Alonso: “99% of people cannot understand” what we talk about on the radio

Formula 1

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Fernando Alonso says he isn’t concerned about his radio messages being played during race broadcasts as he believes most people don’t understand them anyway.

During the Japanese Grand Prix, Alonso’s message to his team suggesting that they had ‘thrown him to the lions’ with the timing of his pit stop was broadcast on Formula 1’s world television feed. It was interpreted by many as a reference to the fact Alonso had emerged from the pits in front of several drivers who then overtook him.

However, after the race, Alonso said his radio comments had been misunderstood. Other radio messages of his not played on the world feed showed he had been referring to the difficulty of completing the race distance with the stint lengths Aston Martin had chosen.

Alonso, who has previously objected to his radio communications being broadcast, insisted he has “no problem at all” with his messages being published. However, he believes people often fail to understand them because they are not privy to other discussions taking place within his team.

“Obviously in Suzuka it was difficult to get the point of the media,” said Alonso in Qatar. “Even I think last Monday, still put in the radio – so it was one week after Suzuka – saying that I was in traffic after my stop. Which was a little bit surprising because I don’t know what negativity it is on that, discussing with the team.

“Obviously you have no information about how the weekend goes, all the meetings that we have on Sunday morning. Even on the grid, the conversation on the grid on Sunday in Suzuka we were talking ‘don’t stop too early’ because then with our lack of speed on the straights, we will be in traffic and we will get stuck.

“So when the radio comes out, obviously the level of maturity and complexity on the comments [means] 99% of the people cannot understand.”

Drivers’ radio messages were seldom played in television broadcasts when Alonso made his debut in F1 22 years ago in 2001. However, drivers who arrived in F1 in recent seasons know everything they say is likely to be played live on F1TV, where fans can watch their onboard videos.

Zhou Guanyu, who arrived in F1 last year, says that means drivers have become used to censoring themselves.

“You always have to be a little bit careful with what you say, because it could be quite bad for you,” he said. “But it’s fine. It’s the same for everyone.”

“I think it adds a little bit of entertainment to the sport,” Zhou added.

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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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49 comments on “Alonso: “99% of people cannot understand” what we talk about on the radio”

  1. Most of us don’t believe what any of you say on the radio Fernando.

    If I was a driver and knew that other teams were listening, as well as the public, then I would have a very complex code system in place to confuse and mislead the opposition.
    Certain words – and catchphrases – would have different meanings from race to race.

    As Fernando says – you wouldn’t understand a thing I was saying.
    Even if you thought you did.

    1. Coventry Climax
      14th October 2023, 10:14

      That’s given you have the brainspace to both race at that level and keep all of your different and constantly changing codes separated, @nullapax. Which would mean you’d have risen above the level of about a quarter of the field at least.
      That’s quite an opinion you have of yourself as a racingdriver. What’s keeping you?
      And then there’s this: You really think ‘misleading the opposition’ hasn’t been thought of before? That would be in rather sharp contrast with the forementioned required brainspace.

      1. If you read Nulla Pax’s post properly you’ll see that the hypothetical example is to say that’s exactly what Alonso is doing.
        Not that Nulla pax is a racing driver
        Nor that misinformation has not been thought of.

        Perhaps more consideration and less derision is in order.

        1. Coventry Climax
          14th October 2023, 14:13

          If I was driver, I would

          are his exact words. Well, he isn’t -at least not in f1, as far as we know. Also, it’s not something that hasn’t been thought of before, and I surely hope he doesn’t actually think so.

          Those with a really big brainspace are the ones that are in the thick of a fight and still exhibit the ability to think beyond their current situation. There’s not too many drivers frequently at the front, and there’s not too many of those exhibiting that skill.

          Now if you’d read my reply more carefully..

          1. Alonso is definitely amongst those that can. And this article/post is about Alonso. Maybe some others can’t, although there is no way of knowing.

            “If I were” is simply hypothesizing in the first person, which is common in English and not saying “I am”. The operative word being “If”.

      2. That’s given you have the brainspace

        LOL – sounds like you subscribe to the Homer Simpson belief that in order to remember something new, you have to forget something else.
        Brains don’t work like that ;)

        Have you seen the complexity of these guys steering wheels?
        Trust me, they have great “Brainspace” ;)

        1. Coventry Climax
          14th October 2023, 14:26

          I know, most of the drivers have it in a bigger size than most of us here, including me, most likely.
          But I can’t see the Latifi’s and Stroll’s do what you describe. They’d likely mess up the codes that you planned, and not only confuse the opposition, but their own engineers as well.
          So if you claim that you could/would do it, that would make you a hell of a driver, or at least with a hell of potential in this ‘multitasking’ direction.
          I don’t think that you don’t know it’s been tried before, fooling the competition, but if you did think that, than that would not really be proof of the/your aforementioned potential.

