The Drood Report

Nick Fry is a jerk.

The future of F1 coverage is so dark, we’re gonna need night vision

F1 coverage is an embarrassment. Unless you follow the live timing online, which is obviously only possible if you’re actually following the race live, quite often you’ll be left with no clue whatsoever as to who is where, what the gaps are, or just what the bloody hell is going on. I know during the race I spent a good part of the time wondering how far Kubica was behind Raikkonen.

This is all started to be an issue when a few years ago, they felt they needed to start showing us the numbers of stops a car had made. Now clearly, a sensible person would come up with some method of adding it to the existing information. Say “1p” or “2p” after the driver name, and still leave the time. This would require intelligence and planning though. No, far better to just replace the regular timing information with “0 stops”, “1 stop” etc… ARGHHH! The sensible solution, if they insist on running seperate charts for this, would be to leave their scroller they’ve introduced ON SCREEN AT ALL TIMES. At the moment it’s useless. For starters it’s hard to read as they’ve inexplicably made it see through. I suppose this MIGHT be to prevent burn-in on televisions, but then that doesn’t make any sense as they’ve got that big old lap counter at the top of the screen at all times anyway. Honestly, it’s like they WANT it all left obfuscated so you’re wondering what the hell is going on.

It’s not like the station broadcasting the race can fix this themselves either and give you the information, as the broadcast contract with FOM is extremely restrictive about what can and can’t be onscreen during the race. Speed in the US for example, in all their other race series they run a ticker along the top constantly. When it cycles through, say, positions, it’ll then run the list with fastest laps etc… Very helpful (even if Speed’s coverage of other series gets progressively worse every season. I want to see racing you morons, not some jackass in the pits interviewing people). They’re not allowed to do it on the F1 though, thanks to Bernie’s contract. We’re stuck with whatever he or his minions decide should be onscreen, which apparently is nothing useful.

Not to mention the other pathetic addition this year, because what we really need to make coverage enjoyable, easier to follow, more interesting and cutting edge is to KNOW WHEN AND WHERE ROBERT KUBICA WAS BORN. I really do hang my head in dismay when that appears on screen. I remember the big FIA survey a few years ago, “would you like to know more personal information about the drivers”. I chose a big NO as I honestly couldn’t care less. I know their name and their home country. That is all I need to know about the guy in the cockpit. It’s what he does on track that’s relevant and important. I couldn’t give a crap when they were born, where they were born… The information is useless and of no consequence.

The argument can be made that new fans may find it interesting, but why pander to them? No other sport does. They don’t explain the rules of football at the start of every game. It’s up to the commentator to give information they think is relevant. Mentioning where a participant was born or commenting that it’s their birthday is the sort of filler you expect in a quiet stretch of the event. When watching any other sport they don’t pop up a screen with personal information on it. They put up relevant information. Where a driver was born has no bearing on whether he’s any good on track, so why even bother? It’s an asinine change that adds nothing of any consequence, but can be held up as evidence that they’re trying to “improve” coverage, when in reality it’s a dumbing down of F1 for the “Big Brother” crowd.

So we’re left with what at best qualifies as early 90’s coverage when it comes to information. I used to hold up NASCAR as the example of how F1 SHOULD be with it’s on screen data, but it’s been so long since I’ve watched NASCAR I have no idea if that would even still be accurate. Even Montoya’s arrival wasn’t enough to get me to watch NASCAR as it’s still largely a grid full of rednecks, Bush supporters and racists. However, F1 DOES need to improve significantly. We are quite often left completely in the dark as to who is where, and what the gaps are. If I’m watching the race and I’m left wondering for more than 30 seconds as to how far behind Raikkonen Kubica is, the people in the broadcast truck have failed at their job.

Of course it doesn’t help matters that when we DO get gaps on screen, they’re completely pointless. Why, in the name of all that’s holy, do we care about the gap between Kimi and Lewis? We had that on screen quite a lot. Yeah, screw Kubica, Kovalainen, you know, the guys actually chasing Raikkonen. We don’t care about them, what’s the gap to golden boy? Even dumber than that was later in the race when they felt the need to keep informing us of the gap between Kimi and Fernando. Yes, because it’s vital we know the gap between the leader and someone who doesn’t stand a chance in hell of being champion this year. It’s back to 2005 where for the longest time they’d insist on telling us where Schumacher was in relation to everyone, when he was busy tinkering around in 8th on his crappy Bridgestone tyres.

