F1’s intended clampdown on performance communications between teams and drivers has been dubbed ‘Radio Ga-Ga’ up and down the bemused paddock.
After the teams protested the speed and extremity with which Bernie Ecclestone and the governing FIA wielded the radio axe, it was agreed on the eve of practice in Singapore that messages related to car performance would now be allowed.
“Formula one’s curious reputation for disposing of something simple and replacing it with something far more complex is in robust health,” said Paul Weaver, correspondent for the Guardian newspaper.
It means that while radio calls about the performance of the car will still be allowed, messages about driver performance must no longer be uttered over the radio.
“This could be the most confusing radio story since Guglielmo Marconi bewildered everyone by banging on about electromagnetic radiation and wireless telegraphy more than a century ago,” Weaver added.
Earlier, when all performance-related messages were going to be banned, Mercedes’ title-warring drivers Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton welcomed the news.
But with the watered-down ban in effect on Friday, they just sounded confused.
When Hamilton asked for an update about his rivals’ pace, his race engineer replied: “We’ll just continue with our programme and discuss this when we get back in the garage.”
Rosberg also didn’t know what could be discussed remotely, asking over the radio: “Are you allowed to tell me my teammate’s laptime?”
While the answer might have been unclear to some, retired F1 veteran David Coulthard called the entire ‘Radio Ga-Ga’ affair “largely pointless”.
The FIA’s Charlie Whiting addressed the media in Singapore and explained that while coded messages are strictly forbidden, messages of encouragement to drivers – for example Hamilton’s now famous ‘Hammer time’ – are still acceptable.
Coulthard told the Telegraph: “The teams will manage to communicate messages to the drivers one way or another.”
And even championship leader Rosberg admitted to Kolner Express newspaper: “Of course the teams will try to send the drivers hidden messages.”
The driver steward at Suzuka next time out will be Coulthard’s contemporary Mika Salo, and he said the ‘Radio Ga-Ga’ affair of the last few days has been “really weird”.
“I think there should either be a complete ban, or no ban at all.
“The teams will just come up with codes and a number of other things that will now have to be looked at by the stewards,” he told the Finnish broadcaster MTV3.
“In my opinion it’s a strange rule because it’s so difficult to police. We’ll see what kind of mess I’m dealing with at the next race,” Salo smiled.
Coulthard added: “It’s a bit of red-herring and has just created a grey area. It seems to be all about perception rather than anything else.”
Indeed, the ban has arguably been introduced to counter the perception that academic boffins and engineers are driving this year’s complex cars rather than the ‘heroes’ themselves.
But Pat Symonds, Williams’ technical boss who has worked with the likes of F1 legend Ayrton Senna, thinks the public should have been properly engaged.
“Unfortunately formula one doesn’t ask the public what it does enjoy and that’s a great shame,” he is quoted by the Telegraph.
Symonds was among those who successfully argued to the FIA that not allowing the teams to instruct the drivers how to manage this year’s complex hybrid cars was a major safety and cost issue.
“It’s a half-way house,” he said of the eventual compromise. “I think it’s pragmatic. Whether it’s sensible or not I think is open to debate.” (GMM)