Monday 6 April 2015

Why we should lay off 'radio-ranting' drivers

If you watched the Malaysian Grand Prix just passed on television then you likely would have heard a few examples of something outrageous. Perhaps shocking.

Yes, during the race Lewis Hamilton expressed exasperation over his team radio.

Lewis Hamilton's in-race comments cased apoplexy
Photo: Octane Photography
'This is the wrong tyre man...' he said after his final stop, a comment that was broadcast on the world feed. As if that was that not enough he added: 'I can hear you. I don't know what I'm supposed to be doing. Paddy says I might be doing another stop.'

And just as we all covered the delicate ears of any impressionable children present he added his coup de grace: 'Hey man don't talk to me through the corners! I nearly just went off!'

Aptly, many spoke of their horror and apoplexy at it all. The Sun the next day led with screeching of 'team radio fury' while the Daily Mail was similarly strident on 'radio rants'. Social media too was big not only on outrage but also on armchair psychology - 'typical Lewis spitting the dummy', 'Lewis can't handle being beaten' being the gist. John Watson on the TV last week reminded us too that 'Lewis has form on this'.

Or perhaps, just to float a tentative suggestion, it is possible that instead we're getting rather unduly into a grand lather about nearly nothing.

To start with Lewis personally, my reading for what it's worth is that he is a man with very little in the way of malice, though is one with a genuinely emotional nature, a little reminiscent of Rubens Barrichello in that sense. And like Rubinho this emotional nature leads to the odd, slightly inadvisable, verbal outburst, which attracts criticism. But I'm less determined than many to hold them against him. So long as it doesn't effect his driving, which as far as I could tell it didn't in Sepang.

And in a more broad sense I have thought for a while that those who react against such radio comments expect way too much of F1 drivers. Remember that these days everything said by a driver in the cockpit is picked up, potentially for broadcast to the world seconds later. And that in this extremely critical situation of equally extreme stress they are likely to say things that are not the most considered; that they would regret at rest. I dare say that few of us would appreciate having everything we uttered in such an extreme situation to be recorded and broadcast let alone then purported as irrefutable evidence of our mental state.

Is being one of the best drivers in the world not enough? Do we expect the serenity of a saint from them too? Perhaps we should grow up and understand that F1 drivers are just like the rest of us. Sometimes they blurt things out; we all do. Especially under pressure in a situation that means a great deal to them and in which time is critical and in extremely short supply. My only surprise is that such things aren't said more often. And I find it impossible to think those sniping wouldn't - and haven't - done the same in a similar situation.

Additionally as ex-Red Bull race engineer Mark Hutcheson pointed out, comments such as Lewis's in Malaysia are absolutely normal in this game and in that type of scenario: 'It's normal radio chatter when the driver's unhappy, when the driver's stressed, and when the driver thinks he's losing the race'.

It reminds me indeed of Monza in 2013 when in qualifying Fernando Alonso was caught - and make sure you're sitting down for this one - being sarcastic to his engineer. Just as in the last race in Malaysia social media immediately became a throng of headmistress-like prissy offence. Some reckoned he'd be sacked by the time the day was out. Yeah, right.

Sebastian Vettel is another frequent radio 'ranter'
Photo: Octane Photography
And last year at something-or-other that I was at I heard someone trumpet knowingly that Sebastian Vettel's radio ranting while struggling for results shows that after all of his success he's developed 'a sense of entitlement'. Presumably they missed that Seb's always been a radio ranter, including both during and before his run of titles. And critically - and just like Lewis in Malaysia - it has never seemed to affect his driving in the negative sense.

Further undermining the case, the outrage seems selective depending on the driver also. As ever reputations precede. To go to the opposite end of the spectrum we've seen that when Kimi Raikkonen says the same sort of things to his engineer he gets affectionate t-shirts made up lauding the fact. Moreover it is never terribly well concealed that those protesting rather than expressing genuine offence are instead pouncing on something that might support their partisan predisposition towards the driver in question, to do down the driver that they don't care for. The outrage frequently is faux - rather than offended certain people actually are delighted.

It puts me in mind of the Brazilian Grand Prix one year (I think 2013), when Jenson Button made a request on his radio, replayed on the TV feed, for his engineer not to speak to him while in corners - just like Lewis in other words, and in which specific instance did not herald any frothing-at-the-mouth howls. On Twitter a fan (sadly I can't remember their name to give them the credit they deserve) said, and I paraphrase: 'So, have I got this right? When Lewis does it he's petulant; when Jenson does it he's sensible and when Kimi does it he's funny?'

Just about sums it up.


  1. Whoever determines what we hear, obviously has an impact on our opinions. I assume all drivers say many things over the radio although few are probably as chatty as Mansell.
    The fact is most drivers who believe they have been compromised by being put on the wrong tire would voice their concern. These drivers are operating in a highly stressed environment, and to be quite frank the language is very tame.
    What I find more disconcerting is this is not the first time Hamilton has had to tell an engineer to not speak with him whilst he is cornering. It's minuscia like this I think is important.

    1. Yes, that's another reason why I don't get the frequent fuss, considering everything the drivers are remarkably polite! You're right too that Lewis has asked not to be spoken to while he's going through a corner a few times before, which goes some way probably to explaining his exasperation this time.

      Would love to have heard Mansell on the radio. Knowing what he could be like I'd imagine he wasn't always too complimentary of his team...