. You can study a player’s craft at close quarters.

For the most part that simply isn’t possible in Formula One. Competitors are shielded beneath carbon fibre and Nomex and even if they weren’t they’d still be going past at two hundred miles an hour.

There was a time when fans could turn up to races with radio scanners and had their pick of whichever cars they wanted to listen to. That practice ended when teams began using military-grade radio encryption.

But thanks to an agreement between the teams a few years ago, we can now hear radio discussions via the television broadcasts. This has revealed illuminating details of how they go about racing – not least the extent to which they strive (not always with success) to manipulate the running order of their drivers.

This transparency is what F1 needs more of, not less. Instead of having edited messages played minutes after they’re broadcast, they should make the full live radio communications for every car available online – with suitable warnings about swearing, naturally.

Inevitably it’s American forms of motor racing which show F1 how it should be done. Watch an IndyCar or NASCAR race and the use of team radio broadcasts is more widespread and greatly enhances the viewing experience.

It’s easy to sympathise with Button’s embarrassment at being overheard criticisng his team mate when he had seemingly forgotten such radio broadcasts are no longer private. But like the walled-off F1 paddock, private team radio broadcasts were emblematic of a sport striving to keep the paying public at arm’s length. The reversal of that trend was a step forward, and long may it continue.


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98 comments on Button’s complaint shows we need more team radio

  1. Paul A (@paul-a) said on 7th May 2013, 13:36

    It’s all or nothing. If teams really need radio comms with their drivers that in the interest of the sport and of drivers’ safety should not be available to other teams, then military-grade radio encryption should be used — if not, then everybody (teams, FOM, TV, public) should be able to use a simple scanner for immediate access.

    What is wrong is censorship by FOM (despite Ecclestone perhaps calling it “selective editing.”) The use of “bad” language, or Italian, or “codewords” is up to TV commentators and FOM to deal with however they want — a lot of live broadcasts use a few seconds delay to bleep offensiveness and TV companies could presumable hire translators for a few hours on GP weekends.

    • Joe Papp (@joepa) said on 7th May 2013, 19:43

      then military-grade radio encryption should be used

      @paul-a – they already do. the problem is that they’re required by regulations to make comms accessible to the broadcasters via FOM (iirc).

      @keithcollantine notes in his op/ed:

      There was a time when fans could turn up to races with radio scanners and had their pick of whichever cars they wanted to listen to. That practice ended when teams began using military-grade radio encryption.

    • Optimaximal (@optimaximal) said on 7th May 2013, 21:32

      James Allen can speak fluent Italian. Coupled with Jaime Alguersuari last year, 5 Live listeners knew what was happening at Ferrari before most of the rest of the world worked it out.

  2. dodge5847 (@dodge5847) said on 7th May 2013, 14:01

    Team orders or no team orders, surely anyone would have said the same. I am no F1 driver but if I had a team mate bang into the back of me, I would voice in the same way. I would expect the same if the situation was reversed.

  3. tmax (@tmax) said on 7th May 2013, 14:08

    Well What goes around comes around. When the Red Bull Radio messages were publicly discussed, Button too was a part of it. He too commented that he would not have done that etc. Now when his case is public on a similar kind of team mate battle issues, it is a private matter between the team and the driver. People in glass houses cannot throw stones. If button was so conscious of the private radio chats, when asked about Red Bull messages he should have just said “It is a private matter in their team I have nothing to comment about it” and stopped there.

    Well we all love spicy stuff. More the microphones around the racers , the more happy we fans and the media are. That keeps the entertainment beyond the actual sport itself. One of the reasons why people love to hear about the personal life of sportsperson and celebrities alike.

    My suggestion. Make it completely open or close it out completely. Don’t make it selective. In Nascar you can listen in for the entire race somebody’s radio if you want.

  4. Girts (@girts) said on 7th May 2013, 14:14

    I don’t get Button’s complaints. It’s like saying that pit stop blunders or driving mistakes shouldn’t be broadcast because spectators are meant to see only the bright side of the sport, some kind of utopia, and everything else is ‘supposed to be kept within the team(s)’.

    However, spectators shouldn’t get a false impression of what’s going on. Currently FOM choose to broadcast only selected messages and sometimes even only parts of them. That is why complete transparency is the right way to go.

  5. Chris (@tophercheese21) said on 7th May 2013, 15:18

    Have a cup of concrete and toughen up Jenson.

    • Max Jacobson (@vettel1) said on 7th May 2013, 16:15

      How good would it be if in response to this Perez came out with “if you no longer go for a gap that exist, you no longer a racing driver”? ;) Albeit that gap was filled with Button’s right rear tyre, but that’s just a technicality!

