F1 drivers don’t want their radio being broadcast? That’s exactly why it should be

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Tempers ran high on Formula 1 drivers’ radios during the Portuguese Grand Prix weekend.

After colliding with Lance Stroll during practice, Max Verstappen launched into a tirade which contained more than just the usual effing-and-blinding, to the extent that the Mongolian government is pressing Red Bull for a public apology over Verstappen’s “racist and derogatory language”.

Verstappen wasn’t the only driver to mouth off about Stroll’s driving – Lando Norris did so as well that weekend and subsequently apologised – but the Red Bull driver clearly went much further with his comments than other drivers have.

Nonetheless, it’s become commonplace to hear drivers’ complaints about their rivals, often in highly unflattering terms, particularly when broadcast unedited on F1 TV. And even the censored versions on the world television broadcast usually leave enough of the message intact for it to be quite clear which four-letter word a driver has reached for.

Full team radio broadcasts have been available to viewers since F1 TV was launched in 2018, though not all drivers seem to appreciate this. Earlier this year Sebastian Vettel told journalists it was “very weird for you to judge because you don’t get all the [messages]”, clearly labouring under the misconception that only some of his comments can ever be heard.

Grosjean doesn’t want his radio being broadcast
“I think whoever is selecting which radio transmissions to broadcast and which not, I think it’s very difficult there for you to know what is being said and get the full picture,” Vettel continued, apparently unaware that his full radio broadcasts have been available to anyone who wants to listen to them for the last three years in many countries.

Recent controversies over drivers’ radio messages has prompted suggestions F1 should stop broadcasting their discussions. Predictably some of them, including Vettel and others, are keen on this idea.

“Why is it broadcasted?” asked Romain Grosjean ahead of the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix. “The cockpit and the radio to your team is your own environment. I don’t like radio messaging being being broadcasted when you are flat-out.”

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Grosjean has previously said his unflattering descriptions of his car’s performance are why his radio messages have been regularly selected for broadcast on the world feed. He points out the live broadcasts of drivers’ discussions doesn’t have a parallel outside motor sport.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Circuit de Catalunya, 2020
Radio messages revealed Leclerc’s seat belt error
“Imagine if you were broadcasting what’s going on on the football pitch. I mean, I think it’s more fruity and colourful.

“You can always speak your mind. You need to respect people. We’re not perfect at it. And I am not, I’m far from being perfect at it.

“But also, you have to bear in mind that we’re driving a car 330kph, pushing it to the limits and obviously knowing that there’s a risk involved. It’s not like you are sitting on my sofa having a nice glass of red wine and commenting on what’s going on from outside where it all looks kind of easy and slower.”

Grosjean makes a fair point in comparison with other sports. However in those competitions we have other ways of observing the participants: Football players do not pass us by at 300kph, safely ensconced in their cockpits. We can observe their body language, study their reactions, lip-read their comments.

Team radio allows us to do the same with F1 drivers. It gives us an opportunity to appreciate the stresses they are experiencing. It adds a vital human element to a sport which can be cold and mechanistic; an essential reminder there’s a heart and brain at work beneath all that carbon fibre.

More importantly, there are also occasions when it reveals genuinely valuable information which teams would not otherwise share. Charles Leclerc driving with his seat belt disconnected in Spain, the near-miss with marshals at Imola and many cases of teams imposing orders on their drivers would have gone unnoticed without team radio.

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The drivers will have to accept the prying microphones aren’t going away. Some of them have already made their peace with this, and understand the unfiltered communications are – in the grim vernacular of the influencer generation – ‘great content’.

Carlos Sainz Jnr, McLaren, Monza, 2020
Radio “makes for some news and funny moments” – Sainz
“At the back of our minds, we know it’s it’s not private,” admits Carlos Sainz Jnr, “but in the moment you are not thinking how to not say it, that there are people who are listening to you.

“We are athletes, we are in the peak of our pressure moments. I would like to see other sports being broadcasted while in the middle of a corner or the final of a championship. What are other athletes saying or football players saying to each other? I think it would be quite interesting.

“That is what we have in Formula 1 and that is actually an advantage. Just to see how the drivers feel sometimes, all the emotions. It doesn’t mean that we swear more or less than all the other sportsmen it’s just that in this sport you have a microphone constantly hearing you, whatever you’re saying not.

“I think it makes it attractive, it makes for some news and some and some funny moments sometimes in the media. It’s just that you’ve got to understand that we are in the heat of the moment, we are under pressure. We are trying to do the best we can with with everything and with adrenaline really, really high.”

