Formula One is bracing for another turnaround as important voices in the sport call for a lifting of the radio ban that so compromised Lewis Hamilton’s race in the European Grand Prix in Baku on Sunday.
New restrictions were placed on pit-to-car radios this season intended to make drivers more responsible and racing less predictable – but they have only detracted from the sport because spectators liked the conversations and spats that went on.
On Sunday, another downside of the ban was revealed when Hamilton struggled with the almost infinite number of settings on his steering wheel for 12 laps as he tried to locate the correct engine mode. Mercedes knew what was wrong but were unable to tell the driver – even though the team were at fault in sending the Briton out with the wrong engine configuration in the first place.
When Hamilton corrected the problem he immediately posted the fastest lap of the race. But by then it was too late to make any impact on the leaders, and he finished fifth while the winner, Nico Rosberg, gained another 15 points at the top of the championship table.
Now the Mercedes head of motorsport, Toto Wolff, thinks it is time to review the situation. “I think we need to look at the rules,” he said. “I still think we want to see drivers racing each other and today’s cars are very complicated because they are so sophisticated technology-wise. So you can do one of two things – make the technology much less complicated, which I don’t think is the right direction, or maybe adjust the regulations so you can communicate more with the drivers in case there is a problem.”
Some of the most experienced drivers in F1 are lining up behind Wolff. The two-time world champion Fernando Alonso said: “They give us a spaceship to drive, with the technology we have, and now we have no information available. Sometimes it’s difficult to know what is happening with the car, and what solution to do. Maybe in the future we can address this. From the beginning this rule did not make much sense.”
And the four-times world champion Sebastian Vettel said: “If you want my honest opinion the ban is a joke because it doesn’t really change much. I don’t think you go any quicker when the team tells you what’s going on. In the end it doesn’t change anything except the fact you have less radio communication to broadcast and less to give to the people.”
Force India, meanwhile, say they are confident of retaining the services of Sergio Pérez, the standout performer from F1’s midfield with two podium places in the past three outings. Pérez has been linked with Ferrari in recent weeks but Force India’s deputy principal, Bob Fernley, told Reuters on Monday: “I think he’ll be with us next year. In this business you can never be 100% sure about anything but I would be comfortable to say that he will be with us.”
For his part, Pérez sounded happy at Force India, where he has given the team four of their five ever podium finishes. The Ferrari rumours have been given traction by the fact that Kimi Raikkonen is not expected to be offered a new one-year contract at the end of the year. Pérez, 26, started his F1 career with Ferrari-powered Sauber in 2011 and is a former member of the Ferrari academy.Pérez, speaking in Baku over the weekend, said: “To be honest, I am not really into those rumours. I am focused on my job to give the best to my team. I have said it before that I am happy at Force India, but for the future who knows what will happen. We are still in the early part of the year to make any decisions for later in the year.”
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