Insight: Behind the scenes look at how Formula 1 TV now operates team radio and other functions remotely
Innovation
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Posted By: James Allen  |  05 Mar 2014   |  12:06 pm GMT  |  100 comments

When you watch next weekend’s Australian Grand Prix, some of what you see and hear on your screens will be being operated by technicians sitting next to an airfield in Kent, collaborating in real time with colleagues 10,500 miles away.

This is something a little different – the first time we’ve been behind the scenes at F1′s Technical Headquarters in Biggin Hill, in the South of England and we’ve made a video of it with our colleagues from Tata Communications.

As well as much of the equipment needed to put on a Grand Prix at 19 venues around the world, things like the timing systems, communications systems and facilities for race stewards to view incidents on track, Formula 1′s entire TV production facility is based in Biggin Hill; all the cameras, the edits suites, mixing desks and so on. The kit that travels around the world, creating the outside broadcast coverage that you watch at home, is assembled and shipped from Biggin Hill.


But here we get the chance to see the most recent F1 TV innovation – a Remote Operations Centre at the heart of the building from where many functions can be operated remotely, which in the past would have been operated on site. From here they can monitor the programme vision sources and output, many of the formula1.com functions, and even operate robotic track camera heads at the circuit. And for this season all of the Team Radio is going to be managed from here.

“We use a reverse data path to control a trackside robotic camera and this year we intend to migrate the Team Radio operation, the daily news edits and the remote producer’s position into this centre,” says FOM’s Chief Technical Officer John Morrison. “We also provide a number of the website functions here, these include digital still, video edits and data processing.

“(The remote operations centre) allows us to reduce the pressure on travelling staff number and freight.”

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100 Comments
  1. DB says:

    And here my internet connection barely allows me to watch one YouTube video… ¦¬(

    1. Random 79 says:

      Choose wisely then :)

    2. Random 79 says:

      p.s. 10 points for the frowny, looks like an Easter Island head that fell over and can’t get up again :)

      1. J.Danek says:

        HAHAHAHA!!! WELL SPOTTED!

        (Anyway, just about to check out this video now – hope it’s a good’un! [haven't read any comments beyond yours, so as not to possibly encounter any negative or unfairly critical remarks that might corrupt and bias my perspective...])

        More inside-F1™ type videos James, please!

    3. Kramgp says:

      I live on Prince Edward Island Canada and the big news here not so long back was that we were getting high speed Internet outside of the capital

      1. Gaz Boy says:

        Does Canada still receive its F1 feed from the BBC, like the other commonwealth countries of Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Malaysia? I remember at that epic 2011 race it was implied that DC and Martin Brundle could talk to the director/producers.
        If Canada does receive BBC coverage – apologies for Eddie’s shirts and DC’s tight jeans. Sorry about that.

      2. PaulL says:

        Gaz Boy – I can’t speak for the other countries, but here in Aus we get the Brundle/Croft (SkySports) commentary. Fortunately we don’t get to see DC’s crotch or Eddie’s shirts.

      3. Gaz Boy says:

        RE PaulL – Mind you, Martin is fond of the Simon Cowell high waisted jeans look, so even on Sky F1 sartorial elegance leaves a lot to be desired!
        God, the commonwealth nations probably think F1 personnel from pommie-land have got awful dress sense – in DC and Eddie’s case, it’s true – particularly in HD!

  2. motorsport_cn says:

    This is brilliant James. You guys are so far ahead.

  3. Michael says:

    How come the live timing on formula1.com hasn’t improved for the last ten years?

    1. Dave says:

      Agreed – They provide much more comprehensive timing screens trackside; the data and infrastructure is surely in place to provide access on the website as well?

      1. iceman says:

        Dave, what additional information do they have on the trackside timing screens?

    2. iceman says:

      The F1 live timing is already one of the best available I think. It’s readable, and it updates very quickly – several seconds ahead of the TV pictures usually. Given the huge user numbers they must have, it works remarkably well.

      The things I would change on it: show the full 3 decimal places on sector times, and during practice sessions show the last completed lap time as well as the fastest lap time.

      1. Michael says:

        In my opinion it’s very basic, it was good ten years ago, it’s OK. Today they can easily add which tires, driver tracker, session data, best laps etc to the web version on formula1.com.

      2. iceman says:

        Which tyres would definitely be a good addition.

      3. Alex says:

        The mobile application has the tyre history, best laps and sectors and more information that the web version, but as you may know you have to pay for it, so maybe they don’t have that in the free web version in order to get money selling the mobile subscription.