I’ve been condemning F1’s coverage for years now. And aside from a few minor tweaks, it’s still just as pathetic as it was ten years ago. Big deal, we get a g-meter now. Fascinating but pointless. In fact the only decent addition to coverage in recent years has been the team radio. However it’s of limited interest as we rarely get it, and when we do the information is out of date as it’s delayed. In practice it’s interesting as you often hear them discussing changes to the car, handling issues. During the race it’s a lot less useful. Especially when it consists of the race engineer bitching at the driver to go faster. Not only that, several teams won’t even allow their radio on the air (Ferrari for example) thus making a farce of the entire thing. Still, at least they added that pretty flashing bit to the caption last year. THANKS BERNIE!

As much as I hate to bring up NASCAR again, the fact is NASCAR’s online presence is stellar. For a monthly fee you can get access to a ton of good content if NASCAR is your thing. I’m stuck without cable right now as it’d cost me $50 a month just for F1, since I never watch anything else. So I’m stuck with grainy French coverage on TV, or trying to track down coverage online. (Which isn’t as hard as you’d imagine actually.) This past weekend I was wishing Bernie used the official F1 website for something DECENT and had it so I could pay $20 a month or similar to get online streaming of every session, archived coverage (so I don’t have to sit here at 5am to watch qualifying and can watch it when I want.) I’m not even that picky on quality so long as it’s reliable. My only caveat to all this is I MUST have the option to not have any commentary. Having watched all Friday practice sessions this year so far with just the trackside sounds it’s been absolutely wonderful. It makes things far more captivating and enjoyable, not to mention the atmosphere comes across much stronger. F1 with no commentary is a truly beautiful thing.

There is so much great technology out there they could use, as highlighted by NASCAR, Major League Baseball etc… Not to mention FOM has the rights to a massive collection of archive footage that will never see the light of day, at least until Bernie croaks. That leaves hardcore fans like myself in the position of relying on people making copies of their own tapes and letting us download them from secret websites. (And believe me, I do. I’m acquiring quite the archive when I could have been giving my money to Bernie to actually pay for this stuff.) Anytime something pops up on a more popular site, like YouTube, it’s gets cease and desisted almost immediately. Last year when a fan in Japan uploaded the footage of Lewis driving like a cretin, leading to the Webber/Vettel accident that they’d filmed themselves with their phone, FOM even got THAT pulled off YouTube.

For a great example of what CAN be achieved in online sports coverage, check this out. That’s what Major League Baseball offers to fans for the season. For those unaware MLB is acknowledged as being the leader in how to deliver sports content online. Now i’m a baseball fan. Not a rampant fan by any means, but a fan. (I love the SPORT, but am largely indifferent to MLB). When there was a free trial last year, I signed up to see if this claim was correct. Were they really that good? In short, yes. One of the best features is the Mosaic application. You load the app, log in, and then you have small windows on screen showing every game that’s on currently, with the score underneath, who is at bat etc…. There’s various screen layout formats. Basically whatever you want to do, whether it’s watch one or two games, jump around from game to game, or just have an overview of the nights proceedings, you can. You could also set up a list of players you were interested in, and it would alert you when they were up to bat so you could focus on that specific game if you wanted. It wasn’t without it’s minor technical problems, but in fairness it was in beta at the time.

Now imagine this technology applied to F1. You have a small window showing the onboard feed from every car. Click Trulli’s window, it pops open on a larger screen and you can watch what’s going on. Want to watch someone else? Click and their feed opens, Trulli’s closes. Change the layout and you can now watch two or three onboard feeds at the same time. Or perhaps have it so you have the world feed running in a bigger window, but in the smaller windows you can see what every trackside camera is looking at right now. Or have the world feed, several onboards, and a camera in the pits. Literally the combinations could be endless.

