FIA admit difficulty monitoring coded messages

THE FIA race director Charlie Whiting has acknowledged coded radio messages will be difficult to police throughout future grands prix.

Lewis Hamilton in his Mercedes in the pits at Singapore GP practice yesterday. Picture: Getty
Lewis Hamilton in his Mercedes in the pits at Singapore GP practice yesterday. Picture: Getty

Ahead of this weekend’s 
Singapore Grand Prix, the FIA allowed Whiting to address the thorny matter of messages 
between team and driver that has suddenly become a major talking point in the sport.

Last week the FIA declared teams and drivers must strictly abide by a sporting regulation that states: “The driver must drive the car alone and unaided.”

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A list was produced earlier this week for clarification, 
although, in responding to pressure from teams, that has now been simplified.

That is due to the fact that, given the complicated nature of the new power units and brake systems for this year, drivers still need help.

In terms of coaching, such as being told where to apply power, where to brake, where a driver is losing time, such messages remain banned.

The grey area, however, surrounds coded messages where teams may use words and phrases that may sound innocuous at first listen, but could have a hidden meaning.

Whiting said: “Yes, I agree it won’t be straightforward.

“We’ll have a little bit of time to think about that because I think the list the teams have been given is quite straightforward.

“If you’ve a more complex, longer, more technical list, there will be greater opportunities for that sort of thing.

“It was put to me (on Thursday) that if something like ‘oil transfer’ is allowed as a message it could be coded in such a way that ‘oil transfer’ when told to a driver in turn one means something different if told to him in turn 10, for example.

“So it’s going to be a little difficult, but I’m fairly confident we can get over that one with enough time.”

Another example put to Whiting was use of the phrase ‘hammer time’, which has often been used by Mercedes engineer Pete Bonnington to Lewis Hamilton this season.

“I think that’s sort of ‘push hard’, isn’t it?” Whiting said.

“But it’s to be discussed. That’s not for this current crop of rules.

“Now we’ve a bit more time we can discuss these things with the teams.”

The timing, with six races remaining, has also been drawn into question, particularly as the FIA has backtracked to a certain degree by confirming it is to now defer part of the ban until 2015.

With the matter raised at the last Strategy Group meeting in Monza a fortnight ago, Whiting said: “It’s the driver coaching we want to stop first of all.

“It was becoming apparent more and more was being done for the driver and that is at odds with the regulations.

“We initially felt it should extend to driver and car performance, but, in looking into it in more detail, it became quite clear some teams would be at a serious disadvantage.

“With the benefit of hindsight, it would have been better to have introduced it in two stages, and that’s what we’ve done now.

“Obviously it would also have been easier to have done all this at the start of next season.

“But when it comes to enforcing a rule, things have to be done. If you see or hear something you are uncomfortable with, and whether it conforms to the rules or not, you have to do something about it.”

Whiting has confirmed any indiscretion will result in a sporting sanction, such as a loss of grid places if incorrect messages are relayed during practice and qualifying, and a likely five-second time penalty during a race, although the stewards will ultimately decide.