Formula One: Pressure builds to ease radio ban

Lewis Hamilton, seen here in action during the third practice session in Baku, cut a frustrated figure during the race as he was unable to sort out his computer issues.
Lewis Hamilton, seen here in action during the third practice session in Baku, cut a frustrated figure during the race as he was unable to sort out his computer issues. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Lewis Hamilton wants more man and less machine in Formula One after a torrid European Grand Prix was compromised by a glitching computer program.

Mercedes are lining up to push the International Automobile Federation (FIA), motor sport's governing body, into abandoning the ban on radio help from top engineers that prevented the world champion from racing in Baku, Azerbaijan, on Sunday.

Instead of challenging Nico Rosberg, his team-mate, for victory, Hamilton was stuck in fifth place arguing hopelessly with a computer program that he did not understand.

"Formula One is so technical that it is almost too technical," Hamilton said. "The radio ban, as far as I am aware, was supposed to stop driver aids, but it wasn't a driver aid, it was a technical issue.

"It was a technical issue that could have been rectified by the team - if the FIA had allowed them.

"It would have added to the spectacle if I had full power because I would have been more in the race, fighting with the guys up ahead. Maybe the rules need to be looked at again."

Hamilton's hero is Ayrton Senna, who raced in an age when cars had manual gearboxes, steering wheels purely for steering and an internal combustion engine.

The British driver sits in a car with more computer power than the Space Shuttle, powered by a hybrid engine that might be a piece of technological wizardry but is fearsomely complicated.

When Hamilton's car lost power midway through Sunday's race, he had no idea what was happening, but his pit crew did - they just were not allowed to tell him and now Mercedes are preparing to lead the charge to have the radio ban, which was only introduced at the start of the season, lifted.

Sebastian Vettel, whose Ferrari team had similar problems, blasted the radio rules as "a joke", adding: "I don't think you go any quicker when the team tell you what's going on.

"In the end, it doesn't change anything except the fact you have less radio communication to broadcast and less to give to the people."

Toto Wolff, the head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, has already approached the FIA, hoping for a relaxation of rules that were originally designed to prevent race engineers coaching drivers through corners and braking areas.

"I think we need to look at the rules," he said. "I still think we want to see drivers racing one another and today's cars are very complicated because they are so sophisticated technology-wise.

"So you can do one of two things - make the technology much less complicated, which I don't think is the right direction, or maybe adjust the regulations so you can communicate more with the drivers in case there is a problem."

THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2016, with the headline 'Pressure builds to ease radio ban'. Print Edition | Subscribe