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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46 comments on “F1 drivers don’t want their radio being broadcast? That’s exactly why it should be”

  1. Nah, don’t stop the broadcast. but either shut it down altogether or change it to a single Channel and have the drivers talk to each other. THAT’s good for the show.

    1. Pat Ruadh (@fullcoursecaution)
      12th November 2020, 9:53

      Georrrrgggeee!!!!

  2. Team radios have given many memorable and funny moments over time.

  3. in in in in in in in in in in in in in in !!!
    delta delta delta delta delta delta !!!

    Team radio broadcast is a must.

  4. I mean, you don’t have to shut it down, but I do think there needs to be control on what gets put out there rather than wholesale broadcasting everything.

    Racefans putting up a transcription of various radio messages, like Max’s, certainly didn’t help things and I don’t really see the journalistic value in it.

    As Carlos said: “At the back of our minds, we know it’s it’s not private,” admits Carlos Sainz Jnr, “but in the moment you are not thinking how to not say it, that there are people who are listening to you.” Which is key here.

    Yes Max used a naughty word, no it didn’t need to result in him getting dog-piled on by the entirety of social and regular media to the point where the ambassador of Mongolia wanted to get his 2-minutes out of it.

    1. @aiii I’m not sure that someone with a platform to contact the United Nations needs an F1 driver’s radio message to heighten their profile.

    2. “Don’t see the journalistic value” is an euphemism for censorship. The fact that you don’t see that topic interesting, does not mean that other people may not have an interest in that information. If the information exists and could be interesting to someone, the information is given. That’s what journalism is about, I think.

    3. The problem is people just easily offended nowadays. We cancelled other people for what they said years ago when they’re still underage and still doing so even when they already apologized. And yes, media fueled it @aiii.

    4. I very much do not agree with most of that @aiii, I do think that yes we need to keep the circumstances in which things are said in mind, though we also have seen messages where it seemed relatively clear that the driver was saying things to be heard, not just wrt. the safety car and to race control, but also a wider audience (GP-engine, for one); but perhaps that’s just the most in control drivers?

      If teams and or sponsors agreed to let the drivers be less polished towards the press, such snippets of possibly-real opinion and feelings might be less fiercely sought after and studied, and press conferences would become much more interesting.

      Finally, in the case of Verstappen, what he said might be allowed in parts of Dutch society esp. in private, but when exposed to the world it becomes clear it is rather nasty and I really do not understand why someone from the team, or really his friends and or family (his father has a lot of experience making social ‘mistakes’, right!?) don’t talk with him suggest he might find other words in future, and say so publicly. If the words don’t mean anything to him, well, they do to others, so maybe just find more appropriate ones? And if they are meaningful, well, sorry, then criticism is warranted.

      .

    5. Racefans putting up a transcription of various radio messages, like Max’s, certainly didn’t help things and I don’t really see the journalistic value in it.

      The journalistic value is in exposing the true nature of a person who assumes what they’re saying is “private” when they should know it isn’t. Just like a politician being overheard calling a member of the public a bigot.

  5. I’m not a huge fan of team radio. It’s rarely interesting in the moment and often just serves to interupt the commentators halfway through an infinitely more interesting sentance. By all means record it, make a funny clips compilation for Social Media, but unless its something interesting/important, just leave it out of the main broadcast.

    This doesnt just apply to F1 either. Formula E constantly just plays audio of drivers saying numbers to their engineers, its just bizarre and unnecessary for the enjoyment of the show.

    1. Quite the opposite. It’s almost always infinitely more interesting. And the commentators needs to be better at stopping their yapping when the team radio starts.

    2. Please tell us which commentary you’re listening too because I might need to change!

  6. Angry team radio to the left, angry team radio to the right, angry team radio up above, angry team radio down below…
    Next year is gonna be interesting how many drivers Fernando Alonso will diss.

  7. It’s sport. Sportsmen and sportswomen will say things they don’t mean during the heat of battle.

    F1 drivers are no different. They should be allowed to do so, within their team environment, without fear of scrutiny from the media who will take things out of context and blow it up to be something bigger than it is.

    If you’re doing 300km/h and another driver does something stupid in front of you that might lead to a crash – causing fear, anxiety, anger or frustration – who knows what words might slip from your mouth.

    1. F1 drivers are no different. They should be allowed to do so, within their team environment, without fear of scrutiny from the media who will take things out of context and blow it up to be something bigger than it is.

      The teams and drivers know their communications can be broadcast, indeed you can listen to all the team radio if you so wish. There should be zero assumption of privacy. I really don’t see how, for example, Verstappen’s comments can be taken ‘out of context’.

