Jenson Button – The master of the #F1 radio

Brought to you by Adam Macdonald

The use of the radio in modern day Formula 1 is something many will take for granted, especially those of my generation.  First introduced in the 1980s, the systems were unreliable and inconsistent to the point they were not used by all.  The first confirmed used was in the 1984 season, which is remembered for an entirely different reason, the closest ever finish for a Formula One season with Niki Lauda beating his teammate by a mere 0.5 points to the title.

It is believed Ferrari waited a further 3 seasons to introduce this gismo to their cars as it was unreliable at the time.  The radio was another example of how Formula One walked in the shadows of other forms of motorsport, as Indycar had been using the systems well before.  The enclosed circuit made this eaiser compared to somewhere like Spa-Francorchamps where the elevation changes, thick forest and weather conditions all interfered.

As the cars have become more advanced the need for instant communication has driven the development of the team radio.  Were this vital channel of communication to be taken away, as some people have stated they wish for, then Formula 1 would lose out in a big way.

The ability to relay telemetry to drivers would be lost, along with team orders, arguments and cries of celebration.  Engineers on the pit wall would become surplus to requirements with only the pit board as a means of communication.  Furthermore, when a driver is told to stop their car to save an engine it would only be possible to do this once every 3 miles.  It is as much a matter of safety as a tool of the car at the team’s disposal.

Furthermore, it would take away some great TV moments when we have been able to hear the ‘heat of the moment’ reactions of drivers.  Paul Di Resta is one who has moaned at his team throughout 2013 over the airwaves when things haven’t gone to plan.  Also, who can forget the responses of Raikkonen in Abu Dhabi 2012, “leave me alone I know what I’m doing” or the more recent exchange with Alan Permane?

One driver who I feel is (almost) always calm and collected is Jenson Button.  The man from Frome seems to be able to keep a cool head in tense situations and use the transmissions to his advantage.  Below are some notable examples from the previous 3 years.

The master of the F1 radio

Many will remember Montreal 2011 as one of the best races of recent history.  The romance of a driver coming from the back of the field to take victory on the final lap of the race from the dominant Sebastian Vettel was a fans dream.  Even more impressive that Button had come together with his teammate Hamilton on lap 7.  Button’s immediate cry down the radio of, “What is he doing?” pinned the blame quite clearly on Lewis’ shoulders.  To me this seemed quite unfair, but it worked for Button, as Hamilton went off in a sulk after retiring; even stopping by the Red Bull garage looking for a shoulder to cry on.

F1 bumper cars caused a problem in Montreal 2011

Later that same year in Suzuka, when at the start of the race when Vettel made a slow start to the race he defended against Button coming past with an ‘aggressive’ manoeuvre which the 2009 World Champion did not agree  with.  Instead of letting it affect his driving he simply pressed the PTT (Push-to-transmit) button on the steering wheel and uttered, “He’s got to get a penalty for that!”  Vettel was not punished, but Button made his point well and directly to Charlie Whiting.

The other example I will draw upon is from earlier in 2013 when Sergio Perez decided to get racy in Bahrain.  Rather than rising to the overzealous driving of the young Mexican, he simply gave the instruction, “He just hit me up the back.  Calm him down.”  A direct order which not only asserted himself where he thought he was within the team, but also put Martin Whitmarsh in a sticky position.  He could either ignore his senior driver or follow his orders and humiliate the new signing, after telling him to show more racing instinct before the race.

Of course, even Button has become frustrated and vented his anger over team radio before.  Many will remember this from earlier in his career at Honda.

Perhaps this can be put down to experience, as F1’s elder statesman enters his 15th season in 2014.

And elsewhere…

Well I couldn’t write a post about team radio without mentioning the infamous Multi 21 incident of Malaysia.  Without the team radios of both Mercedes and Red Bull we would not have been afforded the insight into the team dynamics.