          It may have come out wrong, but it’s not meant malicious. Hope you didn’t take it as such.

          1. I never take anything on internet forums as malicious or personal.
            We may disagree, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be free to say what we think ;)

      3. Hamilton and the dead tyres that are still able to get fastest laps would be an example of that.

        1. Coventry Climax
          14th October 2023, 14:30

          No it wouldn’t. Hamilton on dead tyres, in the thick of defending, managing several other issues and yet still coming up with one hell of an alternative strategy for his team to consider, would be a much better example.

          1. Wasn’t he just referring to misleading messages since almost every single race Lewis said his tires were shot when they weren’t? Lewis said it so often other strategists stopped paying attention to, which could have led to him later being honest and them still ignoring it. That, or I think more likely, they had words that meant different things: like shot actually meant good, done meant getting there, feel fine = done or whatever.

          2. Yes, nick, that’s what I was referring to obviously, it was very typical for hamilton to say that and then it looked like the tyres still had plenty of pace.

          3. Coventry Climax
            15th October 2023, 1:24

            Ah, ok, @esploratore1 you’re referring to misleading the opposition, and not not to having what I called brainspace.
            Sorry I got the context wrong, but from the indentation, it does appear you were replying to me.

            Funny how this discussion on misleading the competition, brings about quite a bit of confusion on its own.

    2. But what’s the point of such an elaborate scheme? What are these guys really doing that can be concealed by a clever phrasing? If they speed up, it will instantly be known on the timing loops. If they slow down to extend their stint, it will be obvious within seconds. Since it is not allowed to bring the crew out for a pit stop as a dummy (unless it’s Mercedes, apparently…) it is immediately obvious when a car is coming in for a pit stop, too.

      Crafty hand signals makes sense in baseball, when the catcher and pitcher can communicate about a throw and there is no time or means of communication to inform the batter.

      Most of the communication in F1 is not high level strategic thinking, but fairly mundane stuff, like informing the driver about certain gaps, messages from race control, or managing the various settings on the car itself.

      1. “Confusion to the enemy”
        If your opponent suspects that you are using coded messages, then it places doubt in their mind.

        Look at how easily Ferrari stress out these days.
        The drivers ask the team what to do, then the team asks the drivers what to do, and before you know it they have converted a podium and a potential win into a mere handful of points

        Strategists are not infallible geniuses. They are as susceptible to doubt as anyone else.
        One mistimed pit stop these days is the difference between 1st and 4th.

        1. One mistimed pit stop these days is the difference between 1st and 4th.

          Well, maybe between 2nd and 5th.

          On a more serious note, I just wonder how much of that knowledge gained from other people’s radio communication is actually actionable. Especially given how much pre-race simulations are done to create an optimal race strategy, which the drivers then ‘merely’ execute. In some cases, ending up in a particular place on the track might compromise that simulation, but at that point it’s usually quite obvious what’s happening (the leading car that slows yours down is on a long stint, for example) and whatever is said on the radio isn’t going to make much – or any – difference.

          There might be a theoretical scenario where a car goes for an undercut, but then – surprise! – it turns out the leading car was just pacing himself and suddenly increases the gap, makes the stop, and comes back out in front. It’s just that such cases… well, never really seem to happen. If a car is quicker, it’s much better to just make a small gap and then maintain that gap, not try to outsmart everyone with some clever cloak and dagger scheme.

          And as AlanD points out below, the variables are so limited that it doesn’t really matter. Fuel is not an issue, batteries can be recharged fully each lap or so (it’s technically a 4MJ battery with a max. charge of 2MJ/lap from the MGU-K and an unlimited amount from the MGU-H). Maybe in Indycar it matters if you ‘waste’ fuel trying to pas when the car ahead is coming in in two laps, but in F1 that’s not really an issue.

          Anyway, probably overthinking this a bit.

      2. Michael, I think the main thing they are trying to conceal is estimates of tyre wear, whether or not they can maintain the current pace until the end of the race, and if not, how long before they have to back off. The bits of info known only to them is that they know how many laps were already on previously used tyres, and they have wheel temperature info that might also affect the calculation, ket them know that one tyre is heating more than expected, perhaps meaning less performance on right-handers for example. I can’t think of anything else. Brakes don’t seem to wear out these days, and fuel rates are so restricted that I cannot remember anyone having to go into fuel saving mode for years now. Anything else, the drivers are so quick to shout about it, that everyone knows.

