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Analysis: You can't have help from team radio but we'll tell you when it's OK to go racing

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Analysis: You can't have help from team radio but we'll tell you when it's OK to go racing
Jul 11, 2016, 5:29 PM

Despite the euphoria of the home fans at Lewis Hamilton's victory and his crowd surfing antics, there has been considerable frustration over other ...

Despite the euphoria of the home fans at Lewis Hamilton's victory and his crowd surfing antics, there has been considerable frustration over other aspects of the British Grand Prix, not least the Safety Car start and the fuss over radio bans.

This is understandable, as they both feed into a fundamental contradiction that the sport is wrestling with.

The radio ban was brought in this year because it was felt that the drivers did not appear enough like 'heroes' during races, because they were being told by engineers what modes to use and how to drive certain corners. So a widespread ban was introduced, which left only scope for emergency and safety messages.

That was then subtly changed in Australia to allow strategy messages, as drivers would look very foolish if they didn't know that a massive opportunity was staring them in the face.

But on the other hand, we had a scenario on Sunday, not for the first time, where the race was started behind a Safety Car due to standing water on the track and the Safety Car stayed out so long that the first thing half the field did at the restart on Lap 5 was pit for intermediate tyres, making a mockery of the drivers' ability to master tricky conditions.

Team radio

The radio ban is to ensure that drivers drive unaided and that their fundamental skills as drivers are tested. That is a noble aim.

Racing in wet conditions is also a fundamental skill of a driver and while accepting that the conditions were on the edge at 2pm, after a couple of laps behind the Safety Car most drivers were ready to go racing, knowing which patches of standing water to avoid.

So the drivers, who are supposed to be heroes with exceptional skills, were treated like trainees as they followed like ducklings behind the Safety Car until it was dry enough for intermediates.

So are they heroes, with amazing skills, or not?

Why do they not need help with radio messages, but they do need help in starting to race in the wet?

Lewis Hamilton

And even before that during the weekend, we had Nigel Mansell and the other stewards, penalising drivers for exceeding the track limits at Copse, Stowe and other corners. Fair enough, there were gains to be made from going wide and the rules say you have to stay on the track between the white lines. But what came across to the public in the stands and on TV was essentially the stewards telling the drivers over and over again how to drive.

F1 used to be an extreme sport, but it is in danger of becoming more about regulation than competition.

The anxiety in the voice of Tony Ross, Mercedes' engineer on Nico Rosberg's car, when instructing Rosberg what to do to solve the gearbox problem, told us that it was a serious problem.

Red Bull's Christian Horner is of the view that Ross should not have given any instruction to Rosberg and that the stewards should penalise him by assessing where Rosberg would have finished without any help. Mercedes say he would have retired, so Horner thinks he should have been disqualified.

Telling him to shift straight from 6th to 8th is what cost Rosberg 10 seconds and three championship points. That sets the precedent.

Nico Rosberg

It means that any team now in a similar position will look at the timing screens and work out the trade off between a 10 second penalty and whatever points their driver is headed for. In all but the lowliest points paying positions that will be considered a no-brainer, so they will deliberately break the rule and we will have more stewards' enquiries and penalties post race for 'radio infringements'; unless the teams and FIA bring in another layer of regulation about deliberately flouting rules and a whole new set of regulations for the fans, teams, media and broadcasters to wrestle with.

On a day when Verstappen and Rosberg fought like dogs, when Hamilton won in front of his home crowd and Andy Murray won Wimbledon for the second time, the day should have been all about great sporting moments, not backroom arguments about what is and isn't allowed on a radio message. It makes the sport look opaque and out of touch.

Lewis Hamilton had a problem in Baku with his engine modes, but there we had the farce of the team telling him they couldn't help him with any advice.

Paddy Lowe

The radio ban is a classic piece of F1 nonsense, like the short-lived engine penalties rule that saw McLaren given 120 place grid drop for changing engines.

It also comes at a time when sports are putting more radio communications into their coverage, not less. Think of rugby, with fans able to hear discussions between the referee and the players and the adjudicator over disputed tries and foul play. It provides richness and insight.

F1 should do away with the radio ban altogether or - for those who think it's important that the drivers get no help - do away with radios altogether and just use pit boards.

What we have at the moment leaves the sport open to ridicule and with the precedent now set, we are set for more of it until something changes.

* Just after this post was published Mercedes withdrew its appeal on the Rosberg penalty saying,

"The Team accepts the Stewards' interpretation of the regulation, their decision and the associated penalty.

During the coming weeks, we will continue discussions with the relevant F1 stakeholders on the subject of the perceived over-regulation of the sport. "

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