F1’s TV department is always looking for new angles and fresh shots. This year saw the return of the pedal cam after two decades of last experience, while the Dutch Grand Prix provided an opportunity to try something different in order to give a better impression of how steep the curved corners really are.
The shot was only seen briefly on Saturday and Sunday in Zandvoort, and only at Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz. However, the first outing in Formula 1 with a gyroscope-mounted camera was judged a success as the shot tilted as the Spaniard ran around the banks.
“Just look at this new camera we are trying,” said Stefano Domenicali, chief executive of F1. “I think it’s important for us to try to convey a sense of speed, a sense of what’s already on the right track.”
The man responsible for the images we see transmitted from the cars is F1 chief on board Steve Smith, who has been doing the job for more than three decades.
“Stefano and Ross [Brawn] We are keen to bring innovation, new things to show that we are not standing still, and moving forward,” says Smith.
“So this year we introduced the pedal shot. Ultimately, we want the 360-degree camera to be able to stream live outside the car. Currently it’s a standalone unit, it records to the actual unit, then we download the footage after that, and it’s used for social media.
“We hope you’ll eventually watch global broadcasts on TV, complete with your iPad or phone for a 360-degree camera view.”
F1 is always open to feedback from fans, but it’s not easy to please everyone.
“I think sometimes people see something and write and say why don’t you do that in Formula 1?” Smith says. “The most important thing for us is shooting with one camera.
“For example, Martin Brandl did an advantage over Sky in a Ferrari at Fiorano a couple of years ago. He got down in the car, and they loaded it with GoPros. He made two turns, three or four different shots. They brought him inside, moved those shots somewhere else in the car, He did two more sessions.
“Then he went in, they removed all the cameras. There were two more courses, and they cut it all together so you couldn’t see any cameras. But it’s 10 different shots. He doesn’t do us any favors, because then someone says why can’t we see that in a race? Grand prize? “
The obvious inspiration for the F1 gyro cam tested at Zandvoort was the MotoGP.
Someone wrote and said it would be great to see what the banks look like. If you see the car normally, the car park remains on the track
“It’s not like a bike, the bike bends over 68 degrees. And that’s really impressive. What the bikes do is great stuff. And we found a camera that did the job.”
The gyro camera is the same as that used in the MotoGP, and was actually obtained from the Dorna Series regulator. As always with such innovations, the next task was to get them in the car.
“We try to do it in secret so it doesn’t bother people,” Smith says. “If you go to a team and say we want to try this, the first thing they say is how much it weighs, is there an aerodynamic penalty, do our main competitors use it? And if I say no, they say well, we won’t run it either!”
“What we also find is that if we have private footage, teams feel they are losing exposure. And because the onboard cameras are not in their infancy anymore, they have been used to do driver analysis, there are a lot of things they use the footage for. So if I used an unusual shot, they wouldn’t get the rotating ring camera, and they love that shot.
“However, we do have the ability to broadcast dual cameras, so we can send two signals simultaneously. We don’t do that often now, but we double broadcast the pedal shot.”
The new gyroscopic camera fits the usual chamber on the nose, and there is no weight penalty. And so Ferrari agreed to run it on Sainz’s car at Zandvoort. After some testing on Friday, he was quietly entered into the broadcast on Saturday, and then briefly into the race.
“Honestly, if we can’t test it on a Zandvoort, it’s kind of like a chocolate teapot,” Smith says. “Because you can’t go to Monza and test it, because it’s flat! And so we drove like crazy.
“And if I’m being very frank, there were some flaws in the shot. But we talked about it, and decided this was our last chance to do it. We felt that sending him out, the good outweighs the bad.”
The new shot went down well, and Smith received some instant feedback: “Once it went live, I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket, messages were just coming in. Wow, that’s good!”
Camera details on Carlos Sainz, Ferrari F1-75
Photography: Adam Cooper
Now the question is where can a gyroscopic camera be useful? It was tried briefly in practice at Monza on top of a McLaren Lando Norris, with a general idea of how it would react on pavement etc, but the footage was not broadcast.
Wavy trails like Suzuka and Austin could also be interesting options, but at the moment there are no firm plans.
Meanwhile, F1 continues to innovate. For Austin, one would expect to see a circular view with an overhead pedal shot superimposed on the front of the chassis like an X-ray image, which shows the driver’s feet in action. The goal is always to offer something fans can enjoy.
“I hate to say it, because I’m the one who installed it, but Ayrton Senna’s 1990 Monaco course, everyone uses it as a creative piece of the pick,” Smith says. “But you don’t compare whites to whites. That’s a V10, a manual gearbox, and it’s an Ayrton Senna.
“When you see that lap on YouTube, 50% of what people take as vibration actually disintegrate, because we used to go from car to helicopter, now it goes from car to locations around the circle.
“This gyro camera has the ability to reduce stabilization. What we can do is try it out. I’ve spent 30 years of my life trying to make it stable. Now some people would like to see it less stable!”