      4. James Allen says:

        It also has some extra high value content this year, will be announced soon….

    3. Rob Newman says:

      Good point. And we have to pay exorbitant amount for their apps year after year.

      1. Hollidog says:

        Might I recommend f1lt as an alternative to the paid f1 apps. It’s for Android only and not on the play store. if you google f1lt you will find it and be able to load it on to your phone.

        The app is as good or better than the official app or the java live timing. Has a car tracker and the ability to delay the timing to match the feed you are watching – perfect if you dont want to know whos on pole two seconds before you see it.

    4. Trent says:

      The F1 website is generally a little underwhelming, I think as a result of the antiquated thinking around making footage available to people outside the channels of TV networks.

      The musical highlights packages are well put together, but essentially the same formula as has been followed for many years now and often available only a week after the race. The onboard laps are good but far too often taken from one of the top three teams rather than mixing it up a little.

      For some unknown reason you must sit through an assessment of your computers speed and bandwidth before you can watch any video (EVERY time!!) and there are no highlights of practice or qualifying, which would get in some viewers (they rather thoughtfully have ‘stills’ from these sessions though…)

  4. Edward Valentine says:

    TV coverage has certainly come along way in F1 since the 1970s and 1980s. Arguably F1 tv broadcasting has made bigger developments than any other sport since the rise of “on demand” tv. I have attended many GPs and would argue that for the ticket entry costs fans don’t get as much access to the drivers/teams as perhaps they should but in terms of tv coverage we’re certainly luckier than fans of other sports.

    I would be very interested to know how much money the entire project costs per season relative to the FIFA World Cup and the Olympic Games?

    Ps Once again looking forward to hearing James Allen on BBC Radio 5 Live this season – in my opinion the most passionate, knowledgeable and all round best comentator in this or any sport!

  5. Hudson says:

    Quite an interesting infomercial there Mr Allen. Being an engineer and also currently in the middle of studying for my MBA, I found this technological innovation very impressive. Many thanks.

  6. Dmitry says:

    Cool.

    But. I am still eagerly awaiting when F1 embraces Internet as the method of broadcasting. I want and will even pay subscription fee for that, but please Tata, FOM, give me such an opportunity!
    Let me forget about my local broadcaster.

    (I know this might be years away, and may not be possible at all… but it is not bad to dream, right?)

    1. Grant H says:

      I like the idea but cant see how it would work eg pay to view channels are gonna block it

      1. Alex says:

        In MotoGP you can get a subscription for the real time videos through Internet, I think F1 could do it as well.

      2. Damian Coyle says:

        it would only be doable on a territory-by-territory basis as the current deals/rights expire. Then FOM can add a condition to the rights that they allow FOM to run its own channel. Be a headache to manage the transition though.

        If the FOM channel used The Chain as music (Ivory Tower for the grid pls!) I’d sign up asap :p

    2. Christopher Woods says:

      While F1 internationally hasn’t, local broadcasters do use the internet. In the UK we can watch the race live via iPlayer (when on BBC) or via Now TV (when on Sky – £10 for 24 hours access, so if you are willing to watch the qualifying repeat, then you can watch the race streamed live with no adverts for £10 without subscription). The question of course is how much would we, as an audience, be willing to pay per race weekend? I suspect that the future of F1 is likely to be paid per-race live streaming with free delayed highlights. While I don’t like the idea of paying £200+ per year for live streaming, given the lack of money from advertising / license fee, and the high cost of the rights, us paying to watch live races seems inevitable.

    3. dansus says:

      Definitely possible, its was available for the Japanese market last year.

      Might see something wider next year, but not mature markets like UK until contracts are up for renewal i would guess.

    4. graham bowman says:

      This whole set up at biggin hill”bakersville” was created for just what you have in mind. This is just what Bernie planned in the beginning of this venture, except the original idea was to sell the individual viewer each race through cable pay as you go. Didn’t work then so unfortunately while Bernie is still in charge it probably won’t happen. Once bitten twice shy.
      This shows you the great vision bernie has got he was talking about we being able to choose which ever camera angle we want to watch whenever we want and this was back in 95/6.

      1. Andy says:

        Yes, the F1 Channel I believe it was called, it lasted one year as I remember.
        It was ahead of it’s time, but it wasn’t particularly cheap.
        About a third or halfway through the season they offered a season ticket to tempt subscribers, it was 50 quid then.

        If people think that future streaming will be cheaper than watching via local broadcasters then they are in for a shock. The amount paid by broadcasters for the rights is astronomical, they would never get anywhere near that from streaming.

