Button’s complaint shows we need more team radio

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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. bpacman (@bpacman) said on 7th May 2013, 21:57

    I can’t support this article enough. One of the great things about watching sport is witnessing the human drama and emotions of the contest. Due to the nature of F1, it’s obviously more difficult to convey this to the viewer but anything that helps on this front has to be encouraged.

  2. Mike Dee (@mike-dee) said on 7th May 2013, 22:13

    I’d love to have all team radio available; ideally live. About the swearing, who gives a ****? ;)

  3. beneboy (@beneboy) said on 8th May 2013, 0:50

    Football tried using microphones on the ref with the intention of broadcasting the audio to the public many years ago and it was dropped very quickly as the trial revealed that there would be very little material suitable for broadcast.
    In most professional leagues in Europe the ref’s do have communication systems so they can contact their assistants but they don’t even record them, never mind broadcast them. Some say they should be recorded and broadcast, this is a good article about that http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/20154047

    I’m certainly in favour of more team radio being broadcast in F1, even if it’s just so we can have a few cheap laughs at incidents such as the the recent Button “Calm him down” comments.

  4. Nickpkr21 said on 8th May 2013, 22:06

    Well expect something like this now thru the radio,
    “This is vodafone mercedes maclaren pit board doing a vodafone phone in to vodafone mercedes maclaren driver do you copy ?
    This is vodafone mercedes maclaren driver J. button I copy thi vodaphone in loud an clear, need to inform you vodafone mercedes maclaren driver Perez is been a fearless vodafone mercedes maclaren racer.
    vodafone mercedes maclaren driver button we copy, but vodafone mercedes maclaren driver Perez never vodaphones in not even to complain !”
    Hope is kept real the driver radio

  5. DaveW (@dmw) said on 8th May 2013, 22:16

    Why not let the drivers talk to their teammates directly and broadcast that? I believe NASCAR used to have this but stopped it. But that’s because they were concerned about conspiracies in restraint of competition. But team orders are OK in F1.

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