        1. I cannot remember anyone having to go into fuel saving mode for years now.

          They are in almost constant fuel saving mode – from the initial pre-race recon laps right through until after the chequered flag flies and the cars stop in parc ferme.

          They don’t carry enough fuel to go flat out for the while race, because doing so would weigh too much and adversely affect the rest of the car’s performance and tyre endurance – and yet they also always need to leave enough in it for the FIA to take their fuel samples.

          1. Yes, I see what you are saying there. I suppose what I mean is that drivers never miscalculate any more and are told they’ve pushed too hard at the start and need to run more frugally than the cars around them.

    3. ‘Put the cat next to the dog at the side of the track’ level code language would be cool though.

      1. My hovercraft is full of eels! :)

  2. Coventry Climax
    14th October 2023, 10:04

    I’m sure Amazon will come up with an AI interpreter to fill up even more of our TV screens with nonsense.

    1. (And most of it will be absolute nonsense)

    2. Remember how useless those tire wear graphics often were?

    3. BTW, there wouldn’t have been so much confusion if the title hadn’t been paired with a totally misleading and just wrong, lede. He never said anything close to “I don’t care if my messages are broadcast because no one will understand them.” He said basically the opposite. Either that was a poorly written lede or was meant to drum up controversy. Keith?

  3. I’m not an F1 driver, but I’m not dumb, nor is your radio communication that “deep”. Most of you drivers have never read a book in your lives, so… Of course I don’t know what your codes mean, although sometimes even that is easy to guess, more or less. Even your mind-games are easy to read Fernando, since you’re a one-trick pony when it comes to praising before destroying your teammates (to raise your own standing), as well as your typical progression of inter-team relations. I like Fernando actually, and lately he’s my favourite driver (since most of them have no personality to speak of, being robots who only drive their cars and play video games in their free time). Be that as it may, sometimes I just wish they could all shut up with their bla, bla… I’ll do the same now. :)

    1. Uh, did you read the story? He wasn’t saying we were dumb or that it’s really hard to understand what we’re talking about. He said that when viewers hear 1 message out of 20+/miss all the context, lone messages lose much of the meaning. It had nothing to do with intelligence. Alonso’s English has never been his greatest strength. So, I think, he often says things which to a native speaker, sound like they have an implication he never intended.

      For example: if I responded to something someone said with “Do you actually believe that xyz?” I bet most would interpret that as much more hostile/condescending than if I said “Do you genuinely believe that xyz?” which at least to my mind comes off as a bit less combative. I think sometimes Alonso is and sometimes isn’t aware of these little nuances. I know for a fact language based miscommunications were the reason his relationship broke down with Ron Dennis. I saw many times where each misinterpreted the tone, meaning, etc. of each other’s comments.

  4. Alonso: “Sorry, I don’t mean to sound patronising. That means to talk down to someone, by the way…”

    1. Read my comment above or the full article. It’s clear he’s not trying to be patronizing. Alonso is not above being patronizing, but I’ve rarely seen him condescending fans. There was an interview with him in which he told an anecdote about his father giving him some good perspective on fans and how it drove him to really make an effort not to accidentally brush off a fan or lose patience when he wanted his privacy. He also talked about how he understands without fans he doesn’t have a job. In short, it’s highly unlikely he’s suddenly chosen the topic of radio messages as a venue for calling fans stupid.

      BTW, early in Fernando’s career I intensely disliked him. While he and all almost all F1 drivers ARE arrogant, I thought he was triply arrogant. Maybe he was a lot more arrogant back then or maybe the way the media seemed to frame him made me dislike him. But I’ve gone back and watched those seasons and didn’t find him arrogant at all (in F1 driver terms that is lol).

  5. It’s not at all surprising for him to think 99% of people do not understand at all what’s going on, he’s probably spot on, really, especially considering the entire population of people that follow F1 in any capacity. When people here an article
    or a pundit on TV saying “that’s typical old Alonso, berating his team”, that’s the opinion they form, because they don’t know any better.

    (imho the correct one)

    Anyway, F1 really needs to bring out driver on-boards in Australia, unless I’m missing something, Kayo said they would come this year, but they did not. And we can’t access F1TV as Kayo is the OTT provider. We couldn’t understand the full scope of conversations that play out over radio even if we wanted to.

