F1 Winter Break
Spare a thought for F1 commentators
Posted By: James Allen  |  12 Feb 2013   |  3:39 pm GMT  |  257 comments

The job of F1 commentator is never easy; certainly not as easy as many fans think it is. But this year there is a real challenge for the motormouths – spot the difference between the two Mercedes drivers at speed on a small TV monitor.

The problem is that both Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have a yellow crash helmet and even the design is similar. So telling them apart at distance is going to be really hard.

Lewis Hamilton

Nico Rosberg (all photos: XPB.cc)

The only way to tell them apart during Grand Prix weekends will be the roll hoops; the T shaped TV camera mounted on the roll hoop of the lead car (Rosberg) will have a black camera and Hamilton will be day-glow yellow.

In this instance Rosberg is designated as the lead car, because he is Car number 9, while Hamilton will drive Car number 10.

But these are much smaller than the drivers’ head and not always easy to see. It’s always important for a commentator to register helmet colour to be sure of identification, so don’t be surprised if a few mistakes get made.

It’s not quite as bad as the two seasons in the 1990s however, when first Brabham Yamaha then Ligier fielded Brundle and Blundell – a pronunciation nightmare for foreign language commentators!

* Ross Brawn has indicated that he plans to stick around, after telling the media last month that he was taking time to decide whether he wanted to continue as Team Principal of Mercedes in light of the management changes.

“I am very settled,” Brawn is quoted as saying in Autosport today. “I have no problems at all on that front.”

Rosberg or Hamilton? Which is it?

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It would make sense to me to alter the regulations (if necessary) to allow (or even force) teams to have different liveries on one area of the car, say nose or one of the wings.

I find that when I’m watching races I rarely note the helmet colour, I prefer some other reference. Back in the day, Red 5 / White 6 was a very good way to tell between Mansell and Patrese, although the fact Nige was usually in front helped as well.

Something needs to be different and contrasting between the cars, and bigger than a bit of paint on the roll hoop. If teams don’t want big numbers to get more sponsor space then let them use the space differently between cars enough to allow easy differentiation. The BAR situation wouldn’t work as having 22 different liveries would be too confusing, but having some difference would be a good thing.


James, maybe it’d provide you a great excuse to ask your employer for a bigger television to work with? 😀 32″ would be nice.


When you’re standing close to the track, it’s more or less easy to tell then apart but I guess on any TV screen it’ll be a total nightmare: http://www.flickr.com/photos/iberianmph/sets/72157632738658767/

A thought was spared for TV commentators.

One of the drivers has got to change helmet design, there are no proper green helmets in F1 right now, sort of like Heidfeld had in ’09.


Pretty soon people will become like those blobs in Wall-E

Can’t even watch a screen without having every element spoon-fed


A few years ago over here in the States, the people broadcasting NASCAR started “tagging” the cars so we the fans could tell them apart. These “Tags” were like you’d see in a comic strip. It was a little box with the drivers name and a line pointing tho their car. It seemd to work because they do it now, still. Let me tell you, it is much easier keeping up with the Jones’ when I can see the actual car number on the side. I’m not sure how the F1 commentators do it.

Another suggestion I’d have also comes from us in the States and a few years ago, too. One of the four major TV broadcasters here was trying to shed a different light on Ice Hockey so they decided it would help out the un-educated hockey fan to have a bright blue dot follow the puck around portions of the rink. Well, it helped only those who had never played or seen the sport and pissed off all the rest of us fans.


That was Fox, and was a total joke (the swoosh following the puck on shoot-in’s, etc. Thankfully they don’t do that anymore.


exactly.. what you need is technology, or use of old tech..

basically.. something on the car that tells the camera who the driver is and all. all that augmented reality stuff going around… must be a way.


james _ i think there is trouble brewing at mercedes. i can’t see how all those strong pesonalities are going to work out. i.e brawn, wolff and lauda.


You aren’t the first to say that!


Expand the yellow/red of the cameras to the top of the engine cover, so it can instantly be seen clearly from all directions.

Paint a line around their wheel rims matching the camera color, and paint the rear crash structure that color too.


the clear difference between the two helmets is that hamilton’s has a mercedes logo with a yello background while rosberg’s has a silver background to the mercedes logo.


There seems to be a lot of rubbish put out on this subject – the answer is simple – Rosberg is in car No. 9, Hamilton is in car No. 10. We should not have to try and identify a car by the drivers helmet surely. This is another thing that the FIA should enforce – much larger more prominent numbers on the cars for all to see. As someone mentioned, MotoGP is a great example of how this should be done. Bikes are much smaller, but you have a far better idea of who’s riding what. I favour drivers having their own personal numbers, again like MotoGP and Nascar. The fans and I think the drivers would love it.


Time to settle things I suppose:

There have been suggestions that the driver in the final photo is Hamilton, while others are convinced that it’s Rosberg.


Truth is it was Schumacher. He decided to borrow the Mercedes for one last spin (he just forgot to ask first).