      Would it be OK for another driver to refer to Hamilton using the n-word over team radio?

    2. I would try not to swear too often or insult any driver.

  8. Carlos Sainz Jr said it all !

  9. I think it has come a long way to this point that it is a vital element of the whole weekend. Yes there might be (and most of the time there is) swearing and cursing by the drivers. If you would put a mic in front of fans the outcome wouldn’t change much. It is part of the sport and without it F1 would lose one of its funniest and most controversial topics. It is very human and it adds up an another side for the battles we see from our screens.

  10. Why not just the drivers, why can’t we have the stewards, race directors, FIA staff as well for good measure!

    If only so we could actually understand what the hell goes through the stewards and Masi’s head when they make the next bone headed decision and who else would love to hear Chase Carey scream with excitement during the next procession to try and sell more product!!

  11. I might be misunderstanding the mechanics here, but as I understand it, the drivers have to hold/toggle a button to transmit. If they’ve made a conscious decision push that button then surely they must be in sufficient control to know what they’re saying. If they don’t want anyone to hear them turning the air blue inside their helmet, fine, no-one’s forcing them to flip that switch while they do so.

  12. “Grosjean has previously said his unflattering descriptions of his car’s performance are why his radio messages have been regularly selected for broadcast on the world feed. He points out the live broadcasts of drivers’ discussions doesn’t have a parallel outside motor sport.”

    This is exactly why people think he moans more than he does. His radio broadcasts are chosen to be broadcast more than others for this specific reason. We likely will find out that many other drivers also do this, although maybe not as often. But it only seems excessive because they only seem to broadcast his negative comments these days. As this site has mentioned, there have been several occasions where right after what Grosjean has said against the team, he often has apologised as well as including several improvements or positives about the car. From what they broadcast of Grosjean’s radio when Magnussen crashed last year in Canada during qualifying, people got the impression that he didn’t care about magnussen one bit. He initially said that he couldn’t believe his luck, but then later did ask how magnussen was – which typically was not broadcast.

    While not shown during the race, I saw some clips on youtube of his feedback to the team when he got knocked off by Gasly/verstappen/kimi in Tuscany. It looked like he was going to retire, but he kept it positive and successfully managed to get back on track describing to the team what he was going through. This is a good example of his communication, but they rarely play it.

    What I don’t like about the radio is exactly this. They get particular drivers known to always be the same by their choice of what to broadcast.

    1. I do agree that he has a point with that @thegianthogweed, but as Keith points out in the article, F1tv allows a full-race broadcast of all his, and other drivers’ radio, so everyone can get the full picture if they wanted.

      It’s really on journalists to do that, before lampooning him. In essence, the complaints to me are not caused by the radio, but by bad journalism that is geared towards finding controversy, rather than nuance, and never correcting false impressions/narratives put forward. (to be clear: this site is instead tending to look at evidence and nuance, which is one of the reasons they get my money to report on motorsport ;)

    2. @thegianthogweed

      The media love ‘narratives,’ which they confuse for the truth. So they commonly, selectively highlight stuff to paint one-sided pictures of people who are far more complex in reality.

  13. From hearing Lewis use it like a Poker players bluff,
    to Max venting his frustration,
    to Kimi being frigidly laconic,
    to Fernando just being honest ….

    let’s keep it in please guys. It is one of the things that makes you feel human to the rest of us ;)

  14. “Steering wheel! Give me the steering wheel. Hey! Hey!! Steering wheel, somebody tell him to give it to me! COME ON! MOVE!” Nuff said!!

  15. I enjoy the radio and hope it stays but I agree with vettel that we don’t get the full story. Realistically 99% of people are only going to hear what’s broadcast and not look for full transcripts for every driver, so it is a little unfair on the drivers who are just aiming to drive their best under pressure not entertain us.

  16. “Leave me alone, I know what I am doing!” is reason enough to keep broadcasting the drivers’ radio messages.

    1. <>

      “LMA, IKWIAD”
      Kimi makes it all bueno …

  17. i’m sure vettel is absolutely aware of what’s going on with team radio “databanks”. but how many tv viewers will search for the whole story after the race? 1%? or less? he’s talking about what is being broadcasted live during the race. and yes, it can be manipulating, a kind of editor’s decision, what is being sent live to the global feed

    1. Yes, that’s where the tv reporting has a role to play during live broadcast and afterwards (next sessions/weekend, and after races), as well as the written media.
      I agree this is something that most they fail to do, which is why it is even an issue.

