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On team radio messages in F1 TV coverage
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Posted By: James Allen  |  04 May 2013   |  5:45 pm GMT  |  188 comments

It has been interesting to note the comments from readers in response to Jenson Button’s point that the team radio extracts of conversations between drivers and teams can lead to a skewed view of what is really happening within a team.

Team radio in the live broadcast coverage has been around for a while, but its’s noticeable as a commentator how much more frequently it is employed this season.

And without it the drama of Button’s tussle with team mate Sergio Perez in Bahrain or the Red Bull driver’s clash in Malaysia would have been a lesser experience for the fans at home.

“The problem with the radio is that my message is not meant for the masses, it’s meant for the team,” said Button. “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.”

This is of course true, but it’s also the case that teams and drivers know anything they say can be broadcast and therefore they need to bear that in mind when speaking.

On the whole team radio has greatly enhanced the audience’s understanding of what’s going on during a race or qualifying session; it has brought the fans closer to the sport.

When I presented the ITV show Nigel Mansell’s IndyCar in 1994, it featured team radio from Mansell’s crew chief Jim McGee and it brought the action sequences to life. Radio also featured prominently in the BTCC highlights shows on BBC TV around that time and in coverage of races like Bathurst, where they even spoke to drivers during the race via a radio control camera in the cockpit. F1 was quite slow to the party, but is making up for it now.

F1 is some way from having the coverage interacting with drivers at the moment, but to eavesdrop on the conversations between pit wall and driver is an enriching experience.

The flip side, as Button says, is that it can present a slanted picture; at Renault in the mid 2000s Pat Symonds used to complain about the coverage given to team messages to Giancarlo Fisichella urging him to push harder, making it look bad for Fisi. Other drivers like Takuma Sato have been made to look hapless by messages which portray weakness.

But there is no doubt that F1 has evolved in the last few years to be more deliberately entertaining as a broadcast spectacle, with lots more team radio, DRS wings to aid overtaking and Pirelli short-life tyres to mix things up. Whereas in the 2000s F1 was like a 1-0 football match, now it’s like an NBA basketball game which ends 94-92. There is so much going on.

Reading through thousands of comments from readers on this site, many find it offensive and long for the simple purity of a pole sitter in the best car driving away for a lights to flag victory with perhaps one pit stop along the way. But is that the right product for F1 at the moment, especially with the trend moving more to the NBA model? Even that most conservative of sports, cricket, has introduced a 20 over slugfest, called 20-20, which is proving popular with younger audiences.

F1, led by its broadcasters and commercial rights holders and supported by the teams, has taken the decision to “sex it up” and that is what we have now.

As long time JA on F1 reader Aura F1 commented on the original Button post, “I enjoy hearing the radio messages but just like a drama director, the feed is carefully chosen to build tension and taken out of context so as to build a ‘narrative’ for the fans. If it was just open on a full feed and everyone could tune in to any messages at all it would be sport – but when we get selected voices and selected parts of those voices – lets call it what it is – a dramatic tool.” And this is a spot on observation.

The proof of the efficacy of this strategy will come in the TV ratings; viewers will either be attracted or turned off by NBA-F1.

F1 has a very large and mature fan base, with around 60 million people globally, on average, watching a live Grand Prix and over four times that number watching at least some coverage of a race, whether live or highlights (known as the “all broadcast” audience). This latter figure is up on previous years, whereas the live audience is falling, partly due to the Pay TV deals in Italy, UK and France.

But team radio is at the heart of the modern F1, whether the drivers like it or not.

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1

We are never going to listen to a full conversation on Radio Messages, so we are always going to be a little uncertain of what Situations are Playing out, or what the context of them are, but I find it an interesting insight, and the Teams will ultimately find a way round if they need to.

And they do add Drama, who would remember Germany 2010 if not for, ‘Fernando is Faster than you’!

I must admit, I turned off F1 from the Late 90s as it just got a little Dull. Lights to Flag Victories may have been Pure, but they were also Boring. Modern F1 has made me sit up again, and start Watching, DRS, KERS, Pirelli, have all made the Sport more Entertaining, but ultimately the Best Car and Drivers still win and Qualifying still has a relevance.

There is a part of me that feels it not as Pure as Used to be, but then Water is dull until you add something to it.

2
Danny Almonte

Button seems to be the only driver ever to complain about team radio. It concerned him so much that he hijacked an interview to put his spin on things. He should be focused on improving his driving. He was so desperate to keep a much faster Perez behind him that he ruined his own race.

3

Even that most conservative of sports, cricket, has introduced a 20 over slugfest, called 20-20, which is proving popular with younger audiences.

Should that be slogfest?

4

I’d love for re-fuelling to return. It adds something to qualifying, it adds something to the race and it adds something to the period between qualifying and the race (I could never wait for the car weights to be revealed a few hours after quail).