F1 has SO much potential to be at the vanguard of online sports coverage. So many tech companies are involved in the sport in some fashion that the infrastructure could be provided easily. For a sport that prides itself on technology and innovation, it’s logical to expect it to be at the forefront of new media. Instead that mantle is held by a sport that many people find intensely boring, that’s barely changed in over a hundred years.

F1 should have a great online presence. So what do we get through official channels? A crappy news site, some tiny pictures (I pay Autosport $5 a month for, among other things, for the ability to view high resolution pictures in their online gallery), and a pathetic Java application that gives us live timing, and even that’s crap. If you’re trying to compare split times it’s a nightmare. It doesn’t store information. It just lists the CURRENT time when the driver is on track. During practice I was trying to compare peoples laps, and invariably one driver would be on a slowing down lap and obliterating their split time information making comparison impossible, leaving my swiss cheese memory to try and recall what the split had actually been. There’s no way to see previous laptimes, splittimes or ANY other pertinent information. While the app does give you a broader overview it, like pretty much everything else available through official means, is largely useless in comparison to what other sports offer.

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March 25, 2008 - Posted by | f1

6 Comments »

  1. Very good points.

    Whatever happened to Picture in Picture TV shots? We’re watching two cars compete for position, the one behind moves to overtake the one in front and … director switches to close up of team manager in pit lane, or worse still, of refuelling of a minor team not involved in the fray at all. When the director finally returns to the action, the cars have switched places and you missed the excitement. Or, instead of switching to the pits, he switches to the in car camera of the car in front so you see no relative movement – again the excitement is lost.

    This would all be so much better if they kept the main screen view of the event, the small insert screen of close ups of team managers, refuelling, and in car shots. At least they have stopped showing you close ups of the wheel bearings as they go around the corners, and sometimes you can actually see 6 inches of the nose cone of the following car! Wow… and we now think that’s exciting?

    As you say, it needs a huge overhaul.

    Comment by fifthdecade | March 26, 2008 | Reply

  2. Back in the early 90’s we DID have picture in picture. When Speed in the US showed F1 Decade, their highlight show from ten years ago, in 1993 we had stuff like riding onboard with Senna while watching Prost in the pits. We also had stuff like driver heartrate monitors etc… Coverage has, in so many ways, slipped back. I think the failure of Bernie’s F1 Digital project didn’t help. He basically dumbed down our coverage and gave Digital ALL the world feed cameras, PLUS their own. I remember seeing the Monaco race one year from F1 Digital and we got loads of camera shots we’d NEVER seen before, including one at the chicane after the tunnel that really showed how steep the slope down into that corner is. You get no indication of that from the current camera positions which, aside from one or two additions, are the exact same camera positions we’ve had for at least the 20 years I’ve been watching, and probably long before that. Certainly the race that nobody wanted to win (1983 I think. Maybe 84) the views were all the same.

    I mean come on, I’ve seen Champcar has IN HELMET CAMERAS on some drivers. (Admittedly this was a few years ago. They may have given up on them for all I know as they seemed a bit pointless.)

    The onboard cameras we have in F1 are horrible. The T-Bar cams above the driver murder the sensation of speed. The rear views are largely pointless. I enjoy the shots of suspension and stuff, but then I’ve always been a geek for that stuff. Plus of course we have the dreaded “Floaty Head of Doom” cam where all we see is the drivers head, which is perhaps the ultimate in stupid camera shots. You go watch old F1 footage, when they had the camera on the side of the airbox on a level with the drivers head and the sensation of speed and excitement is a VAST improvement.

    While I know moving cameras like in Australian V8 Supercar are never going to happen, something needs to be done as F1 coverage has basically remained unevolved for a decade, and in some areas slid BACK into the early 80’s.

    Comment by Steve | March 26, 2008 | Reply

  3. They do have moving cameras at some races, I think the A1 Ring had them on that sharp A shaped hairpin, and one of the other tracks has also had one. I didn’t find it added to the coverage though.

    You’re right about the dumbing down after Bernie launched F1 digital. When that flopped because nobody wanted to pay that much – and because it was unavailable to many of those that did (I think it was launched in Germany first, and few other places ever saw it IIRC) – I get the feeling someone had a mega-sulk and decided not to give us anything interesting to watch as our “punishment”.