      2. GT_Racer says:

        “Yes, the F1 Channel I believe it was called, it lasted one year as I remember.”

        The F1 digital+ service ran from Mid-1996 to the end of 2002. Was only in the UK for 1 year (2002) & it wasn’t as successful in the UK when compared to other markets.

        Service was very popular & did very well in France, Germany & Italy over that time.
        It was popular enough in Germany for example that they retained an interactive service with just the in-car cameras & timing screens. Now other broadcasters like Sky, BBC have also begun adding these things.

    5. GT_Racer says:

      “Let me forget about my local broadcaster.”

      Thats exactly why it is probably a few years off.

      The broadcasters pay for the F1 TV & online rights, There not going to be happy if FOM come out & bypass them allowing subscribers to there Tv services to have an alternative.

      Thats why many of F1′s broadcasters have exclusivity clauses in there broadcast contracts.

      Looking at the UK as an example, Should FOM launch an online streaming service Sky/BBC would almost certainly ensure that the service is Geo-Blocked in the UK as the Sky/BBC deal gives those broadcasts exclusivity to all F1 broadcasts within the UK.

      1. FOM Fan says:

        Surely such deals would also apply to other markets as well where the broadcasters have online rights, such as Germany, Italy, the US etc.

        I’m sure FOM wouldn’t bother launching their own streaming platform unless they had got around those hurdles.

  7. Rayz says:

    Nice piece James. The complexity of these operations is amazing quite frankly. To say that they can provide these services during back to back Grand Prix weekends is a feat of immense efficiency and technicality.

  8. Paul D says:

    Amazing the technology that sits behind what is in reality 22 blokes going racing for a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon!

    Very impressive.

    1. Brace says:

      Well for starters, those “22 blokes going racing” aren’t running on foot…

      1. Random 79 says:

        Don’t speak too soon – when all their engines die / blow up that’s what they might end up doing ;)

      2. GWD says:

        Brings a whole new meaning to “push to pass”, doesn’t it? ;)

      3. Random 79 says:

        Lol :)

  9. Dingle Dell says:

    well done and thanks to the Biggin Hill team

  10. Klaas Backers says:

    And a CEO who speaks full of enthusiasm about it all. Yeaahh, he got me pumped up about it!

  11. Gaz Boy says:

    Murray Walker recounts that, at the 1978 Spanish Grand Prix at Jarama – which was dominated by Mario Andretti in the beautiful Lotus 79 (with team-mate Ronnie Peterson a charging second) – the race lasted over 100 minutes and half of that was just Mario going around by himself! Even the most ardent Andretti fan would admit 50 odd minutes of the great driver doing his business is a bit too much!
    Apparently, the poor quality broadcasting in the 70s and 80s is why the BBC wouldn’t always show live events, instead they James Hunt and Murray would commentate on edited highlights from Shepherd’s Bush – even though Murray and James tried to hoodwink the viewers by making them believe they were in, say Montreal or Rio when in fact they were in BBC studios!
    Shows you how far broadcasting of F1 has come!

    1. Gaz Boy says:

      PS, if you watch old footage from the late 70s/80s Murray refers to Argentina as “the Argentine” (he is referring to the country, not Carlos Reutemann) and also Laffite “qualified on the second rank.”
      Also, in the late 70s, early 80s, Formula 1 grids – sorry, ranks! – had an unusual starting grid placements – check out the 1979 South African grand prix, the starting grid looks incredibly haphazard!

  12. Witan says:

    “But I’ve never seen the point in changing the engines to save energy,” Ecclestone insisted. “That’s something you can do in street cars, but not in formula one.” Quote from F1 magazine.

    He just doesn’t get it,does he?

    But then if you had told the dinosaurs that the ancestors of that little rat like mammal running harmlessly around their feet would rule the world when they were long gone, what do you think the dinosaur would have said?

    1. Witan says:

      “ancestors”?? Into time travel now. Should be progeny. Of course.

    2. Random 79 says:

      Roar?

      Just a guess of course – I have no scientific data or expertise in any capacity whatsoever to back that up :)

      1. Voodoopunk says:

        Grrrr

        I’m not a dinosaur!!

        That’s just my guess as to what they would say.

