Every year there are a few radio messages broadcast over the world feed which teams would have preferred not to have seen released into the public domain. From ‘Ralf you cannot overtake Damon’ – ingrained in my memory not only by the actual race at Spa but also the awesome intro for the www.formula1blog.com podcast- to the more recent epic ‘Fernando is faster than you’ and ‘Mark, you need to maintain the gap’, there is always something juicy to be heard coming from the pit wall. On a tad of a sidenote, Dutch Commentator Olav Mol has this amazing F1 radio station available online, which had 45 minutes of unedited team radio from the Malaysian Grand prix so definitely keep an eye on www.grandprixradio.nl on Sunday evenings after races for those goodies. I don’t think he releases these as downloads later on, so be sure to stay tuned to the channel if you don’t want to miss it. The guy is pretty nuts – and you may have heard him on the epic http://www.boxofneutrals.com podcast as well.
With the plugging of my favorite podcasts and radio show out of the way, we can get to what I really wanted to get off my chest. In only the second race of the year we may have already heard the most controversial radio message of the season when Sergio Perez’s race engineer suggested with almost audible clenching buttcheeks ‘Checo be careful, we need this position, we need this position’. While straight away I do want to make clear I do not believe in the conspiracy theory that Peter Sauber got a phone call from Luca Di Montezemolo saying that if he wanted Ferrari engines next year he better not attack Nando, I do believe it was a huge mistake for the team to send that message to their young driver on the verge of his first win in F1. It was there for the taking, yet he choked. This is not a dig on Perez, he raced superbly and conditions were tricky despite which he kept pushing like mad. It is a dig on a pitwall losing its nerve. A dose of Smedley ‘be cool’ would have been what’s needed for Sauber in the final stages of that race. From their tweets already you could see that that whole garage was packed with people with clinched buttcheeks, not real racers egging their driver on to go for gold – a la Mclaren with Jenson Button in Canada last year.
I love a good conspiracy theory and the circumstances do lend themselves to it: A member of the Ferrari Young Driver academy widely accepted to be next in line for a seat with the Scuderia, a team with a long standing relationship with Ferrari using pretty much the whole back end built in Maranello, one should not be surprised people ask questions when hearing such a radio message, and especially when the driver just moments after it makes a mistake which takes him out of contention for the win but does not end his race…face it even the most jaded fan would have some question marks. Then again it is Perez, a young driver eager to make his mark and Peter Sauber is to me the most respected man on the grid so I don’t sign up to the Ferrari ‘team supplier’ orders.
But it was still a huge mistake to send the message, not only because it took away some of the shine of a superb performance by Perez with all the conspiracy talk and I for one keep wondering if Perez would have made that mistake had his team just left him alone to do his thing behind the wheel instead of perhaps awakening the slightest of doubts. It’s like a football player taking the penalty that could win the world cup suddenly has his coach run up to him saying: ’please don’t miss this shot’, like the basketball player standing in front of that free-throw line in the dying seconds of the game having his teammates yell: ‘Don’t choke!’. In situations like this, you shut up and let the driver get along with it. The last thing a young gun like Perez on the verge of the biggest result of his career to date needed was a nervous pitlane sowing the seeds of doubt in his mind. Hell I got sweaty palms playing F1 2010 fighting it out in my online racing league, imagine what it’s like to do the real thing! You’ve got enough stuff going on in the cockpit that you don’t need a useless message like that in the dying moments of the race when you’re chasing down Fernando fricking Alonso for the win with 10 laps to go in the mythical car you may well be driving next year.
People will play the economics card, that Sauber needs the money a second place gives them. This is all very true but to that I say that Perez is not an idiot, I’m sure he didn’t need reminding that the points were important for the team. Such was his pace advantage over Alonso that he could have fairly easily DRS’D him down the straight without having to pull anything risky. A more clever, collected and most of all, positive, message to Checo would have been to say ‘When you catch Alonso, wait for DRS to pass’. It instills confidence, it shows the team have faith in their driver, takes as a given that Alonso will be passed and does not bring up that bad omen of a possible crash ending the race. That is the kind of message Checo needed to hear. Sadly we’ll never truly know if Perez would have made that mistake had he heard this kind of message instead of the panicky one, but I’m subscribing to the theory that he’d have won it had he not heard the message.
The worst of all this is that Sauber showed to me they will never escape the midfielder mentality. I love that little team but to me this was a huge disappointment. True racers would have gone for broke, they’d have either shut up or subtly egged their driver on, instilling him with the confident support of all the team. What Sauber did is show they are not in it to win it, they are more like Olympians…it’s more important to participate…. F1 is too much about money already anyway, but to value the near certainty of a second place higher than the very real possibility of a win flies in the face of everything which true racing is all about. It may be the smart thing to do, but it kills the passion.