    Coverage only improved again after the races involving Schumacher and Ferrari “winning” everything, with even Ferrari team mates prevented from competing with the great false Prince. Incidentally, that policy actually cost Ferrari the Championship the year Schumacher broke his leg and Eddie Irvine didn’t have quite enough points built up from before the event, and not enough support from the Team after the event to go on and win. One of those boring years was so bad I actually consciously gave up watching F1, for the first time in decades.

    Thankfully things have improved since then, but the TV coverage is still way behind the technology.

    Comment by fifthdecade | March 26, 2008 | Reply

  4. I remember that cool swinging camera. One of the few interesting changes to race presentation. Just like super slow motion was until they thoroughly overused it. The best usage of that was when Fisichella I think it was had a huge crash at Spa right in front of said camera. Now THAT was cool to see.

    Every race, every year, the cameras are at the same spot pretty much. I realise there’s probably a perfectly sensible legitimate reason for this. For example the camera aiming up toward the tunnel at Monaco from the chicane, it can’t cover much of the track. But it was still a fantastic view that we’re denied now Bernie has taken his ball home in regards to the coverage. We get the bare minimum of cameras and that’s it it seems.

    I remember they really made the world feed crappy to promote F1 Digital. We barely got onboard shots anymore. This of course screwed over the entire planet in the hopes of gaining sales in the 2-3 countries that had the stupid overpriced service. Germany STILL gets superior F1 coverage. They get every session live, and there’s a channel that’s purely onboard as well. Not sure how much it all costs. Italy also gets a channel that’s purely Ferrari onboards as well as the regular onboard channel.

    I almost quit watching F1 several times in the years of the “False Prince” (I like that!). Ferrari’s political wrangling, his on track exploits… In fact until 2006, I had not seen a Schumacher victory in 3 years or so. If he was in the lead after the last pitstop, I would turn the race off. I’d occasionally fast forward dull races in the mid 90’s, but if someone had told me that the day would come I would voluntarily miss races, I’d say they were nuts. In the last five years, I’ve deliberately skipped at least three races. I skipped France and Hungary last year for example. (NOTE: I still watch practice and qualifying, I just skip the race.) Can’t remember why I explicitly skipped France, but Hungary was due to the McLaren/Alonso/Hamilton nonsense. I very nearly stopped watching F1 entirely after that I was that disgusted with the lot of them.

    This season is shaping up nicely it would seem, especially with the choice of who we focus on on track. As I’ve said in an earlier piece, I’d rather watch an exciting battle for 12th than the leader circulate on their own.

    We need more wet races:)

    Comment by Steve | March 26, 2008 | Reply

  5. There is another point of view with regard to the spying scandal, which I wrote about in my blog at the time entitled McLaren Max Mosley the man from Ferrari and Renault. It is quite reasonable to assume that in fact it wasn’t McLaren but Renault or Honda who were due to be the major beneficiaries of anything that originated at Ferrari. It has always been the case that when top people move team they take a lot of knowledge with them – which is why they are poached so often! The FIA was very naive about the whole thing.

    Comment by fifthdecade | March 27, 2008 | Reply

  6. I like you calling Mosley a “failed Formula One owner”. You neglected “failed driver” as well:)

    I still find the whole spy thing strange. I remember back last year Peter Windsor (the English voice you hear asking the driver questions in the post race press conference) said when he was at Williams, one day they found a mechanic from another team in the back of their truck measuring various parts of the cars. Spying has gone on forever. All the outcome of the McLaren case means is anyone doing it will be more careful now. It’s still going to go on. It’s been happening since the dawn of the world championship and is still going on now.

    The Benetton fuel rig was the 1994 season, and was discovered when the modification led to Verstappen’s fire at Hockenheim if I recall.

    And I agree about Ron being naive. I think when he learned the full extent of it all he probably went white and thought “Oh bugger”…

    Still, hopefully this year will be remembered for the action on track.

    Comment by Steve | March 27, 2008 | Reply


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