    1. hear!* wtb edit pls

    2. Coventry Climax
      14th October 2023, 14:39

      To me, it was perfectly clear what Alonso meant with the message that instigated this discussion, and I replied as much to the first article about it already.

      You reply here however, I’m sorry to say, doesn’t make all that much sense to me. What is it you’re actually trying to say?

      1. a) He’s right in that 99% of people don’t really understand what’s going on in a race
        b) The media’s opinion was still correct in pointing out that he was complaining about strategy
        c) We need access to F1TV or the equivalent on-board service in Australia

    3. I’ve watched every single season multiple times over and never heard a commentator say he was berating the team let alone “typical old Alonso, berating the team.” The only thing I can think of that might fit what you’re describing is all his famous messages about how bad the Honda engine was. He was definitely badmouthing Honda time and again, but he certainly wasn’t berating his engineer or the team. Frankly though, imagine what Max or Lewis would be saying if they were coming out of corners a second ahead and then getting passed on the straight all the time. They’d be complaining non-stop.

      1. It was an exaggeration, why so literal?

        Having been the first top six runner to pit on a day when tyre degradation was massive, Alonso remarked: “You’ve thrown me to the lions by stopping that early.”

        Later in the race he constantly bemoaned Aston Martin’s lack of straightline speed as he found himself unable to close in on the Alpine car that was running ahead of him.

        Alonso is famous for making pointed remarks in the car, and his comments raised some intrigue against the backdrop of Aston Martin’s competitive struggles.

        This is from the motorsport article he was complaining about, paraphrasing that to what I said throwing in some exaggeration isn’t that far of a leap…

        1. Berating is very different from “pointed remarks.”

          1. I don’t really know what your point is, was it just to defend Alonso orrr…

          2. I don’t what your point was. Drivers having pointed remarks is worth pointing out?

            BTW, was never trying to defend Alonso. It was simply clarifying what was actually said. Per usual, whether intentional or not, a controversial sounding headline was create and, as usual, the majority of the comments were made in reply to the headline without reading the article.

  6. The thing that undermines Alonso’s comments is that we reguarly get to read the radio transcripts and I’m pretty sure more than 1% of people understand them fine. There is the odd reference to a switch that is obviously meaningless to us, but what they are talking is not exactly rocket science. There was a post-race interview a few months ago with MV and LH where the interviewer asks MV about his reports of tyre problems, brake problems, wind problems, and asks if any of these were serious. The response is:

    MV: No, I just like to inform the team
    LH: Did you put the F word in front of any of them?
    MV: No, no I didn’t
    LH: There you go, its only serious when he puts the F in front of it

    1. You’re just not getting it, Alan. In fact, 99% of you aren’t getting it.

      1. Nick, you make a fair point. I think I was placing too much weight on Alonso talking about “the level of maturity and complexity of the comments” which implied to me that he was saying it wasn’t just incomplete context, but reading it again, I can fully see your point. Yes, I agree that the TV broadcaster just chooses the juicy bits and rarely show things in a good light. Perhaps even worse is the print media which can not only take the quote out of context, but also take the tone of voice away so can really paint things in a bad light. They stick a lot of driver radio on YouTube, and it is still a bit selective, but you’ll get a refreshingly human view of the drivers if you search you tube for “Drivers’ Radio Reaction to Grosjean’s Crash”.

        1. Ironically, I was fully kidding in my reply to you as I had tired of making the same point above. It felt fun to jump on the train for once. But, loved your reply. Refreshing when someone doesn’t just reply with some hostile snark.

          1. Nick, I noticed under your message it says “Thank you for your feedback. We will look into it”. I can only think that this must be what happens if you hit the “Report Comment” button. I don’t recall doing that, but I’m hopeless with a mouse so maybe I did.

          2. I’ll get you for that or my name isn’t Robert Doornbos IV! All good. I’m sure they realized. I didn’t notice anything though. I only wish SCOTUS had a tenth of your self-reporting accountability.

  7. I’ve always understood them & I like that he named a particular website for reference.

  8. Then there is still hope for the other 1 per cent!

  9. Let’s face it, we only get to hear what the directors want us to hear, usually something to attempt to spice up the broadcast.

    Very rarely is anything actually meaningful broadcast but at least it’s a break from Crofty’s drivel.

    1. It’s like Radio DTS.

  10. I do like Maxs’ radio “Fe%$& sh”%& fe#% Mo#%”…
    Understood Max, but you want that with or without fries?… :)

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