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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.”

Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry.

The idea of Hamilton attending the season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it only would be fitting if Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — spent some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).