  18. I for 1 honestly couldn’t care less whether teams radios are broadcast, doesn’t add anything to the show IMO, in fact with other teams listening-in I think in the long run we all lose out because surprise strategy calls can’t be made & problems can’t be kept secret which would spice the show up as teams react to events

  19. The F1 reimagined cartoons are hilarious. My 5 year old loves them. It’s a great way to get people engaged in the sport in a left-of-field kind of way. I don’t have access to F1TV so have only seen the FOM filtered broadcasts when watching live. It’d be a shame to lose the radio chatter as it provides a much greater depth of understanding to races that you otherwise wouldn’t get.

  20. Leave the broadcasts, but people need to stop going insane when they hear something they didnt like.

  21. I am very fortunate in being part deaf and not being able to understand a word of what is being said over these broadcasts on TV. However, I do read about them and really do wonder what the fuss is about.

    Passing school children, female and male, waiting at the local bus station, I overhear language far worse that what I read about here.

    I think some drivers are easily exasperated about the antics of others on the tracks, but reading on the Sky Website commentaries about Lewis Hamilton complaining for a few laps that his ‘left front’ tyre has degraded hugely, and then goes on to post a string of fastest laps and stretch his lead in great chunks, makes me think such broadcasts are on team radio to just confuse RBR and others.

    Thank you Keith for an interesting piece.

  22. It’s fun to listen the drivers speaking during the race. But we all know what broadcast is only a very small part of the conversation between the dirvers and the engineers. For the entertaining interest, many information was only partly broadcasted. And might cause many misunderstanding to create the discussion of the game. It’s good for F1, but it is unfair to the drivers. But that might be part of their job. It would be nice to show us the whole image of their conversation.

  23. Let teams and their drivers have a say (via some system/setting) which messages should definitely get broadcasted.
    Also if drivers can talk to each other somehow, that would be awesome content.

  24. I think it is a bad idea to broadcast everything the drivers say. They need a channel to talk to the team in private.
    We don’t like the interviews much anymore because they are often behaving like trained media puppets. Do we want that in the cockpit too?

  25. F1 never had public radio in the 80s and 90s and some of those races are regarded as the greatest ever.

    The characters that were, the mysterious Senna, the calculating Prost, the herioc Mansell, the firey Piquet, the clockwork Schumacher, would have lost much of their charm if we’d heard them complaining about tyres and backmarkers.

    So while radio has made the drivers seem like the regular humans they are and connect more with the public, it has taken away much of the mystery of what we thought were superheroes.

  26. I agree with your last paragraph there paul jones. It does take some of that away. But at the same time i do like to hear the drivers etc. I just wish the people in control would not use it to create a sometimes false picture or narrative.

  27. Do the drivers need to press a button to speak over the radio?

  28. I need a white visor

  29. Perhaps it is an idea for whoever controls the broadcasting of these messages to stop using it intentionally for generating controversy, conflict and misunderstanding.

  30. I think that people defending the broadcasting should ask themselves a very simple question: How would they feel if a mike was implanted in their throats and every single word that they exchange with their co-workers, including when they discuss sticky points with friendly co-workers (and thus using a more loose language), would be stored and available for anyone to browse through, pick up juicy bits and make a row over them in media?
    I would be lying if I pretended that I do not enjoy the broadcasts. However, for all their star status, the drivers are human beings just like the rest of us, and they have the same right to feel (relatively) safe in their working environment. If it came to shutting down the broadcast, I would feel some regret, but I would support it, otherwise I would feel like a hypocrite.
    Of course, if someone could shine some miracle energy beam on mankind so that people would not get insulted over every petty things, and journalist and on-line activists would stop making hay by jumping on people’s flaws, then the drivers would have no serious reason to dislike broadcasts, but I am not holding much hope for that.
    On a more realistic note, I reasonable compromise would be to store and broadcast only technical parts related to the development of the race.

    One final note: References to censorship are off the mark. Censorship is when you want to reach wide audience with some information/opinion, and you are prevented by authorities or other dominant entity. AFAIK drivers and their teams are (generally) not trying to reach the world when speaking on the radio.
    We as citizens have a right to know what our govermnents are doing. We have a moral right to know the truth about our history and events in the world, and access to knowledge. But we have no right to know what other people are doing in their work; we can just hope (and ask nicely) that some people may freely agree to share it with us.

  31. I simply don´t like that teams radios may be broadcasted, but that´s just a small part of the many thing I don´t like about modern F1 (like mandatory tire changes, that the type of tires is color coded for easy identification or that races are won by managing the car and not going to the limit)

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