All of this added a completely different aspect to the race weekend. DRS and KERS are fine, but it’s also so predictable. Re-fuelling allows for so much more variety in strategy. Think of Mercedes, for example… no longer would they necessarily be screwed by having a car that chews up its tyres. Instead, they’d be able to play to their strengths.

What’s more, the cost argue barely stacks up these days. What price shipping and installing the fuel rigs everywhere compared to huge shifts in regs and the yearly loophole in the rules that everybody is then forced to chuck buckets of cash at to stay competitive?

This might well be a pipe dream, but James, can you tell me if it’s every mentioned when changes to rules and regulations are discussed?

5

The situation with Button is interesting. He comes across as very likeable, but, at the same time, it’s difficult to not come to the conclusion that he uses his status as BBC and Brundle’s golden boy to put forward his own agenda. In this case, it comes across as a little rich that he all of a sudden has a problem with the way team radio transmissions are aired. It hasn’t suddenly changed, has it?

That being said, there is something that is not quite right about the way the FOM or FIA (whoever it is that’s responsible for the media feed). I recall in 2011, the f1.com website featured a highlight video of the Turkey GP that really focused on the team radio (Hamilton talking to race engineer about whether Button would try to overtake him… all of this post the Vettel-Webber smash). It was the first time I saw them go to the effort of showing the team radio on screen in subtitle form. And yet, they didn’t do that when similar events have taken place (for example, there is nothing like that on the Malaysia race edit this year). Who decides? and what is the agenda?

James, I’m interested in the NBA analogy. Seems a strange one. I’d be interested to know more about your thinking behind this as I personally would never think of this…. aside from the fact that you could argue that what happens in the first half or, indeed the regular season, now counts for about as much as qualifying does, i.e. not as much as you might think.

6

In football you get a few goals maximum in a typical game

In NBA, there’s a basket scored every few seconds.

F1 in Bahrain made your head hurt there was so much going on all the time. That’s the analogy

7

Great article James!

The main purpose of Formula 1 may be to entertain the fans but a balance must be found. Everyone loves an eventful race but over-effective DRS zones and radio messages taken out of context make the Championship seem artificial. Viewers want to be entertained, however they still want to feel like they’re watching a sport, not a show.

8

F1 is neither exciting or authentic… it’s just a bit of time wasting now… there was a time, when mechanical grip and aero were in balance… that was truly exciting… slip-streaming and dare-devil driving had me on the edge of my seat.

Now, with sexy F1, I hardly care at all what is happening… there are just a minute set of interesting points. Will Hamilton have an impact at Mercedes etc.

The actual racing, where the real buzz used to be is dead and buried.

Blue flag overtaking (DRS) and anti-racing rules are dull beyond belief.

9
colin grayson

it seems to me that the fans who contribute to these blogs basically divide into two mindsets

the ..I want to see balls out racing , that’s why I watch , thrills and spills

and ….I want to follow the development in the technology , watch the strategy play out , and assess what is down to the driver and what is down to the equipment …who’s making the best of what he has

I suspect , no more than that ,that this is to an extent age related…no prizes for guessing which is which ; being firmly in the latter group [ not surprising in view of my age ] I think it is because F1 was ever thus , getting the car to the finish was a major part of a drivers skill [ hence ..to finish first , first you have to finish ]; younger fans were not about in that era so it wouldn’t impinge itself on their conciousness

so It won’t surprise anyone that I largely agree with james’s lengthy post , I don’t agree with his like of refuelling [ it seems to me that tyres that require 2/3 stops do the job better , safer and are a race within a race ], and am anti DRS because I feel that with kers and the tyres which are demanded too many changes have been made at the same time , and unnecessarily

I also feel that tracks have become too biased towards keeping cars in the race , drivers now try manoeuvres that would have got them killed in the past ; now then can just carry on , when getting stuck in a gravel trap and facing the ire of the team would be a more suitable result imho

I know F1 is no longer a sport per se , like many sports it has become a business ; but like any good sport there has to be an element of luck and , business or not , F1 still needs that

10

A lot of these posts miss the wider point. Like it or not, the “pinnacle of motorsport” is going where the money is and increasing the entertainment value and deceasing the impact of technological superiority so as to appeal more to the casual fans than the hard core.

11

i have just watched the race edits on the official f1 site and cannot believe vettel was allowed to get away with smashing into rosberg at the apex of a corner.

mercedes and roberg need to be firmer with race control and get them to remove such levels of disrespectful driving from f1. it looks terrible, worse than bullying.

12

Nothing can beat this on team radio.

Remember the Montoya on Raikkonen rant.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MLuaWsSNgYk

Team radio is so important to add spice to F1. I can’t imagine not having any.

