Radio interference

29th September 2014

I’m a bit late with my latest article, but I’ve been running around a fair bit – well, until recently that is. I drove out to the lush deep green of the Belgian Grand Prix, then gave a speech in the bright yellow of Dubai and following that I dropped into a sea of red, canvassing the Italian Grand Prix.

Forty-eight hours on, my eldest daughter Poppy, who is an artist, held her first major London exhibition – Damon Hill and Mark Blundell, among other friends, came along to support her – and I topped the evening off by cleverly breaking my right ankle in three places. A few days and two pints of morphine later, l had the operation and flew out to the floodlit excitement of Singapore. Then, via crutch power I hobbled over to the F1 paddock where, as you know, the subject of radio communication was firmly on the agenda. It’s been the focus of some debate.

Personally I believe there’s been far too much advice, instruction and even emotional support pelting over the airwaves from teams to their drivers. At times it’s been sliding toward a 200mph version of the Samaritans. Sure, it’s a balancing act – a large element of Grand Prix is teamwork and some communication is critical – but public interest is mostly in our race drivers and we want to feel they’re rough, tough boys who aren’t having their strings pulled or in need of a cuddle every lap.

There have been so many commands as to which coloured button, rotary switch, dial or lever on that roundish thing previously known as a steering wheel the drivers should push, pull, twiddle, or – in Rosberg’s case in Singapore – head-butt, to change a variety of car settings. ‘H5’, ‘J2’, E7’… I’m just waiting for someone to radio ‘You sank my battleship’. From track to wheel, wheel to track, the boys have been looking up and down more than a seal in culling season.

However, it’s all the coaching messages that really irritate me – stuff like ‘your team-mate has 1kg more brake pressure entering turn two and has gained seven nanoseconds’. Then, on top of that, bizarre driver feel-good messages have started appearing: ‘Sunshine, you’re driving brilliantly. Keep pushing. You’re so talented. We all love you. Not only are you stunningly fast, but in a certain light you’re better looking than William Shatner – you know, when he played James Kirk in the original Star Trek.’

Yes, I’ve always hated radio calls which tell a driver how to drive, especially if it’s conveying his team-mate’s data to do just that. It’s the individual’s job to work it all out, to use his judgement and determination and to show everyone how adaptable he is to changing circumstance or situations. That gives us the talent gap – it shows us who’s naturally better. We don’t want driving by numbers. The star is in the car.

Remember how we all loved it in 2012 when Kimi rebelled in Abu Dhabi? Normally he doesn’t say too much – this is a guy who’d make a Trappist monk look chatty. But his brilliantly clipped “Leave me alone, I know what I’m doing” message to Lotus was embraced by race fans worldwide and exposed a common backlash attitude against authority. It was unintentionally funny and delivered at the right time and place. However, note to all EasyJet captains: don’t try the same line with French air traffic control.

KR was really on a roll and when later told to keep working the tyres his response was again classic: “Yes, yes, yes, I'm doing that all the time. You don't have to remind me every 10 seconds!”

Interestingly, he went on to win! He’s certainly a character; I was talking to him recently and said “Kimi, Kimi… you don’t hear that name every day of the week do you?” He said “I do.”

So, back to the recent news and the FIA has decided to ban an awful lot of the aforementioned radio communication from pit to driver. It is another ingredient within the overall impetus of returning F1’s image from being too corporate to a more spontaneous, unpredictable and edgy battle, to let us believe our drivers are racing drivers rather than a monitored and demand-activated piece of software. It’s something we want as viewers and, to their credit, I’m pretty sure most of the drivers also want it. Nice move Charlie, and I believe Bernie should take credit here too.

Singapore seemed to have a slightly relaxed introduction to the adoption of the new regulations. There may be a few tweaks to be worked out with the teams, but the ball is rolling and it’s rolling in the right direction for extended implementation in 2015.

Whatever those tweaks are, though, Charlie Whiting is insisting code words and coded communications will not be allowed. No code words! Are you listening teams? They’re on to you! They’re listening! So are the other outfits!

McLaren, if you try an innocent mid-race chat with ‘Hey Jenson, hope the race is going well, we were just telling stories about that blue cat you had, I think his name was engine cut, who must be two years old now,’ then it won’t take Carl Sagan to decipher it.

However, for entertainment alone I’m hoping teams do actually attempt this. It’ll be hilarious, and guys, this is where I believe I can help. I come from the East End of London. I am a Cockney. Apart from having a reputation for criminal tendencies, we’re famed for our own code – Cockney Rhyming Slang. So sign me up for an F1 return and I’ll give you gems such as ‘giving it large’ (state of charge), ‘Elvis quiff’ (diff) and ‘knife and fork’ (torque).

It makes perfect sense; we’re on to a Catholic sinner here. Cor blimey guv‘nor... a bit of round the houses and before you know it the ‘ol Paris foray (FIA) won’t take a butcher’s hook or even ‘ave a Scooby Doo as to how your Lady Godiva and our hi-tech jam jar won the 2015 vicar’s frown.

One thing about code, though, everyone within the team has to remember it! ‘Broadsword calling Danny Boy. Broadsword calling Danny Boy. Are you reading me? Over. Repeat: Broadsword calling Danny Boy, come in over. Oi, Lewis! Answer please! For the last time mate, we’re ‘Broadsword’ and you’re ‘Danny Boy’!’

‘Communication to Broadsword. This ain’t Danny Boy. It’s Alive and Biting from the Paris foray and I think we might need a little top hat! Over and out.’

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