Radio Ga Ga

"Ooooh, he spat a stone in my face!"

Jonathan Noble talks a lot of sense in Autosport today on the ongoing issue of team radio.

He says “Part of the reason current stars do not have the mythical standing that Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart and Ayrton Senna had in their heyday can be explained by the way modern society has changed. Social media and the 24-hour internet news culture means anything and everything they do is reported to the nth degree.

The amazing battle between Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso (at Silverstone) should have been celebrated as one of the most epic duels of recent years….Instead, their fight drew a reaction not for being sensational but because of the radio complaints from both men. The moans … showed us all that is wrong in a sport increasingly dictated by ever-tighter regulations.”

After the battle was finished, both protagonists expressed regret at what had gone on. The whinging was, they claimed, a result of overly prescriptive rules as well as an element of one-upmanship. “I’ll see your gripe and raise you two whines” kind of thing.

The real-time nature of today’s F1 coverage makes the modern sport difficult to reconcile with the arena of the famous battles of old.

It comes down to that allure thing, doesn’t it?

I have no doubt at all that when Nigel Mansell was shadowing him wheel-to-wheel down the straight in Cataluyna in 1991, the green lining wouldn’t have been the only colourful thing in Ayrton Senna’s crash helmet. In fact, we know he was miffed because of the interview he gave after the race, in which he huffed “I don’t know why Mansell is doing what he is doing.”

But because any Brummie grumbling or Brazilian berating that might have been going on was not broadcast live, that particular battle retains its nostalgic sheen.

Think also about Rene Arnoux and Gilles Villeneuve at Dijon in 1979. Noble’s article made the point that not only did the lack of radios in those days spare the viewing public from dummy-spitting soundbites, the drivers weren’t coached through each corner by staff HQ on the pitwall.

You only need to listen to the messages the engineers deliver to their drivers seconds after they’ve crossed the line to take victory these days: “Great job, mate…fantastic…now, pick up rubber, keep an eye on your fuel, adjust your mixture, change your brake bias, fiddle with your differential and don’t wink at the girls on the way up to the podium” to be reminded that F1 folk are a rather uptight lot. The fact that most of the engineers sound like accountants doesn’t help matters either. We need more Rob Smedleys, delivering off-the cuff quips in an excited Northern accent, and less of the clipped tones of the Phil Prews (Sorry Phil).

A thought about Sebastian Vettel…

A lot has been made of Seb Vet’s latest soporific win at Monza, where things are supposed to be interesting, and of the booing he endured on the podium.

He says he doesn’t mind it, and perhaps he doesn’t. But he’s only human after all – if that was me in receipt of the catcalling I’d be leaving a trail of snot and tears on the shoulder of the man who finished second.


The thing that is most infuriating about Vettel is that he doesn’t really seem to do anything wrong. I am not fan of his, but when the worst thing he has done is disobey team orders as he did in Malaysia…put it this way, he didn’t exactly emulate a couple of other of his world champion predecessors and use his car as a carbon-fibre dodgem, did he? He drove faster than Webber and overtook him cleanly round the outside of a corner. And if he was using an unfair engine-power advantage, then why didn’t Mark crank up his juice as well? That is the thing that makes it most grating – Vettel doesn’t even give his critics something really meaty to get their teeth into.

Vettel seems to be a guy who likes stamping his name in the history books, but someone needs to tell him that winning championship after championship doesn’t really do that. Instead, it makes people dislike you even more, if anything. The likes of Stirling Moss, Ronnie Peterson and Gilles Villeneuve didn’t need any world titles to ensure they will never be forgotten, and Felipe Massa evoked some lip-wobblingly genuine sentiments from the media and the other drivers this week when he announced he was being given the elbow by the Scuderia. The way he comported himself in Brazil in 2008 is something that is rare from an F1 driver these days.

As any regular readers will know, I was no Michael Schumacher fan. But the one thing he did that showed him to have some nadgers was when he left Benetton for Ferrari, and although he did eventually win so many titles in a row that Ferrari had copyright on the number ‘1,’ it was entertaining to watch him try and get there for all those years first.
Where would Vettel go? Well, if he followed the Schumacher mould, he would head to a once-great team and try and drag it up by its bootlaces, to prove that he is a great driver rather than the better of the two incumbents in the best car. Where would I advise him to go? Why, to Williams of course. As of next year they will have Mercedes engines, which would give their marketers something to write about. It would be in some way reminiscent of Damon Hill’s year in the unwieldy Arrows-Yamaha in 1997.

