Why F1 TV missing so much race action

I have found myself increasingly irritated by the FOM TV coverage this year. Too many times the director is following a sterile situation and is missing developing chases and a significant number of overtakes whilst following mundane action.

If you’ve been watching F1 like me for 30 years, you will remember the TV coverage of the 70’s and 80’s being not of a particularly high standard. Partly this was due to the technology and its cost. Another factor was, unlike most mainstream sports that compete in a relatively small an defined space eg a football pitch, an F1 race takes place over several square miles. Add to this cars travelling at speeds in excess of 300km per hour and you have a tricky event to capture on film.

Yet these were not only the issues back in the day… Each race was covered by the different countries’ resident TV channels. They were called the ‘host broadcasters’ and naturally if you only cover a sporting event once a year, the specialisation that comes with doing something frequently was missing and the quality of TV production varied greatly from country to country.

Add into the mix each host broadcaster used a local TV director who decided which pictures we would all see. I remember Murray Walker regularly bemoaning a Japanese director following a local driver trawling round at the back of the field, lap after lap – and the same could be said of many other countries where the TV pictures were focused on local interest rather than the ‘happening moments’ of the race.

So, to cut a long story short, ‘Bernievision’(F1 Digital+ 1996-2002) was launched – a digital TV feed provided by FOM at every race that was way ahead of its time, but one which no one would pay for – it failed  – but the ground was laid for the “world feed” we all now see.

By 2004, FOM was beginning to assume responsibility for the TV coverage at more and more races, and by 2007 they produced at all circuits except Monaco and Japan. The production we now all see around the world is called the world feed – and there is one FOM director decides what will be transmitted when.

The good from this was consistency and specialisation that meant the quality of TV angles improved significantly together with many innovations that have provided far more comprehensive TV coverage than we had before. The cost of TV production was reduced, because the TV equipment and personnel now travelled with the F1 circus. The progress was enormous.

But with progress expectations rise and by 2010 a number of voices were suggesting FOM TV needed to raise its game. They had trialled tyre temperature graphics and thermal images – but these have since been dropped.

FOM TV responded with super slow mo camera’s (copying German TV), driver tracker charts and we now have HD launched for the 2012 season.

Despite all this I’m surprised at the amount of action we still miss. I don’t want to waste copious paragraphs with examples but here’s a couple just from the last race in Monza – and to be fair the action covered in Monza was better than a number of other races this year.

Lap 8, after watching the Saubers battle fiercely for 8th, the director cuts away on lap 9, misses Perez pass his teammate – and we get no replay at all.

Lap 17, we are watching Button, Vettel and Alonso trundle round about 2 seconds apart and miss the inevitable Perez pass on Kimi. Kimi then pits. We get a replay later.

Lap 23/24, we can see Kimi right on the rear wing Hulkenburg out of the last corner – we miss the pass but get a fantastic  onboard replay (an alert director could have shown live) from Kimi’s car a lap later.

At the Belgium GP I was discussing my growing frustration with F1 TV coverage with an F1 broadcaster/commentator of many years experience in the sport and they explained certain issues which are not in the public domain. So, as is my brief, here’s the low down.

In nearly all sports TV production, there is a rule for commentators and it is they should predominantly describe what the TV is showing. Yet in the era of the host broadcasters, the best F1 TV production was from those who reversed this rule. The TV producer would follow what was being discussed in commentary.

The reason for this was that the commentators were so immersed in the sport; they are the expert on how the race is developing. They have the lap and sector times on a screen so as soon for example as soon as a purple (fastest of all) lap or sector appears they are alerted to a developing story.

The FOM TV director (who is the same at every race) follows no commentary. They have ‘spotters’ who are supposed to assist the TV director with developing action but this clearly isn’t working. So with all the amazing technical developments, cost reduction and consistency that FOM TV has brought, we are still missing the very basic stuff we need – key live action.

The problem for FOM TV is so many of us have the timing screens for sectors and laps, either from Formula1.com or other sources, and we can see the key stories developing. It took several laps in Hungary for the director to realise Kimi on fresh tyres was over a second a lap quicker than those he was catching.

The solution is already known and was proven to work in a previous era – get the FOM TV producer to follow a commentary. I know this has been suggested to the powers that be in F1 TV – provide a specialist commentary with the world feed pictures to assist in directing the TV to the action that requires covering. Unfortunately for us all, this as yet this has fallen on deaf ears.

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8 responses to “Why F1 TV missing so much race action

  1. Agree, but I do feel that too much chopping and changing can hinder a cohesive, flowing coverage. I sometimes get frustrated that the director changes ‘stories’ after only half a lap, and cuts back to a battle only if a pass is immediately imminent. I like to see the lead up to the pass, understand where the following driver is quicker and watch the strategic racecraft side of things unfold. I would happily miss all but the top driver pitstops – the greater action is on the track.

    • Absolutely. I’m not advocating cutting to every Marrusia and HRT pass at all. The few examples I gave included drivers in the top 5 at the end of the race. A lot of the cut aways are just fillers and unnecessary. In Monza we had a camera behind the first chicane with a very long lens looking all the way back to Parabolica. This was used many times as the director cut away from other action and then returned to the same action. In fact whilst it wasn’t focused on them, you could see Kimi pass Hulk in background from this camera.

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