  13. Christopher Woods says:

    Do you know how much information we will get during the race about the fuel burn rate and amount remaining? Will there be a graphic to show when one driver has turned up the wick (e.g. similar to last year’s KERs graphic), or will we, and the commentators, be left guessing about fuel strategy until the end of the race? All this information will be available to race control and the teams in real time via the fuel flow sensor, so why not show the viewers? F1 this year will be really strategic (driver behind pushing the one in front so that they burn too much fuel, so are weak at the end of the race etc.), yet I fear that this important dimension to the race will be hidden from the viewers. Given testing has shown that the difference in lap time between fuel-saving and outright pace is potentially seconds, it may be really confusing to work out why cars are fast and slow and different times, without something showing the viewer how driver X is sacrificing pace now so he can attack at the end, or that driver Y has fought their way to the front, but are then walking a tight-rope to stay in front while still having enough fuel to make it to the end.

    1. James Allen says:

      Yes, I understand that they have done a lot of work on the graphics this year, but I have not seen them yet

      1. BW says:

        And who’s responsible for the graphics this year?

      2. James Allen says:

        FOM’s graphics team working with the F1 teams to source the live data

      3. Clay says:

        The F1 graphics have changed multiple times over the past decade, but I still reckon the Tag Huer ones were the best. Simple and classy

    2. Andy says:

      What we really need to know is how much fuel is in the car at the start of the race. The 100kg fuel limit applies only from green light to chequered flag. The teams will no doubt still under fuel so a lot of fans will still blame the change in regs for fuel saving etc when most of it is defined by the team.

      1. Juzh says:

        no one will under fuel anymore. The penalty of saving fuel will be higher than what you’ll gain by having a lighter car.

  14. Chromatic says:

    James, could you tell us something about the live race directors? are they based in the UK centre or at the races? is it the same guy every time or is there a large number of them?

    I’m hoping this year’s coverage will include less long cutaways to celebs standing around the garages. I’m really hoping they don’t go the way of tennis where you can’t watch the action of a single point without four slow re-plays, no matter how interesting or not the action was.

    1. James Allen says:

      At the race track. Dean Locke is the main director and has been for 10years or so, but there is also a director called Phil who does a few races a year.

      1. Gaz Boy says:

        I remember years ago the directors/producers in Spain and Hungary used to come into criticism for completely missing the main action!

      2. Damian Coyle says:

        haha local directors always seeming to be hopeless is the stuff of legend back in the olden days of F1 on telly. I remember it well.

    2. Rob Newman says:

      F1 should use PIP (Picture in Picture) to show celebrities, interviews, pit stops etc. I wonder why they don’t do that in F1.

    3. Andy says:

      I think your answer to ‘long cutaways to celebs’ is a no then, 10 years and counting means more of the same.
      I can’t stand the attraction of ‘celebrities’ myself, but the look on Ron Dennis’s face a few years ago at Hamilton’s hangers on was priceless.

  15. Andy says:

    I wondered where my Big Boys Book of Buzzwords had gone.

    I thought one of the benefits with Tata was using their cabled network rather than satellite, but I haven’t seen it yet, the 3 to 6 second delay in transmission is still around.

  16. darren w says:

    It is still sad, given all this technological prowess and investment, how little F1 content is actually produced and shared with racing fans.

    It might make things easier in terms of streaming content out to regional TV rights holders each race weekend, but it really does little in comparison with other sports to keep fans engaged.

    Outside of the very well produced Race Edits and the nice but really dull Live Timing feeds, the official F1 site might as well be a blog. I get the feeling that the big spend on F1 communications technology is the equivalent of months in the wind tunnel to come up with an new turning vane design. It might aid performance, but not a single fan can get close enough to the cars to see the change, let alone appreciate it.

  17. Steve says:

    Can anyone tell me – does the rest of the world F1 coverage come from the same source as we get ours? IE biggin hill etc…or do all the various countries have their own media channels with their own edits of track footage etc…

    1. James Allen says:

      It’s the same source for all the GPs these days – possible exception Japan

      1. FOM Fan says:

        I believe FOM direct the Japanese Grand Prix as well now James.

  18. Olivier says:

    Off Topic

    Wow James! Have you seen Webber’s Challenger today? I really like how Porsche made the V4 part of the structure of their chassis. Well impressed.

    This could be something for F1. Why not define the limits of fuel consumption and leave the rest to the car manufacturers? I like the diversity in LeMans: Porsche with 4 cylinders vs Audi with 6 cylinders vs Toyota with 8 cylinders.

    1. lesauccise says:

      The engine has been part of the chassis in F1 for donkey’s years… Bolt it onto the tub, then bolt the suspension on the back.

  19. Jonno says:

    Did you take the opportunity to tell Bernie’s boys that we are sick to death of seeing the pits/girlfriends/managers/engineers/spectators whenever something exciting happens on track?