Ross Brawn, a respected team principal with years of experience was firm in his stance when Nico Rosberg asked to be able to pass a low on fuel Lewis Hamilton, replying, “Negative Nico.”  The drivers knew that this was not to be disobeyed and obliged.

On the other hand, Christian Horner waited until there was a full on tussle for the lead of the race before murmuring, “Come on Seb, this is silly.”  The reaction – little and none as Vettel sped off into the distance away from his Australian teammate, denying him what we now know would have been his final victory for the team, to leave with a career 10.

Without a team radio going out on the TV broadcasts we would have been denied one of the biggest controversies of the season.  It is hard to deny it improves the quality of broadcasts in an age where TV figures are plummeting, anything to help must be utilised.

For team principals and drivers alike, the team radio is vital tool at their disposal which needs to be mastered to be used effectively.  34 in January, Button has this aspect of his skillset mastered, although maybe no more singing please JB.

23 responses to “Jenson Button – The master of the #F1 radio

  1. Fascinating article, Adam, and most unusual choice of subject. Thanks. Only on ‘tJ13’…
    Personally I don’t like the radios (but would allow them one-way, from driver to pit) because I think it only encourages adolescent attitudes – both ways… 😉 – but the highlights do make it almost worthwhile… I think there could be more from you on this…

    • How about a delayed radio transmission then to handicap them sufficiently?

      There is something in the pipeline. Will probably focus on the more technical side of it.

  2. Not a fan of hearing the radios myself either. Whilst entertaining, it does tend to paint most drivers as whiners when things don’t go their way.

    I’ve also noticed that many of them use their radio chat to try and influence the stewards when investigating incidents, often by immediately blaming the other driver (if they came off worse), or immediately protesting their innocence (if they came off better).

    Its interesting that Button was chosen as the lead for this article – I thought that his behavior over the radio in the first half of the season was very poor by his standards. Hamilton also seems to be perpetually complaining about his tyres having worn out and having no grip, though I’m convinced that they choose what to broadcast based on how controversial it is.

    • I would love to hear the driver breathing and his heartrate while onboard. It would silence all ‘it’s no sport’ casual observers and make the human factor more insightfull.

  3. An uninspiring article.what do you think,team radio-a subject?.
    It could have been an article based on lives of enginners working in f1 factories relentlessly.

    • samraj, that’s the second comment of yours that seems to serve no other purpose than to provoke other people. This isn’t the autosport forum, where people are slagging off each other. If you need to rant, channel it into a useful contribution and send it to the judge to get it published, but please refrain from having a go at people for no reason.

    • I look forward to your article on working in F1 factories Samraj. Let’s hope it’s more “inspiring” than mine.

      • Where does it say they have to be inspiring…? What’s wrong with informative… entertaining… or just a ‘passa tiempo’… 🙂

  4. I don’t completely agree. Although i know they select the messages we hear, all i hear from button (and most of the others) is complaining. Button is just very passive aggressive. But what i hate most is whenever ferrari has something to complain about they know how to speak english. But if its something other, their messages are in italian.

    • Which is why most stations now employ people with Italian knowledge, so this strategy doesn’t work. Most if not all other team employ an Italian speaker, too, so it is little more than a ‘token offense’.

    • If you have twitter, bruznic, try following F1Pit Radio. He does all the messages that come across, not just the ones that are broadcast. Also I think Muretobox does translations. If I’m wrong let me know and I’ll check my list. 🙂

    • They use all 3. It’s why in 2012 with Alguersuari alongside Allen they worked as a very good team.

  5. Interesting article. I liked the historical perspective.
    For those of us who have been on a radio with a driver in a race, I doubt I’m alone in being perplexed by the weird reaction of a few to ban radios in F1.
    Having strapped on a helmet, and talked to plenty of other drivers, these thoughts of limiting info for drivers is strange.
    On the other hand, having all radio clear channel & public has been a delightful additional insight for us F1 spectators.

  6. Pingback: #F1 Features: What went wrong with McLaren 2012? Part I | thejudge13·

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