F1’s TV department is always looking for new angles and new shots. This year the pedal cam has returned two decades after the last experiment, while the Dutch GP offered the opportunity to try something different to give a better impression of how steep the leaning corners really are.
The shot was only briefly seen at Zandvoort on Saturday and Sunday, and only on Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari. However, the first F1 outing for a gyro-stabilizing camera was judged a success, as the shot tipped over as the Spaniard ran across the couch.
“Look at this new camera we are trying,” said F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali, who happened to be in the Sky F1 commentary box when the shot appeared in FP3. “I think it’s important for us to try to convey the sense of speed, the sense of what’s really on the track.”
The man responsible for the photos we see from inside the cars is F1’s head Steve Smith, who has been doing the job for over three decades.
“Stefano and Ross [Brawn] like to bring innovation, new things to show that we are not sitting still and moving forward,” says Smith.
“And so this year we introduced the pedal shot. Ultimately, we want the 360 camera to be able to transmit live from the car. At the moment it’s an independent unit, incorporating into the actual unit, and then we download the images after that, and that’s then used for social media.
“Our ultimate hope is that you watch the international feed on TV, supplemented with an iPad or your phone for watching a 360 camera.”
F1 is always open to feedback from fans, but keeping everyone happy isn’t easy.
“I think what happens sometimes is people see something and they write and say why don’t you do that in F1?” said Smith. “And the most important thing for us is shooting with one camera.
“For example, Martin Brundle did a feature on Sky a few years ago in a Ferrari at Fiorano. He went out in the car and they loaded him up with GoPros. He drove two laps, with three or four different shots. They brought him in, they moved those shots to a different spot in the car, he did two more laps.
“When he came in, they removed all the cameras. There were two more laps and they cut everything together so you can’t see any cameras. But it’s 10 different shots. It doesn’t please us, because then someone says why don’t we see that in a Grand Prix?”
The obvious inspiration for the gyro camera that F1 tried at Zandvoort was MotoGP.
“Someone wrote and said it would be great if we could see what the banking industry looks like. When you see the car normally, the attitude of the car stays with the track
“It’s not like a bicycle, a bicycle is inclined more than 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 the one used in MotoGP and indeed comes from series organizer Dorna. As always with such innovations, the next job was to get it on a car.
“We try to do it covertly so people don’t get upset,” Smith says. “When you go to a team and you say we’d like to try this, the first thing they say is how much does it weigh, is there an aerodynamic penalty, are our main competitors using it? And if you say no, they say good, we’re not going to run it either!
“What we also find is that when we have special shots, teams feel like they’re losing exposure. And since it’s no longer in its infancy, onboard cameras are being used to do driver analysis, so there’s a lot of things they’re using the footage for. So if you use an unusual shot, they don’t get the roll-hoop camera and they like that shot.
“However, we do have the capability to double-stream cameras so we can send two signals at once. We don’t do it that much now, but we’ve double-streamed the pedal recording.”
The new gyro camera fits in the usual pod on the nose and there is no weight penalty. So Ferrari agreed to run it on Sainz’s car in Zandvoort. After some experimentation on Friday, it was quietly pushed into the broadcast on Saturday, and then briefly into the race.
“Honestly, if we hadn’t been able to test it for Zandvoort, it’s a bit of a chocolate teapot,” Smith says. “Because you can’t go to Monza to test it, because it’s flat! And so we pushed like crazy.
“And if I’m being very honest, there were a few imperfections in the recording. But we talked about it and we decided this was our last chance to do it. We felt like sending the good was more important than the bad.”
The new recording was well received and Smith got immediate feedback: “As soon as it went live, I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket, messages were just coming in. Wow, that’s good!”
camera detail on Carlos Sainz, Ferrari F1-75
Photo by: Adam Cooper
The question now is where else can the gyro camera be useful? It was briefly tried in practice in Monza on top of Lando Norris’ McLaren, with the general idea of seeing how it would react to curbs and so on, but the shots were not transmitted.
Wave courses like Suzuka and Austin could also be interesting options, but there are no concrete plans at the moment.
Meanwhile, F1 continues to innovate. For Austin, one can expect a roll-hoop display with a shot of a pedal atop the front of the chassis as an X-ray, showing the driver’s feet at work. The goal is always to provide something for fans to enjoy.
“I hate to say it because I installed it, but Ayrton Senna’s 1990 Monaco pole round, everyone uses that as an iconic piece of footage,” says Smith. “But you don’t compare eggs with eggs. That’s the V10, a manual gearbox, and it’s Ayrton Senna.
“If you see that lap on YouTube, 50% of what people think of as vibration is actually falling apart, because we used to transmit from the car to the helicopter, now it transmits from the car to locations around the track.
“This gyro camera has the ability to reduce the stabilization. So what we can do is experiment with it. I spent 30 years of my life trying to make them stable. And now some people would like to see them less stable!”