    Over the course of a race, we miss well over half of the good stuff, because some clown thinks it’s clever to show the reactions of the above. He’s wrong and it’s time he was sacked.

    1. Pete says:

      Surely you enjoyed Rowan Atkinson’s reaction to the Hamilton/Massa incident at the Indian GP a couple of years back, though!

      1. Jonno says:

        If I hadn’t seen it, I would not have missed it.

        We all but missed Lewis Hamilton winning the Brazilian GP and winning the WDC, because we were watching Massa’s father.

        F1 is about the racing, leave the other stuff to soaps and non-realisty programmes. I’m fed up to the back teeth having to wait for replays to see exactly what happened in an incident because the director cuts to the pits.

  20. Mike says:

    It’s all very well going state of the art with the production, but I still found myself last year becoming frustrated with the pictures we were being shown. The end result today isn’t as slick & exciting as it was in 2002 before it went back to basics.

    less flashing lights & ad boards would be nice…

    great feature though, thanks

  21. Quercus says:

    What I want to know is how do they cope with the delay from a circuit half way across the world. I’ve also wondered the same about the military controlling drones from another continent.

    1. Random 79 says:

      What delay?

      1. Quercus says:

        This delay: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latency_%28engineering%29

        When you watch a live transmission from say Australia, the image and sound actually occurred — depending on the technical nature of the transmission route and the number of satellites used — as much as a second before it arrived with you. When you send an instruction back based on the information received, the same delay occurs. However efficiently you send the signal it’s ultimately limited by the speed of light.

      2. Random 79 says:

        Whoosh! – Another one flies over ;)

        But ta for the technical info anyway :)

  22. Davexxx says:

    James, this is rather off-topic but while we’re in the lull before the season, I wonder if you could do an article regarding Driver Weight. Why does the FIA have a regulation limiting weight of Car AND Driver (if I’m correct in this?) which discriminates against larger drivers. Surely it would be better simply to regulate the car weight, since surely that’s what they were originally targeting, then let the teams decide if they have to select a smaller driver just to compensate for the weight of that extra gadget they had to add. I can imagine in 2050, looking back at old archive footage from around 2014 onwards, of small F1 drivers walking around, looking like horse jockeys.
    Perhaps Ricky Gervais should write a new series of Life’s Too Short with Warwich Davis managing a new breed of dwarf F1 drivers?

    1. OffCourse says:

      The philisophical question is, “should a driver have an advantage because of their small stature/weight?”

      If you answer yes, then the inevitable outcome is that drivers will become smaller and smaller, much like the Jockey.

      For me the answer is No! I would have a minimum car weight (before ballast) and a minimum driver weight (I.e. 75kgs or whatever is deemed appropriate), then add ballast for the smaller driver.

      1. iceman says:

        Doesn’t this penalise a heavy driver (one over 75kg) even more? At least with the current minimum car+driver weight, there is the possibility of lightening the car to get down to the combined minimum weight, which is lost if you’ve also set a minimum weight for the car alone.

  23. Simmo says:

    Wow! I’ve always wondered exactly how this works. Thanks for this fantastic insight!

  24. JohnBt says:

    Amazing how technology works. Let’s see how it pans out.
    Don’t want too many small boxes of info which might distract from viewing the race itself.

  25. Michael Carty says:

    I think F1 coverage is almost perfect. What would be prefect would be if we could select any team radio channel(s) uncensored and listen to them in real time online as we watch the race. I would happy pay €50 a year for this

  26. Entropy says:

    Nice article…

    Wishlist:

    Less cutaways to celebrities
    Reduce the overwhelming and repetitive start replays
    Less long distance shots (makes the cars look slow)
    Better and more insightful live timing

  27. Michael says:

    What about race control? Don’t they need the same video as the tv producers at remote operations?

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    hey f1 tv. How about fixing the microphones to pick up the new quieter cars better. maybe you should have done it last month.

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  41. DW says:

    I have the fastest Apple iMac on the planet, yet Im unable to view video’s race edits?? My internet runs at 23.5 Mbps WHY Mr.Morrison?

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  44. Mr Yoddha says:

    If I understand the article correctly, this is not really something new. NHL for example has there “control center” in Toronto where they watch every game that is in progress, with goalcamera referees etc all i
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    So while very cool, not that innovative really. Well right it is innovative for F1, which most of the times feels like they are years behind other major sports. Bernie (FOM) is unfortunately too concerned about getting more green in their pockets than making the sport grow more huge and giving fans the enjoyment they deserve. As if they didn’t have enough already? :P

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