Soon after this photo was taken the cops arrived on the scene, but I’m sure you’ll all be pleased to hear that Michael is now resting comfortably in the Wunderbar Retirement Home 🙂


Rosberg’s helmet is more florescent yellow while hamilton is solid yellow… You can easily tell from the last picture that is rosberg from the florescent yellow helmet.


As Ben Edwards often struggled to even tell Hamilton from Button on track last year, I am fully expecting a total pig’s breakfast here.


I think its very easy to armchair commentate and spot things instantly while at home and give out that commentators miss things, but commentating live to millions of people where every sentence is analysed and mistakes are out in the open for all to hear is a different kettle of fish. I know i wouldnt be able to do it.

James im really interested in training that you receive for a job like lead commentator. Do you have to do vocal work, do you practice a certain style for overtakes or exciting action etc or do you just wing it and be yourself?


Voice training yes, like actors do (same coaches)

That’s it though. You have to learn the rest on the job.


James, why have the FIA changed the rules so much on identifying marks for different drivers? I fondly remember the pink marks on the wing plates of Hill’s Williams, or the yellow spot on the wings of Alesi’s Ferrari.

It used to be another detail us diecast model fans used to love!

Taking those away just make it harder for the viewer to identify drivers too. These days the helmet colours are often so complex, and change so frequently that it makes it much harder to work out which driver is which during a quick cut to dicey action on the track.


Seems football commentators have similar problems 🙂

Tweet from BBC:

“BBC Sport ‏@BBCSport

Not a good day for commentators in Scots Div 3, it’s Stirling v East Stirling with a Stephen Stirling playing for East Stirling – confused?”


A sterling game played in Stirling by Stirling and East Stirling, Sterling scoring the only goal.

Love it.


It’s easy…just look at the T-Cam above the drivers head. Rosberg’s will be red and Hamilton’s will be yellow.


No, they’ve changed the rules this year. Rosberg’s will be black and Hamilton’s day glo


Hi james, I have wanted to ask this question for a while: why commentators have such a small monitor only? To provide a normal sized screen should not be a problem surely for race organisers/broadcasters.


The commentary boxes are pretty small in some venues, with a small shelf to put screens etc on.

The TV is probably a 28″, maximum, the FOM timing monitors are standard size for everyone and not huge.

Although SKY have multiple monitors and pictures from every nook and cranny!

I might do an post on this during the season – it’s quite interesting and the conditions aren’t what you would expect – with a few notable exceptions!


The car on pic below is NR coz that fire LH had brake issues next day if that’s correct?


Well I won’t be able to tell the difference easily at speed, so I suggest either one of them changes helmet colour (unlikely) or an added flash of bright colour Ia added somewhere to one of the cars.

F1 is meant to be a Fan Friendly sport. Make it easier for us to spot the difference !

And to all those who quip “Lewis will be the one in front “. Nico is no slouch. Don’t be too confident.


Picking the cars apart will be easy, Hamilton’s will be the one ahead.


Okay- Mercedes should say whoever finishes behind in Australia must change their helmut design.

Btw James are you coming to Melbourne.? I finally booked haven’t been since 98 have


Well… Hamilton would be the one who’s gone nose first full speed into the tyre barrier or slid tail first into the tyre barrier. Nico would be the one doing the tank-slapper off the armco, and launching over the top of a Ferrari.

Seriously though, I shouldn’t worry about this, I suspect one or both will change their helmet design out of concern for being mistaken for the other, or on the advise of their managers.

Or perhaps you’ve done enough by simply bringing up the subject.


James, I hear you. And thats why I’m prepared to accompany you to ALL the F1 grand pix this year to assist with helmet ID. I’ll need paddock passes for every race, so I can check the helmets beforehand, and a prominent seat at each track, near to where the cars are changing direction(so I can see the helmets from multiple angles) and I guess a radio to communicate all this wonderful info to you. Oh and I’ll probably need about $150k per year, to keep the missus and kids happy and fed while I’m away! 😉 Cheers!


Sounds ideal!


So, if the collective media and the FIA politely requested that one of them change helmets to reduce the confusion, which one would it be….. ?

Would Hamilton think that he deserves preferential treatment as he was WDC back in 2008 ?

Would XIX get involved as the helmet design is part of the over all “brand” of their product and needs to be protected ?

Would Rosberg stand-firm or would he bow-down ?

Would Mercedes need to hire a new Manager to co-ordinate the discussions and report to the Board on developments ?

Ah, let the games begin !


Sounds like the next big reality show.


Okay, I have to ask:

Any suggestions for the show’s title?


Helmet Extreme Makeover


So You Think You Can Drive?


Keeping Up With The Hamiltons ?

Brackley’s Next Top Model ?


Sorry James an off topic question. Have you read or heard Martin Withmarsh´s recent comments against paid drivers, budgets and spending cut for teams?

I´m suprised he has been outspoken recently.

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