Whether it's qualifying or the restrictions on team-to-driver radio communications, F1 has been focused on the (scant) change introduced to F1 at this weekend's Australian Grand Prix. So we've seen qualifying play out - and we all have a largely poor opinion of it -, but what of the other, how will the restrictions on messages work in practice?

Essentially, the move means fans will no longer will we hear things like "Mode yellow G7 and maximum Hoagy Nidds,"... and this is no great loss to the show (though it might be a loss to poor old Hoagy, a former colleague of mine).

The current power units have a huge amount of variables, probably too many for most of the drivers to really comprehend. On the top level there is the energy flow strategy, how much the MGU-H, MGU-K work, where the energy is sent, to the wheels, to the battery or to the turbo to act as anti-lag.

Some of this is automated but there are still a huge amount of different options. In the past the engineers on the pit-wall or even some back in the factory would instruct the drivers on which to use, but now that is down to the drivers and only the drivers. The engineers can brief them on which to use and in which scenarios but the drivers have to recall this during the race.

This becomes more of an issue when the car starts to develop a fault, in the past the teams could tell a driver what mode to use in order to keep racing and save a power unit or transmission, but now the teams have to sit back and hope that the drivers firstly detect the problem and then work out how to counter it (all while still racing).

"It is going to be very stressful on the pit wall when you are watching these numbers and you can't do anything about it" Toro Rosso's James Key told Crash.net during the Barcelona tests. "But it is definitely for them to learn this and they have been doing that. We have been discussing it with them for a while and clearly we are doing it here as I am sure everyone is. And yes you need to reconfigure your display on the steering wheel to make sure they have got all the information they need very clearly to ensure they are running both safely and reliably. I think in Barcelona with nice long straights it is okay, but it is when you get to Monaco and places like that it is going to get tricky."

In the world of aviation this is actually something pilots rehearse on the simulator and in training flights, and it seems that some teams are doing the same in Formula 1. Indeed Carlos Sainz recently it was like being back at college

"It has been slightly more crude than with aviation type things, manual type work really and yes we have thrown in scenarios as a bit of a test" Key reveals. "We have certainly been testing them and we have thrown a few curve balls during running to make sure they are on the case and they are worrying about the right things. I have to say they have coped with it surprisingly well. There have been a few things to iron out but they are both young enough and bright enough to realise they have got to get on top of this for Melbourne. It hasn't been quite as tricky as I was worrying about."

These new rules reward drivers who have a better technical awareness and understand the various menus on the car better, indeed the driver with a better 'feel' for the car will also benefit. I think this is the right thing as it rewards all round driving talent, and I suspect those critical of the new rules are the ones most at risk of losing out because of them.

"Now the driver can't feel what is going on" Key adds. "He doesn't know whether it is an MGU-K or an ICE giving him rear axle torque necessarily. There are so many things going on. You need a massive bank of engineers to monitor power units. So for them to try and understand that and worry about it when they are driving is impossible. You need a rudimentary understanding of course of the effects of everything, but what is important is you know what to do under certain circumstances and what to monitor and that is the emphasis we have been putting on them."

The question now is what is actually acceptable in terms of radio chatter? The FIA has given teams a list of what is allowed which includes, highlighting a critical problem such as a puncture or impact damage, and the same information on competitors cars, instruction to pit, track conditions, race control information (flags), timing and gaps, encouragement (like "push now"), oil transfer, track limits and team orders. What it does not allow is information on engine modes, shifting points, fuel usage, and detailed strategy information.

So does this spell the end of 'Hammertime'?. Well possibly not (though I probably wouldn't miss it... *cringe*). The teams can still tell a driver to pit in a lap or two or whatever and the drivers all know to push as hard as possible at that point and forget about saving the tyres. It may also involve a slightly different engine mode but again the driver knows that already, so I think saying "It's Hammertime Lewis" is simply the same as saying "Pit at the end of this lap". As much as I would very much like to read MC Hammer lyrics in an FIA official document. I'm not sure Charlie Whiting or Jo Bauer know who MC Hammer is.

However, the FIA is paying close attention to coded messages and will heavily police anything it feels is unusual, both over the radio or the pit-boards, where cameras will be trained on them at each round.

The way the FIA has done this is by producing a list of what you can say. As a result, if anyone is said that isn't on this list (which is only about 3 pages long), then it isn't permitted. Warnings and penalties will follow depending on the seriousness or the repetitiveness.

Teams don't think it will make much difference though. Experienced drivers who race with instinct before all of this radio traffic became commonplace might appreciate the quiet (Kimi...), while the much younger drivers will just feel like going back to the junior days when it was all more manual. In between, however, you have those who came into F1 at an age of technology who may struggle by comparison, such as Nico Rosberg and Valtteri Bottas, but really they are smart enough to know how to adapt.

The flip side might mean less radio traffic at all for any of us to listen to, but as Jenson Button pointed out, 'it's great, they can't talk to you but you can talk to them. I can call them names...' Here's hoping for more entertainment and less 'mode 5'

Max YamabikoAdditional reporting by Ollie Barstow

 

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