If you’ve listened to our race review podcasts, you’ll know that Paul, Mark (Fake Charlie Whiting) and I have commented at length about the sharing of information between Mercedes drivers Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton.

The issue at hand is how much information is shared with the drivers regarding his teammates setup and current running specification. You may recall radio communication from Nico Rosberg asking what Lewis Hamilton’s brake bias is or other details that normally a driver would not know during a race in order to compensate.

As the battle between teammates becomes the only real battle left in F1 for the driver and constructor titles, it becomes even more of an issue amongst the team. We’ve commented that we believe the two sides of the Mercedes garage should run their race but that isn’t the feeling of Mercedes chief Toto Wolff who told AUTOSPORT:

“We just need to keep the transparency level where it is and not become in-transparent,” Wolff added.

“It’s clearly becoming very competitive, and the longer we go into the season the more competitive it’s going to get.

“Transparency is all about exchanging views and learning from each other.

“We have to look very carefully at it. We don’t want to keep the lap that shows how capable the car is until the final qualifying, because we need to understand where we can improve the car.

“I’m not saying this has happened, we just don’t want to see any sandbagging and aborted laps when we need to learn about the car.”

The team seems to believe that complete transparency between each side of the garage is the rule they feel works best. Lewis or Nico should know the exact setup and specification his teammate is using. It is difficult to get an edge over your closest rival if you have to give them your play book every lap.

Does this methodology work best for the team? Perhaps it does but it isn’t doing much for Lewis Hamilton at the moment when his every advantage is being read by his closest competitor and current championship leader.

Being of one mind is a novel concept and a team who seeks unity in effort can do big things but this year isn’t about thwarting off a fierce attack from Red Bull or Ferrari, it is about Lewis vs Nico and the open, free exchange of information seems to be neutralizing the efforts either driver makes to get a leg up on his close rival.

Mercedes may be anchored in the theory of transparency at the moment and they may suggest that their team is one mind but then Wolff admits that there may be a time that could change:

“The drivers’ main agenda is winning the drivers’ championship; our agenda is about winning the constructors’ championship and making sure one of the drivers wins the drivers’ championship, so maybe first we need to win the constructors’ championship and then we can unleash them.”

Now, color me reactionary but if the rule of transparency is demanded in a team and then at some point it can be thrown out the window, this is a culture ripe for corruption or frustration. When laws are only applicable given certain contextual relevancy, then they become a gray area and can be fudged, nudged and ignored.

This is a slippery slope and one that could cost Lewis Hamilton dearly in his bid for a second championship. Lewis isn’t interested in being leashed until such time as the team secures their interests—then being “unleashed”. He’s there to win races and sharing his settings, race strategy and more is only tipping his hand in a high stakes game of F1.

For Nico’s part, he’s going to take advantage of the teams onerous position on transparency while the sun shines and harvest as much info on his main rival as he can while that side of the garage is compelled to give up its secrets. You can’t blame him for wanting to read his competitors playbook.

It is, however, not a one-way street so I don’t want to overplay Nico’s advantage here. Lewis has the same ability to read Nico’s playbook according to Toto Wolff. Is that the right thing to do in order to give either driver their own opportunity to make the most of their skills and efforts with their individual team in the garage?

An F1 fan since 1972, NC has spent over 25 years in the technology industry focusing on technology integration, AV systems integration, digital media strategies, technology planning, consulting, speaking, presenting, sales, content strategy, marketing and brand building.
  • It’s an interesting conundrum; by connoting fairness through transparency, is the team actually hampering one garage? The alternative is allowing selective or even outright info-hoarding, with the potential discontent from the trailing teammate.

    “When laws are only applicable given certain contextual relevancy, then they become a gray area and can be fudged, nudged and ignored.” This is apt, and IMO makes it difficult satisfying all parties. Maximizing team performance means sharing certain data, but at what point does Merc allow self benefit? I don’t think there’s an absolute answer unfortunately, which means one driver is going to feel shafted.

    I feel stronger about general engineer/team-to-driver info sharing. During Practice, Rossberg’s engineer, unprompted, recommended the driver reset brake bias and drive a certain corner differently for lap time. To me, Rossberg should feel out the advantage; if he doesn’t, tough rocks. I agree w/ your podcast sentiments that too much is being given drivers, although again, regulating it is difficult.

  • MIE

    Before this season, I would have said Hamilton was the faster driver and the one with better stagecraft. I still get the feeling that his spacecraft is better, but looking at their fastest race laps, Rosberg appears to have the upper hand (in qualifying it is four all). If the cars are equal, then it is down to who is the better driver, and Bahrain has shown that while Rosberg May be faster, Hamilton can stay in front. We have yet to see a faster Hamilton try and pass Rosberg, but I feel the result maybe different. I just hope the championship isn’t decided by double points.

    • Some might argue that Rosberg is faster due to his gaining the information on Lewis’s setup but that is just one view. It’s hard to know but I suspect there are folks int eh garage who do know and they’re not saying. :)

      • MIE

        But if he is faster with the same car and setup, does that mean he is a better driver?
        Conversely, Hamilton cannot go as fast as Rosberg despite having access to his team mates settings.

        Part of what makes a great driver is their ability to make the best use of all available information. Senna hated driver aids, Schumacher embraced them, different approaches that may have influenced their battles had Senna lived.

        Perhaps Schumacher hadn’t lost that much when he returned, and Rosberg really is that fast? He has certainly impressed me so far this year, even if I still think Hamilton has the advantage in wheel to wheel combat.

        Who said one team dominating was dull…

        • F1Kat

          Still F1 will be defined as 1 team and 2 drivers :-)

      • That view mainly comes from rather biased British sources. And it doesn’t make much sense. We’ve seen Nico and Lewis competing for one and a half years now, and so far, they look evenly matched.
        And why is it only Nico who could learn something? That view presupposes that Lewis is the more talented driver which is then used to explain why the more talented driver isn’t dominating. It’s entirely circular.

        But even if true, if you can only beat your teammate by keeping secrets from him, does that make you a better driver? I think it’s a weak rationalization in order to keep the view that Lewis is the second coming of Senna.

        A more realistic narrative is that both Nico and Lewis are extremely quick. There, problem solved, no need to come up with ad hoc explanations for why the golden boy doesn’t always win.

  • Steve G

    I don’t know if it helps or hurts Mercedes, but it might have robbed us fans of a great finish in Austria

  • I’m in agreement with Toto’s opinion right up until the starting lights go out. Once the race is in progress they should be independent on strategy, settings, car status, etc. The only possible exceptions would be if there is a conflict with pit box use or obviously safety concerns or impending mechanical failure…

  • As for the main question: Of course maximum transparency helps Mercedes. It maximizes the performance of the drivers while simultaneously minimizing the chance of defects. There’s no two ways about this.

  • Of course it helps Mercedes…they get to optimize their points haul every race if each car has all of the available information. Once there is truly an inter team rivalry that plays out on track…someone…or possibly everyone on the team loses out.