Why Japanese Grand Prix radio messages highlighted a big problem with F1
While I never expect the Japanese Grand Prix to be one for edge of the seat racing, with its DRS drive-by pretty much the only overtaking opportunity, it’s always one I look forward to just to see the fastest racing cars in the world take on the sinuous challenge of a circuit that still leaves little margin for error.
Running wide will almost always cost you time and, more often than not, cost you damage as well – and that’s the way it should be.
It’s also a special race for me because Suzuka was the first circuit in Japan that I raced on at the start of an on-and-off career in this magical country that would continue for over ten years. My debut there in 1979 was a one-off drive in their premier series for Formula Two cars and only my third race in this category. So, I was pretty happy to finish fourth - but what a circuit!
Working the wheel at Suzuka
Although virtually the same basic layout as it is now there have been quite a few updates in the name of safety with three corners given an earlier entry to provide more run-off.
Turn One was deeper and tighter and so was Degner and the first Spoon, but the biggest difference is there was no Chicane!
No way was 130R flat so your exit speed there was crucial to the long run round the daunting, crested right hand kink where the chicane now is and then down past the Pits where overtaking was possible – but never easy.
Of course, I still hoped to finally get to see the big six running as a pack but the dreaded grid penalties did for Bottas and Raikkonen, a silly spark plug thwarted Vettel and Ricciardo was pounced on by Ocon so we were left with just two!
Fortunately for us viewers Verstappen was at least able to keep Hamilton in sight and, during the quieter parts of the race, our excitement was kept at fever pitch with shots of some bloke called Mo grinning away in the garage...
Niki Lauda and Mo Farah - both champions of the track (Pic: Sutton)
Towards the end tension did mount as Lewis, surely now cruising to a fourth world crown, began to catch his teammate but then we got to hear the first of the sort of radio messages surely, we don’t want transmitted into our homes. We love to hear Grosjean and Perez moaning away but we don’t want to learn that drivers aren’t able to push all the way.
While the mid-field pack again entertained royally, running close together with Magnussen once more the star of the show divebombing Massa into the second part of Turn One, when Lewis (on his fresh Soft tyres) got within half a mile of Bottas (on very old Soft tyres) he seemed unable to close the gap despite Max edging ever nearer behind him.
So, while us TV fans are beginning to get excited we hear Lewis complaining that Bottas is ‘compromising his pace’ and we’re all thinking that with much better grip he should be able to attack and overtake just like the midfield boys do but, for some reason, apparently, he can’t.
I can only think it’s part of his mindset, he doesn’t feel he should have to make any extra effort or risk unnecessarily wearing out his tyres when it’s his teammate that’s ahead of him. So, was he almost allowing Max to close in in order to make his team move Bottas out of the way?
Of course, they did and he quickly re-established a comfortable cushion that looked like carrying him to an easy win until he happened upon Fernando Alonso desperately trying to wrest the final point from Massa and not in the sort of co-operative mood that he would surely demand if he ever leads a Grand Prix again.
So, Max is back in with a chance and once again we get a radio message we really don’t want to hear as the young Dutch star feels he must ask his team if they will allow him to ‘give it everything’!
The impression now given is that he hadn’t really been trying earlier, just cruising round with no thought of trying to attack Lewis...
The reply from the team was even worse: 'Alright Max, as long as you are sensible'! It was like a conversation between a schoolboy and his teacher and the sort of thing the radio editor should simply leave unheard. Give us stuff that makes us feel we are watching a flat-out race and not news that we probably aren’t.
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