How a gyro camera became latest F1’s latest TV innovation

The F1 TV department is always looking for new angles and fresh footage. This year, the pedal cam returned two decades after the last experiment, while the Dutch GP provided an opportunity to try something different to give a better sense of how steep the banked corners really are.

The shot was only seen briefly on Saturday and Sunday in Zandvoort, and only on Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari. However, F1’s first use of a gyro stabilization camera was deemed a success as the shot tipped as the Spaniard ran around the bench.

“Just look at this new camera we’re trying out,” said F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali, who happened to be in the Sky F1 comment box when the shot appeared in FP3. “I think it’s important that we try to convey the feeling of speed, the feeling of what’s really on the track.”

The man responsible for the images we see broadcast from the cars is F1 chief executive Steve Smith, who has been doing the job for over three decades.

“Stefano and Ross [Brawn] strive to innovate, bring in new things to show that we don’t stand still and we’re moving forward,” says Smith.

“And so this year we introduced the kick shot. After all, we want the 360-degree camera to be able to broadcast live from the car. Currently it’s an independent entity that records into the actual entity and then we download the footage afterwards and that’s then used for social media.

“We hope you watch the international feed on TV and complement this with an iPad or your phone to view a 360-degree camera.”

F1 is always open to feedback from fans, but it’s not easy to please everyone.

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“I think what happens sometimes is people see something and they write and say, why don’t you do that in F1?” Smith says. “And the biggest thing for us is single camera shots.

“For example, Martin Brundle did a report for Sky in a Ferrari in Fiorano a few years ago. He drove out the car and they loaded it up with GoPros. He drove two rounds 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.

“Then he came in, they removed all the cameras. There were two more rounds and they edited everything together so you can’t see cameras. But it’s 10 different shots. It doesn’t do us any favors because then someone says, why can’t we see that in a Grand Prix?”

The clear inspiration for the gyroscope that F1 tried out at Zandvoort was MotoGP.

“Someone wrote and said it would be great if we could see what banking looks like. When you see the car normally, the car’s posture stays with the track

“It’s not like a bike, a bike leans past 68 degrees. And that’s really impressive. What the bikes are doing is great stuff. And we found a camera that did the job.”

The gyro camera is the same as in MotoGP and actually comes from series organizer Dorna. As always with such innovations, the next task was to get it into a car.

“We try to do it in secret so it doesn’t upset people,” says Smith. “If you go to a team and say we’d like to try that, the first thing they ask is how much does it weigh, is there an aerodynamic penalty, do our main competitors use it? And if you say no, say fine, we won’t let it go either!

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“We’re also noticing that on special shoots, teams feel like they’re losing their attention. And since it’s not in its infancy anymore, onboard cameras are used for driver analysis, there’s a lot of things they use the footage for. So if you use an unusual shot, they don’t get the roll frame camera, and they like that shot.

“However, we have the option of dual streaming cameras, so we can transmit two signals at the same time. We don’t do it that often now, but we did dual stream the pedal recording.”

The new gyro cam fits in the usual pod on the nose, and there’s no weight penalty. Ferrari therefore agreed to run it on Sainz’s car at Zandvoort. After some experimentation on Friday, it slipped quietly into the show on Saturday and then briefly into the race.

“To be honest, if we hadn’t been able to test it for Zandvoort, it’s a bit of a chocolate teapot,” says Smith. “Because you can’t go to Monza and test it because it’s flat! And so we pushed like crazy.

“And if I’m being honest, there were a few imperfections in the recording. But we talked about it and decided this was our last chance. We felt like the good outweighed the bad when it came to shipping.”

The new shot was well received and Smith received immediate feedback: “As soon as it aired live I could feel my phone vibrating in my pocket, messages were just coming in. Wow that’s good!”

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Camera detail on Carlos Sainz, Ferrari F1-75

Camera detail on Carlos Sainz, Ferrari F1-75

Photo by: Adam Cooper

The question now is, where else can the gyroscope camera be useful? It was tried out briefly at Monza on Lando Norris’ McLaren in practice to see how it would react on curbs and such, but the footage was not broadcast.

Undulating circuits like Suzuka and Austin could also be interesting options, but there are no firm plans at the moment.

Meanwhile, F1 continues to innovate. For Austin, you can expect to see a roll-hoop view, with an overhead pedal shot superimposed on the front of the chassis like an X-ray, showing the driver’s feet at work. The goal is always to offer something that fans can enjoy.

“I hate to say it because I installed it, but Ayrton Senna’s 1990 Monaco pole lap is used as iconic footage by everyone,” says Smith. “But you’re not comparing eggs to eggs. It’s the V10, it’s a manual, and it’s Ayrton Senna.

“When you watch this lap on YouTube, 50% of what people perceive as vibration is actually resolved because we used to transmit from the car to the helicopter, now it transmits from the car to locations around the circuit.

“This gyroscope has the ability to reduce stabilization. So we can experiment with that. I’ve spent 30 years of my life making them stable. And now some people would like to see them less stable! “

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