13

In Australia we are currently lucky enough to have live free to air coverage of the GP’s, the early part of the season is fantastic the first 5 or so then everything gets later and later for us. The timing app is quite expensive at around $30au for the season but you can get all of the live timing on your PC for free from the official F1 site running on a JAVA program and it is just as good as the app.

As for team radio being played during the coverage it really should be used in proper context to give a real idea of the various situations during a GP.

14

I would not call it lucky. Hopefully I only had to endure one such lucky race last season. Due to I was moving and internet connection was not up yet.

If live streams were to disappear and FOM did not provide similar service, I would not be following F1. I watched every race for the past two years and nearly all free practice sessions.

But this time F1 is of such magnitude that everything should be on-line, global and on demand. I want to re-watch/listen my favourite moments at any time with out have to go to youtube in hope that someone actually captured the moment, only for FOM to delete that video later on. It’s pathetic, who ever is responsible for current model is a incompetent.

15
Carlos Marques

The only thing that annoys me is the time delay. You hear the revs in the background and then you look at the picture and the guy is taking a slow corner- 3 laps after the radio message was broadcast.

Also, it’s hard to understand most of the messages. If they’re going to time delay, at least put some subtitles (in English) on the screen alongside the fuzzy “radio trans mission” icon.

And for real fans, I say create an app that broadcasts radio transmissions for a particular team and/or driver in real-time, with no filtering.

16

All that will happen now is that drivers will be very circumspect about what they say on the radio. Some might even use it for their own ends. So, the ‘surprise’ part of JB/SP broadcast will be absent.

17

Regarding the ability in some categories for the commentators to actually talk to the drivers in car, I’d rather that was kept out of F1. Last year in V8SCs Mark Winterbottom’s quali lap at I think the Gold Coast was ruined because for whatever reason there was a fault and he was hearing them talking all through the lap. Quite distracting. And as we’ve seen lately (DRS, in car flag system, etc.), F1 isn’t exactly fault-proof.

They don’t talk to them anymore mid-race or anything, just on the cool down after a shoot-out lap or after finishing the race. And even then, there isn’t really much to be gained from it. “Yeah, it was a tough race,” or “Yeah, it felt like a pretty good lap, we’ll just have to wait and see.” Nothing really that can’t wait ’til the driver is out of the car and accessible to the media.

Now that I think about it, I’m not sure they even do it in V8SCs anymore. I don’t recall hearing anything yet this year. Maybe they canned it to be safe after that problem last year.

18
Tornillo Amarillo

Manipulation, well the cameras cannot get it all all the time, so the same happens with the radio messages, they can broadcast some only.

So I think the radio is great even if drivers can intend manipulate the Stewards complaining against other drivers, which is boring for the fans.

And in this boring Pirellis era, the radio messages bring a lot of entertaining and sometimes a good reason for not to turn the TV off.

Think about Kimi saying “I know what I’m doing” or Jenson asking something like “should I fight?”

Certainly, some drivers who lack SPEED could do more use of the radio in a political way in order to gain something off track.

19

I think we need to strike a balance between what is to be aired and what is not for confidentiality sake.

Yes, Button is right to an extent that it does sometime tarnish a driver’s or a team’s image and this is counterproductive when it happens especially when Formula one is in the business of building and displaying brands for others (its sponsors). Now, when Ferrari’s instructions about Feranando being faster is aired and when Vettel disobeys ‘multi-21’ and Button’s constant whining and complaining over team radios puts brands which are associated with them in a bad light and this is rather unfair to the sponsors who pay millions for elevating their brands through the formula one medium.

But on the other hand when Kimi behaves like a rockstar and blatantly asks the team to leave him alone, results in instant brand elevation to all those that are associated with the team.

So, I feel that to balance this out, each team be provided a specific confidential information transmission window and during which all radio communications of that team must be blacked out from the public and all media.

20

I can understand how a few words on team radio can be skewed the wrong way. But certainly Jensons words were very authentic because they are almost exactly the same words he used in Canada 2011 with a few extra added to Sergio this year. I said before rightly of wrongly if you were in his position and a team mate ran into you- I think you would be saying a hell of a lot worse. In that regard I don’t believe there is anything to misconstrue. It’s the fact that Jenson is reacting the way he is that is uncovering his persona as a whinger and a political player in the team.

As far as team radio goes, to me it adds very little to the racing experience and actually just a distraction to the coverage . Especially given that most of what is said is masked or hidden in code and as we know these snippets like any other can be taken out of context like any other incident.

Sure it adds a little drama to the show for those fans that don’t understand the sport and the incredible risks these drivers take.But so long as it doesn’t turn into soap opera it’s ok in drawing new fans in. The next step would be to slowly educate the new fans. Like a Pre race show instructing people in the finer details of F1- I think this would enhance the viewing if people really understand the technical and background aspects of the sport.

