The FIA has announced a clampdown on pit-to-car radio messages, confirming that it has immediately banned all communication where teams can tell drivers how to improve their or their car’s performance.
With enormous of data that can be accessed real-time through telemetry, it’s become an ever common practice for teams to give advice to drivers on areas of the track where they can improve their performance, or on what onboard settings that can be reprogrammed to improve performance.
That is all about to change, with FIA race director Charlie Whiting issuing a directive to all teams to advise them that such messages are now banned through a stricter interpretation of Article 20.1 of the FIA Sporting Regulations. The regulation states that the driver must “drive the car alone and unaided”.
“We intend to rigorously enforce this regulation with immediate effect. Therefore no radio conversation from pit to driver may include any information that is related to the performance of the car or driver,” Whiting said.
To mitigate the risk that the teams try and work around the issue – such as sending instructions or advice via the driver’s steering wheel – Whiting added: “We should also remind you that data transmission from pit to car is specifically prohibited by Article 8.5.2 of the F1 Technical Regulations.”
The rule is not a blanket ban on all pit-to-car radio messages. Discussion is still allowed around strategy and safety, but the drivers will be unable to call upon their team for advice on how to improve their own performance while out on the track. This ban applies to all sessions, including practice, qualifying and the race formation lap.
Pit-to-car radio transmissions – certainly on the basis of what has been broadcast on the FOM-controlled feed – have come under increasing pressure for the amount of seemingly excessive hand-holding between driver and engineer, which diminishes the perception of a driver’s skills when he’s effectively being told how to drive.
The change in the regulations could enhance the show as it now puts the control in the drivers’ hands. Teams will no longer be able to inform their drivers – for example – that they are running low on fuel, suffering from a slow puncture, or overcooking their brakes. The driver will have to keep an eye on their cockpit readings, feel for handling and performance issues all by themselves.
It is believed that the specifics of the ban will be discussed at Singapore ahead of next weekend’s Grand Prix at Marina Bay in order for the teams to fully understand what falls inside and outside the new guidelines.
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