Heading into a new Formula 1 season, there are generally a few minor refinements to the rules and regulations.
In 2016, the sport will see three major changes which will play a major part in the way Formula 1 goes racing, with tyre changes, a new qualifying format, and of course, a stricter radio clampdown.
Ahead of the Australian Grand Prix, there were some alterations to the radio communications which further restricted the communication between the pit wall and the driver. We’ve listed the permissible contact the team may have with their driver whilst they are on track.
Restrictions on team-to-driver communications: Permitted list
- Acknowledgment that a driver’s message has been heard, this can include repeating the message back to the driver for confirmation.
- Indication of a critical problem with the car, any message of this sort may only be used if the failure is imminent and potentially terminal.
- Information about damage to the car.
- Instructions to select driver defaults for the sole purpose of mitigating loss of function of a sensor, actuator or controller – whose degradation or failure was not detected by the on-board software.
- Instruction to enter the pit lane in order to fix or retire the car.
- Indication of a problem with a competitor’s car.
- Marshalling information (yellow flag, blue flag, red flag, safety car, virtual safety car, race start aborted, or any instructions from race control). This includes a reminder to switch off the SC “delta time” function after crossing the first safety car line twice from the time the SC was deployed.
- Passing on messages from race control (this includes a countdown to the start of the formation lap and informing the last driver has taken his position at the end of the formation lap)
- Wet track, oil or debris in certain corners.
- Weather information.
- Information concerning the driver’s own lap time or sector time.
- Lap time of a competitor.
- Warning of traffic and gaps to other competitors during a practice session or race.
- Instructions to swap position with other drivers (in circumstances resulting in track limits and giving a position back)
- Number of laps or time remaining during a practice session or race.
- Position during a practice session or race.
- “Push hard”, “push now”, “you will be racing X” “take it easy” or similar.
- When to enter the pits or go to the grid during a reconnaissance lap. Any message of this sort may only be used if the driver is to pit on that lap. Having been told when to enter the pits drivers may also be told to stay out if there has been a change of circumstances.
- Reminders to use the speed limiter, change tyre settings to match the tyres fitted to the car or to check for white lines, bollards, weighbridge lights when entering or leaving the pits.
- Driving breaches by team driver or competitor, e.g. missing chicanes, running off track, time penalty will be applied etc.
- Notification that DRS is enabled or disabled.
- Dealing with a DRS failure.
- Oil transfer.
- Test sequence information during practice sessions (FP1 and FP2 only), e.g. are-mapping.
During Formula 1 Director Charlie Whiting’s press conference on Friday, Whiting stated the intention of the radio ban was “fairly clear”, and that the “driver is driving the car on his own, that he’s not being told how to drive the car”.
“The main changes are that a team can tell a driver to stay out, which we hadn’t said before. They are allowed to talk to the driver on the grid, so we’ve said that the only time they can’t talk to the driver is whilst the engine is running. When the engine’s off on the grid they can talk to a driver,” Whiting said.
“The messages telling them to do certain test routines is restricted now to P1 and P2 only.”
One of the main concerns surrounding the new radio clampdown is coded messaging, and drivers like Jenson Button are confident that the FIA can’t control everything that is said over the team radio frequencies.
“I’ve had some very strange questions about ‘the birds are flying high in the sky today’ and stuff like that. I’d just say it’s not on the list.
“Seriously, I think that even by using some of these things on the list there is probably a way of getting a message across which we weren’t intending them to, but we’ll have to deal with that on a case-by-case basis.”
Although teams are quite innovative in finding loopholes in the regulations, Whiting is confident that the Stewards officiating races will be able to detect any coded messages.
Races will now have four Stewards listening to three drivers each in real time, this is in addition to another four or five software engineers who are listening to two or three drivers each. And if a coded message is suspected, certain measures can be taken to see if a driver has altered his driving style or changed a setting he’s not allowed to be instructed to do.
“We will hear every single message, yes. I’m absolutely sure of that,” Whiting continued.
“Going back to the coded messages, we’ve got to be a little careful about that. We could, for example, if we have some suspicion that a message is odd, say, we could then look at the data from the car and see if the driver did anything in response to that message.
“Then maybe at the next race if we hear the same message we’ll look for the same switch change, or something like that. We’ll build up a little knowledge.”
The FIA will also monitor the pit boards team put out for their drivers on the main straight, keeping a camera fixed in the direction of the pit lane to spot unusual messages.
As for the menu on the steering wheel display, drivers will only be able to have access to information such as brake temperatures, tyre temperatures, tyre pressures, their lap times and the remaining laps in a race.
Penalties for disregarding the new rules will depend on the severity of the breach. A small offence will incur a warning or even a reprimand if it becomes an occurrence. If the offence is a major breach, the Stewards will impose a time penalty to the driver.
Images via George Hitchens Photography & FIA