In Formula 1, team radios primarily serve as a means of communicating critical information about strategy and race pace — but under each message could be an entirely different meaning.
By speaking to their race engineer, many drivers have found far more creative – and often entertaining – ways to utilize this seemingly mundane piece of technology.
In 2023, we were able to see those deeper meanings in full force, proving that even the shortest radio message can be critical in the running of the race for teams, and in the enjoyment of the race for fans.
Throughout the 2023 season, one driver utilized team radio to regularly plot strategy with his team during races. At both the Brazilian Grand Prix, for example, George Russell spent most of the race running behind Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton — all while regularly requesting the team change its strategy to allow Russell to pass.
Even Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc did some quick math at the season finale before radioing his team a pitch:
Just behind Leclerc was Sergio Perez with a 5s penalty in the final laps. Leclerc hoped that Perez would build up enough of a gap over Leclerc and Russell that Mercedes would be denied the points it would need to take second in the Constructors’ Championship. While the move ultimately didn’t work in Ferrari’s favor, it was Leclerc’s quick thinking on the radio that gave the team a shot.
Petitioning for penalties
With all of F1’s rules and regulations, many drivers may feel that race stewards need a little extra help noting penalty-worthy incidents.
Whether it’s Lewis Hamilton pointing out a competitor’s unsafe maneuver Lando Norris noting that all four of a driver’s tires might have just gone over the line denoting track limits, drivers may be able to alert their engineers to an issue — and perhaps benefit from it as a result.
While some calls for penalties may be veiled, others are obvious. After being pushed wide at the start of the Las Vegas Grand Prix by Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc told his engineers: “This needs to be addressed now. He pushed me wide, so he needs to give the position back.”
Establishing a team hierarchy
In F1 teams like Ferrari, there can be an insistence that there is no hierarchy regarding the drivers. Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, Jr., are considered on equal terms, with neither driver being considered a number one or number two. But during a race, drivers can use team radio to better understand their position on the team.
Both Ferrari drivers tested their hierarchy within the team during Q1 at the British Grand Prix. Leclerc and Sainz were running in third and fourth, respectively, when Sainz overtook his teammate in an effort to set a faster lap.
Leclerc, who felt he had priority in the session, responded to the overtake by saying, “Nice, Carlos, nice good overtake in the last corner.” Sainz, on the other hand, told his engineer, “It’s a bit unfair what you’re asking me to do there: sacrifice my tire temperature. But anyway, whatever. Also, I am P4, he is P3, I am more at risk.” Here, both teammates could be seen jockeying for Ferrari’s priority.
Of course, a team prioritizing one driver over another in a single race may not signify any overall beliefs about hierarchy — but it can provide an opportunity for a driver to find a pattern.
Other examples of establishing a team hierarchy can come in the form of a driver’s perception of his role in the team.
Max Verstappen, for example, was heard arguing with race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase multiple times during the Belgian Grand Prix. After being asked to use his head, Verstappen responded to insist that he be informed of the team’s strategy for both himself and teammate Sergio Perez. While that comment situated Verstappen as team leader over Perez, it also highlighted the influence Verstappen can have on all of Red Bull’s running.
Offering entertaining commentary
While most drivers save their radio messages for the important goings-on of a race, some drivers are able to be a little more creative.
Look no further than Max Verstappen who, in 2023, contested such a dominant season that he could be heard offering some humorous tidbits during various events.
Whether it was informing his team that he was interested in setting the fastest lap in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, arguing with his race engineer, singing some tunes, or pointing out something that happened on a television screen, Verstappen’s comfortable lead of the Championship allowed him to get comfortable expressing his personality.
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