F1 officials confident teams won’t dodge radio silence rules

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) This weekend’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix will be the first under strict new rules limiting how much technical advice and strategic information can be given to drivers during the race and qualifying, and Formula One officials are confident they can prevent teams finding loopholes.

The FIA, the governing body of the sport, has produced a strictly limited list of allowable information that can be communicated to the driver via radio, data and pitboard display, and anything outside that list will be liable to penalties.

There will be no more advice to drivers on topics such as how to manage tire strategy or what other strategies rivals are using, driving technique in different sections of the track, altering engine and wing settings, and other such areas that the FIA believes should be up to the driver’s racing intelligence.

“We are trying to make sure the driver is driving the car on his own, and the car is not being driven for him,” the FIA’s F1 director Charlie Whiting said Friday. “The better drivers will inevitably do a better job.

“Once it gets to the race, there will not be too much they can say that will be of any value.”

In the lead-up to the introduction of the new rules, many drivers had suggested the rules could be subverted through use of code, with teams and drivers colluding pre-race to assign hidden meanings to apparently innocent communication, right down to coughs and stutters.

Whiting said every radio message would be monitored by stewards and engineers, as would other communications right down to the color of letters and numbers used on pitboards, which would be compared against technical data to reveal if secret codes are being used.

“We will hear every single message, I am sure of that,” Whiting said. “If we have some suspicion that a message is rather odd, we will look at the data and see if there has been any difference to the car’s performance.

“They will do their very best to get as much information to the drivers as they can. We just hope they continue to do it in a legal way.”

The new rules govern only pit to driver communication, and there is no restriction on what the drivers can say. Whiting said that ensures there will be no loss of the fan-friendly “juicy content” when drivers complain to their team about strategy, or about interference caused by rivals.

One criticism levelled at the regulations is that drivers will not be able to drive the car to its fullest and will hold back in case they need to go longer than planned in a particular on-track stint.

“They will talk these things to death before the race and they will know what they are going to do,” Whiting said. “If circumstances change and they want to alter strategy they can, it’s just that they can’t discuss it in detail with the driver.”

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images

Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

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Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

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Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.