  6. Nick.UK (@) said on 7th May 2013, 15:22

    I watched a youtube video of an Aussie V8 race where the commentators could talk directly to a driver during the race (during a safety car period). Coupled with a cockpit camera it made for quite an immersive watch, it made the driver feel far more ‘human’ too. With F1 it’s so hard to see genuine characters among drivers. Largely we just see relatively non descript cars (they all look the same essentially after all).

  7. Todfod (@todfod) said on 7th May 2013, 15:39

    “The problem with the radio is that my message is not meant for the masses, it’s meant for the team,” explained the 2009 world champion, who said he did not intend his comments to be made public,”

    Well boo hoo Jenson.

    Guess its hard to put up that PR friendly and mr.nice guy routine forever… its equally difficult when your philosophy of never asking the team for favours goes out the window due to a radio message

  8. bull mello (@bullmello) said on 7th May 2013, 15:55

    The radio chatter is a good peek behind the curtain of the F1 magic and mystery. It could be unfair that only selected snippets are heard and no amount of post race explanation might defend the complete conversation. So, perhaps Keith is correct, more access is better to tell more of the story.

    The other thing that comes to mind is that many seem to forget that most of these radio transmissions take place at 200 plus kph inches away from potential disaster with mass quantities of adrenaline flowing. I wonder how civil each of us would be while racing in anger at speed whilst a supposed teammate appears to be trying to knock us into next week. This is not a defense of any particular driver, just realizing that they are not at a cozy tea party nonchalantly discussing the weather.

    As has been mentioned, the more radio that becomes public, the more likely the coded lingo between drivers and pit wall is to be. Guess that could just add to the allure as folks scurry about dissecting the next multi-21 phrases that parse out of radio F1.

    • the more likely the coded lingo between drivers and pit wall is to be

      Yep, and they are not forced to speak English either. I guess that wwould work well if drivers learn the team’s language:
      Ferrari and Toro Rosso: Italian
      Sauber: Swiss, German or French
      Force India (I know they speak English, but they could get some Indian too!)
      Red Bull (German probably… sorry Mark you won’t get a word)
      Just wondering…

      • Optimaximal (@optimaximal) said on 7th May 2013, 21:38

        Actually, I believe they are ‘asked’ to speak English, but its not enforced.

        Also, the Red Bull team is almost entirely British, apart from Vettel’s race engineer, who is French. They race under an Austrian license. The only German part of the team is Vettel. :)

  9. they should make the full live radio communications for every car available online – with suitable warnings about swearing, naturally.

    That would make F1 look like hockey, guys with helmets swearing at each other.
    Probaby that would be too much. You would see journalists taking radio scripts out of the context even more often than now.

  10. James (@jaymz) said on 7th May 2013, 17:13

    I don’t know why he cares about how he came off. Kimi loves a good rant and everyone still loves him.

  11. joac21 (@joac21) said on 7th May 2013, 17:24

    he repeated the same afterwards in the interviews and now he says he did not wanted everyone to listen to it! he is a crybaby end of story..

    agree about the radio should be available online.

  12. matt90 (@matt90) said on 7th May 2013, 17:30

    I think we hear enough radio in terms of quantity. However, there are occasions where the most interesting things don’t get broadcast.

  13. zero. (@zero) said on 7th May 2013, 19:05

    you know, i totally agree with this article’s suggestion. we need more access, not less. i’m for some more team radio access, and also the next wave of future: live onboard cams access during the races. F1’s site can sell subscription access to it, but Ecclestone’s in denial and living in the Stone Ages, so…

  14. troutcor said on 7th May 2013, 19:08

    Poor putt-putt Button.
    It is bad enough to be slower than Hamilton, but at least Hamilton is a world champion and recognized as one who possesses brilliant pure speed. But to be revealed as slower the Checo? And petulant to boot?
    I greatly respect Button’s track smarts. But because he is just plain slower than a multitude of other drivers, he needs to couple his smarts with good old-fashioned British class to remain a fan favorite. Hopefully he learns a lesson from his mistake here.

  15. Makana (@makana) said on 7th May 2013, 20:19

    Team Radio is always exciting to hear, it’s further insight into the race and of course they’re only meant for the team not TV companies, but this is not a private family conversation; it’s one aspect of the race that we used to see on boards before live radio. The only reason not to broadcast as much messages as possible during a race would be political correctness (cursing etc…), even though having the stripped down version would be Amazing :D
    Team Radio is a fantastic way to know more about the strategies, the racers, the tension while on track, and it does not really harm anyone; it’s added value to the broadcast and should be broader. At the end of the day Button dealt with the situation rather naively, he ruined his tires and held off his faster teammate in a fight for… eighth or ninth! “Come on Jenson, this is a bit silly”. So he messed up, he shouldn’t blame messages for misinterpreting what he meant. Any short message can be interpreted in many different ways, it’s up to us, the viewers, to see it for what it is and not more.

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