The team radio has become a big part of F1, especially in recent years. The radios in F1 allow teams and drivers to communicate in real time, and the fans get to hear it as well. But it wasn’t always like this, if we cast our minds back to when F1 first started using radios.
F1 started using radios in the 1980s, but Colin Chapman is said to have been experimenting with them in the 1970s. However, they didn’t become a common sight in the sport until 1984 when most teams started to use them. However, they weren’t the most reliable and often gave the teams problems.
Over the years advances in technology has vastly improved the team radios that are used by Formula 1 teams. Modern day Formula 1 radios are almost crystal clear and rarely have any issues, but we’ll take a closer look at how F1 radios work below.
How Do F1 Radios Work?
Staying in touch with a Formula 1 driver while they’re going 190+ miles per hour around a racetrack is no easy task. Especially when that racetrack is as long as Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium, with trees and various buildings in between the pit lane and the driver as they travel around the circuit. Modern F1 team radios make this possible.
The team radio runs off the car’s power system, being plugged into the sidewall of the car. The radio itself sits underneath the drivers’ legs and the driver’s specific radio channel opens when they press a button on the steering wheel. The signal is transmitted through an antenna on the car’s nose, which over the years has become smaller to have minimal effect on the driver’s view.
The radios have been developed over the years, and the frequencies can now easily pass through or between the buildings and various other obstacles that may be found around a racetrack. This has allowed modern Formula 1 teams to reliably use their radios without interruptions.
Team Radio Frequencies
Formula 1 teams use two-way radios, which means that only members of the same team can talk to each other. However, it’s much more complicated than a simple walkie-talkie that a security guard would use. Formula 1 teams have a high tech system that encrypts their frequencies.
This ensures that no other teams can listen in on what they are saying to one another, as communication is an important part of strategy in Formula 1. Even if you were to land on one of their frequencies by accident, you still would not be able to hear what they are saying.
However, the FIA does have access to all team radios, and they often broadcast them to the public, albeit with a delay. Ever since the launch of F1 TV, all team radios have been made public and you can usually tune in to hear what they have to say.
Teams That Opposed Broadcasted Team Radios
Even though the public loves hearing what the drivers and the teams have to say to one another, there are some teams that dislike having their radio messages broadcast for the entire world to hear out loud.
Ferrari and McLaren were notoriously secretive about their team radios, and they refused to have them broadcast on live TV for a long time. In the 2000s it was rare to hear a team radio from either of these teams despite other teams having their radio messages being broadcast on the world feed.
Eventually the FIA stepped in, and Ferrari and McLaren were forced to drop the secrecy. Nowadays all team radios are broadcast on the live feed (again, with varying delays), and we can hear just about anything they say to one another, which is great for spectators. This does lead to some inventive codewords being used!
When Were F1 Radios First Used?
It’s unclear as to exactly when F1 team radios were introduced as they were not covered in the early technical regulations. This makes it difficult to trace back their origins in the sport, making them somewhat of a mystery.
What we do know is that by the mid-1980s the majority of Formula 1 teams were using team radios to communicate with their drivers while they were out on track. However, they weren’t always reliable, and drivers and teams didn’t count on them too often.
The majority of team radios sounded unclear and often lost their signal around the track, especially on a longer circuit like Spa where there is a lot of interference. Senna, for example, got interference on his team radio at the British Grand Prix, hearing messages from staff at a catering firm who were working at the circuit!
In 1998 there was also an incident where Mika Hakkinen had received a team radio message telling him to pit. However, the message was intended for another driver and had interfered with his frequency, causing him to drive into the pits without his team being ready for him. This kind of thing doesn’t happen nowadays.
Digital vs Analogue Radios
Analogue radio systems were used by Formula 1 teams in the past as they were the only ones around at the time. The teams felt that the advantage of being able to communicate with the driver effectively was too important to pass up on despite the reliability issues and interference.
In 2006 the Sauber Formula 1 team was one of the first teams to switch to the digital radio systems that we see today. Clearer audio and stronger signals mean that digital radio communication became the better option.
Today, technology has advanced so much that the radios are clearer than they ever have been before. We still see some interference and signal drops at times, but it is fairly rare and often doesn’t last very long.
What Happens When A Driver’s Radio Doesn’t Work?
Before the days of team radios there was still a form of communication between F1 teams and their drivers. Teams used pit boards to get basic information across to their drivers as they drove along the pit straight.
The pit boards were large with bright yellow letters, making them easy to read as a driver drives past at 190+ mph. The information is also quick and easy to read. Oftentimes teams will show the laps remaining, the gap to the car ahead or behind, or they might also tell the driver when to pit.
In the days of unreliable radios, pit boards were used in conjunction with the team radio just in case. However, in modern Formula 1 it’s rare to see pit boards during a race. They started slowly but surely disappearing in the mid 2010s, but you might still see some pit boards being used, as drivers often want minimal radio conversation to allow them to concentrate.
Can F1 Drivers Talk To Each Other?
Formula 1 drivers cannot to talk to each other on the radio. They only have a two way channel to the pit wall through which they are able to communicate with their race engineers. The simple push to talk system is designed to make the process as quick and easy as possible.
If Formula 1 drivers were able to talk to each other while out on track, it’s safe to say that we would see a lot more drama than we do now! Drivers are fueled with adrenaline, and oftentimes while they’re in the car they can say things they don’t really mean in the heat of the moment.
Having communication just with the team can help to prevent tempers from flaring up against one another. Drivers also would be too focused on their driving to have time to talk to each other, and there would need to be 19 separate buttons on the steering wheel for each driver, which would be more of a distraction than anything else!
Can F1 Teammates Talk To Each Other?
F1 teammates can’t speak to one another while they’re out on track. Instead, they have to relay their messages through the team’s pit wall and the race engineers. Then, the pit wall can relay that information back to the other driver.
This is to prevent confusion between the two drivers, while also preventing them from helping each other. While drivers are focused and driving their cars flat out it can be incredibly distracting if someone speaks over the radio at the wrong time. We’ve seen it happen in the past where drivers miss the apex of a corner or mess up a move due to their engineers speaking to them over the radio at the wrong moment.
Can F1 Drivers Hear Each Other?
F1 drivers can’t hear each other while they’re out on track. We know this because we’ve seen drivers in the past ask their race engineers to relay messages through to their teammates during a race, and it would be impractical for drivers to be able to hear various conversations at one time.
If drivers were able to hear each other it would quickly become confusing, as they would likely be talking over one another and distracting each other while driving. Drivers only speak to their race engineers, and the team principal is in control of the course of action that is taken based on the communication between the driver and their race engineers.
Most F1 teams were using team radios by the mid 1980s. They weren’t too great at the time, but as the technology developed over the years team radios have become much clearer and more reliable than before. Radios serve as an invaluable way for F1 teams and drivers to communicate during a race.