The art of the Team Radio:
2014 may well be the season of Team Radio. That's if the Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona was anything to go by.
The accepted wisdom of F1 is that a car that is quick in Barcelona - which has a good mixture of high-speed and low-speed corners - should be good almost everywhere. Races at Circuit de Catalunya (or, if you want, Circuit de Barcelona, Catalunya) point the way for the season to come.
Last weekend we saw that the Mercedes have their own championship to run and finished very close together. We also saw that Red Bull are easily the No.2 team and finished third and fourth despite starting third and fifteenth. Behind them the Ferraris finished together. The Force Indias finished together and the McLarens finished together.
So it looks like we're in for a season of two-by-twos, where in many races the cars are going to be stratified by performance and where the intra team-mate battle is key. In these situations, knowing exactly what your team-mate is doing to wrench greater speed out of the car is very important.
What was manifestly obvious in Spain is the amount of talk that goes on on Mercedes team radio. In the past Lewis Hamilton has asked his unswervable engineer Pete Bonington to stop giving him information. (Remember: "Don't talk to me man!") In this new era of intense Rosberg rivalry, Lewis wanted to know everything; how he could improve, which corners he was slower on, how he could stop his front left graining. And when Bonnington left him alone to get through the backmarkers, Lewis wanted to know where he'd been. Rosberg too was being given a constant stream of information on his defecits to Hamilton and where he could make up time.
It seems a far remove from the driving of Jim Clark or Ayrton Senna, men who drove intuitively and had to work out how to go faster themselves. If a driver is getting constant coaching from the team, along with a vast selection of buttons to press, it begins to undermine their status. Are you only as quick as your last bit of radio advice and which combination of buttons the engineers think will work best?
When cars from the same team are split up in the race order, comparisons are harder. But when they are running nose to tail, it's easy for teams to tell the drivers incremental improvements that will help them close up, or maybe pull slightly away. So if we get more races like Barcelona, the advice (and for some teams it may be selective advice) that drivers are given is going to have a big bearing on track battles.
Would Ayrton approve of the constant coaching when he himself was a master of driving fast through a combination of experience and feel? And would he have appreciated his data being analysed and supplied back to his team-mate in the form of practical driving advice. You'd think not.
Team radio and 'driver chess' is one of the fascinating aspects of 2014 and it's made easier by not having howling V8s revving at 18,000 rpm to contend with. Expect to see a whole lot more through the rest of the season.
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