Sure, he might end up only having five titles instead of nineteen. But so what? I for one would love to see it happen. Otherwise I fear F1 will disappear up its own posterior again for a few years.

In other news, I’m off to see Rush at the weekend, so will report back when I’ve digested that. If it’s anywhere near as good as the band that shares its name then we’re in business…..

These arguments are getting tyring…..

No matter what, a change in F1 or indeed in any sport will always evoke a negative reaction even if it is made for overwhelmingly positive reasons. If you appease some people, you aggrieve others.

The ‘F1 is a farce’ cries rumble on – with many saying they want a return to the pre-artifice days of the sport. Really?

Using DRS and Pirelli tyres, we get the overtaking and variation in winners that everyone wanted in the years of Schumacher dominance and which we got in the golden seasons like 1974 and 1983. Overtaking is done on the track and not in the pitlane. Cars pass each other.

‘But it’s artificial, it’s not real racing.’

Okay right, guys, let’s look at the alternatives:

If we revert to rock-hard tyres, do away with DRS and KERS – we’ll have ‘pure’ F1 back.

But it’ll be as boring as hell, as Paul Hembery says. One team will still be perfectly capable of exploiting the rules better than any other and creaming the field. We had rules free of trick rear wings and push to pass buttons in 1988, 1992, 1993, 1998, 2002 and 2004, to name a few, and that didn’t stop the best car being a speck on the horizon by lap 2 – there were so many processional Grands Prix you’d think the Grenadier Guards had organised them.

Okay, what can be done beyond that? 

‘Let’s have simpler aero. Give designers a box of defined dimensions and let them design a car within that box’ say the purists – well we had something similar to that in a season like 1976, when cars as diverse as the Tyrrell P34 and the Ferrari 312T2 raced against each other. Sure, they looked great, and they sure were memorable too. They’re the kind of cars that schoolboys would sketch in their jotters.  But was the racing any closer? Ferrari won five of the first six races and it was only Lauda’s accident in Germany that stopped his gallop to the title. Then look at what happened in 1978 when Colin Chapman came up with the Lotus 79 – it annihilated everything else.  

Okay –what else?

 ‘Let’s bring variation in engines back – V12s versus V8s and V10s’

Who is going to pay for that in these buttock-clenching times? And do you think having massive disparity in engines will make the racing closer?

I am sorry to say that, at this level and with these budgets, the teams will always push every single tiny advantage they can. The engineers are infinitely cleverer than the rulemakers. One or two teams will always find a way to eke out an advantage.

If you want close racing between identical chassis, there are loads of series that will satisfy your craving – Indycar, the Porsche Supercup, Caterham Sevens at Thruxton.

F1 is no longer what it was – and if you don’t like it (and we all have our own thoughts on its current state) then that’s fine. But we can’t expect it to revert back to the way it was just for us.

We all seem to forget what Formula 1 is – the gripers derisively snort ”Well, I suppose the tyres spice up Bernie’s ‘show’.”

Well of course F1 is a show! It is primarily a multi-million dollar, global television spectacle that also happens to be a sport. It is primarily entertainment – that’s why it is able to siphon the money from manufacturers and famous brands because it gives them a world stage with millions of spectators.  If it’s dull then there will be nobody to pay for it. Sorry guys – that’s the way it works. It was changed because we all asked for it.

It seems the loudest voices are those of the purists – they don’t like what they’ve got at the minute (based on one single Grand Prix, I might add) so they start to look at what they had before and convince themselves they want it back. Even it was no better or even worse. There even seems to be clamouring for refuelling to come back – the refuelling that was decried because it negated the point of qualifying and artificially created position changes by forcing teams to adopt diverse and confusing fuel strategies? Not to mention being dangerous and often skewing results because the equipment was so prone to breakages!

F1 fans at the minute sound like my baby sister when she used to get scolded for misbehaviour by my dad and would say ‘I want my mummy.’ Then, when my mum would also scold her, she would say ‘I want my daddy.’

They don’t know what they want.

Classic Rev

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