21

Out of interest, how many people are listening to the radio feeds to produce the edit that we hear?

Would love to know how many people are involved in the TV coverage generally, it must be a very large team of people and equipment being sent around the world?

22

“But team radio is at the heart of the modern F1, whether the drivers like it or not.”

Very well said.

23

Without the team radio feed, we as F1 fans would have lived a life without the gem of a phrase that is;

LEAVE ME ALONE, I KNOW WHAT I’M DOING!!!!

Nuff said.

24

hahaha..100% agree.

best ever radio feed ever..

“Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes..I am doing all the tyres, you dont have to remind every second”

25
Adrian Newey Jnr

I was just about to post this and then someone beat me to it.

James – you rightly point out that some drivers are typecast based on “hurry up” style messages from the engineers. However, they are generally underperforming relative to their teammates, so are already under pressure. Broadcasting this message doesn’t change that.

However, on the other side, you have drivers like Kimi who’s comment “leave me alone..” has brought him new fans based on his persona coming out. So in my opinion, it can work just for a driver as against him.

The fans want to get an insight into the drivers as opposed to the torrent of carefully managed corporate spin. Just look at what has happened to Vettel’s image recently. His carefully crafted image built up over the past decade has been unravelled by a few seconds of audio.

26

F1 is not special. Any public figure needs to realize that soundbites snippets rule the day. To act as if this is some kind of “affront” to reality is simply politics in and of itself. Case in point: the 24 hour news cycle, political quotes, 140 character limit on twitter, post game(race) interview quotes, “post race articles” that appear before the cars have reached parc ferme. You never hear these complaints from drivers, much less ANY public figure when the soundbite chosen suits their purpose or shows them favorably. Man up JB and get the sand out of your vag.

27

For some reason I always end up posting a huge post somewhere on the net on a Sunday. Sorry James, it looks like you are getting today’s!!!

TL;DR DRS is evil, anticipation is king, and I want football.

The NBA style is essentially down to the DRS. And that to my mind is making F1 more spectacular, but much less exciting. One of the McLaren big wigs said it best then he point out that edge of the seat excitement comes from the *anticipation* of an over take, and not the over take itself. DRS destroys that.

DRS makes an over take almost certain. We see a driver catch another driver, and far too often he just cruises up, hits the button and passes, the driver in front helpless and stranded. Pre-DRS the catching driver would have to work his way round, after several attempts. Whatever. Point being, its was not a certainty, where as now it almost is. Where is the excitement there? There is literally no battle.

Yeah, I know F1 had over taking problems in the past, but I’m not sure they were real. I may well be factually wrong, but it seems now that there is more normal overtaking than there was in the worst years of F1. What that suggests is that DRS is not necessary, and that possibly drivers just feared or avoided over taking in the past. DRS overtakes seem to have given them the confidence to try more overtaking in general. Which suggests to me that there could have been more over taking in the past but drivers didn’t want to, or wrongly believed they couldn’t.

If over taking must be aided, I really wish F1 had gone for the Indycar style 20 per race use any time model. That way the drivers could use it to overtake or defend, but also have to manage where and when to use it. It would always be even.

Also, looking at your two analogies, football and NBA, consider how the crowds react. Fans at a football match are constantly excited and willing their players on. It hardly lets up while they think the might be a goal. With NBA, there is almost no point watching the first 3 quarters. The are not exciting. Both teams just alternately score, usually remaining close to each other. You can mentally switch off, wander off for a soda, cam back, check the score, then settle in for the last bit of the game where it gets exciting. What is the point of that? If F1 gets any more contrived, it will be the same situation as NBA.

Well, I want football.

Lastly, just watched the MotoGP and some of the BTCC coverage. Both more exciting, and I don’t really know what I’m watching like I do with F1. Anticipation, all about the anticipation. And when the move happens, it is deep, skilled and exciting.

28

There are some radio messages, which are enjoyable. For instance, Alonso’s talks in Italian, it reminds that there are more nations in the game. Raikkonen’s honest, straightforward replies are also pleasing (thinking of Abu Dhabi 2012).

But I don’t think making radio messages public would help the audience to understand F1. These days it is all about engineering and money, but they never discuss these vital things over the radio. Educating takes years, obviously.

So mostly we hear standardized “fantastic job, thanks guys, box box box” kind of stuff. There is nothing to do with such talks, silence or engine sound would be better.

29

For so long F1 has been more like dull 0-0 and a 1-0 was a good race. We are still far nearer a 3-2 than NAB scores

30

NAB is a Bank and your right it’s more about money from TV ratings than anything else 🙂 ( know you meant NBA scores)

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