AI replays and Augmented Reality: What’s new for F1’s TV coverage in 2023
Formula 1’s television coverage has always been at the cutting edge of technology, with the series’ bosses always striving to make it better.
Some of the most significant changes in the way F1 is broadcast have taken place behind the scenes, especially with its production facility at Biggin Hill in the UK having been revamped this winter to make it state-of-the art.
But where F1 never stands still is in trying to enhance what fans see at home, either when grands prix are broadcast live from trackside, or in terms of other elements like on-boards and graphics.
With the 2023 season getting underway in Bahrain this weekend, F1 has spent the winter looking at what improvements it can make to its coverage. That work has now been complete, and it is set to roll out a host of new ideas – some of which use ground-breaking technology.
Here we take a look at what fans can expect this season.
Artificial intelligence slow motion
Photo by: FOM
F1 has often used super slow-motion cameras in places where seeing action at a different speed provides some added insight – such as when cars brush the barriers at the Monaco Grand Prix.
But with these cameras costing around £400,000 each, it is not the sort of thing that can be rolled out for every corner at every race track.
With it hard to predict where spectacular moments will take place, this has often meant that when we see slow motion replay of big incidents, they can appear quite juddery – especially when viewed in 4K definition.
F1 has worked on making such replays look better and trialled a new artificial intelligence product at last year’s United States Grand Prix.
The system processes footage from the normal cameras and, by cleverly filling out missing frames (technically called interpolation), ensures that replays can be silky smooth.
The AI was put to use when Fernando Alonso was launched into the air and barriers by Lance Stroll during the Austin event, so replays of it looked much better.
F1’s director of broadcast and media Dean Locke says the process will be used at all races from now on – which should mean some better definition replays.
“It’s a very smart system,” he said. “We can we make all our cameras high motion, and it’s just on another level to be able to do this live.”
The process can be used for any footage that is obtained over a weekend, including pitlane cameras and onboards.
Photo by: FOM
On the back of the success of Netflix’s Drive to Survive series, F1 is working hard to ensure that the live show has just as much buzz and atmosphere around it.
While part of that comes from the visuals, an important element is also the sound – with F1 looking at a bit of an audio upgrade for 2023.
Locke says F1 wants the live broadcast to sound as exciting as the experience from Netflix or other post-event shows – so some tweaks are being planned.
“People are going to expect, when they tune in on a traditional broadcast of F1, for it to sound like it does in Drive to Survive,” he said. “So we've decided we probably need to do what we can about upgrades. We’re looking at how we can do that.”
Some of it will come from the repositioning of trackside microphones – with some of them actually being turned around to capture more of the atmosphere of the crowd.
Effort is also being made to capture the noise of the cars too – whether it is added microphones in the kerbside cameras, or better use of mixing the audio from the side of the track as cars go by to enhance the effect.
Augmented reality graphics
Photo by: FOM
Last year, F1 enhanced the onboard camera footage to offer some Augmented Reality graphical overlays of cars that were being chased – which included speeds and a drivers’ identity.
This proved to be a success and, for this season, the technology has been advanced for these extra elements to be put over helicopter shots of the car.
Locke suggests that this could be especially useful when highlighting a closing gap when a driver comes into the pits.
“Maybe we can do a piece of elastic, so you've got a car comes in the pits and you're chasing the car coming around,” he explained. “It can feature the time ticking down between the two.”
New onboard angles
Photo by: FOM
F1 fans already know that helmet cams are becoming standard this year, which should offer more options for the broadcasters.
Bandwidth limits mean that for now FOM will only make use of around 6-8 drivers each race for this, whose footage will complement the normal onboard angles.
The gyroscope camera that Carlos Sainz ran at last year’s Dutch Grand Prix is returning at venues where it will better show off the camber of circuits – including this weekend’s race in Bahrain.
Beyond that, F1 is looking at doing more with small cameras inside the cockpit – having brought back the pedal cams last season.
F1 is happy with the result and is now looking at mounting more cameras inside the cockpit – either looking up at the driver from the waist or down at his feet.
“We are going to move around the cockpit a bit more, and some of the teams are really engaged in helping us out,” said Locke.
Further technological advances for this year should also help F1 get access to full onboard footage much quicker than has been the norm in the past.
Up until now, it has taken until the Monday after the race for some footage of specific moments to be available if they were not broadcast live – but it should now be available at almost the moment it is needed.
Graphics revamp and the dilemma moment
Photo by: FOM
F1 conducted a complete review of its graphics over the winter and will unleash a much more simplified system for 2023.
It was felt that some elements, like the AWS data, was too complicated for viewers to understand when track action was taking place. Now, graphics will be much simpler to comprehend – whether it involves track alerts for incidents, new top speeds, and whether DRS is enabled or not.
One new graphics idea set to roll out later this year is a dilemma moment – where FOM will prepare a key question that can be discussed by commentators, and then potentially voted for by fans.
This could, for example, revolve around whether a driver should make an extra stop for tyres, or go for a medium or hard compound in his final stop.
Locke explains: “We are going to brief the commentators and give them a few seconds warning.
“Then at the end of the race we can answer the question: if the driver had pitted he would have gained four places for example.”
But don't expect the drones....
Photo by: FOM
One innovation that F1 trialled last year was the use of drones as a means of getting better aerial shots.
While an initial trial at the Spanish Grand Prix did not yield great results, a more recent run at the US GP did prove to be better. However, F1 feels that drone technology is still not a good fit for the demands of covering a high-speed series like F1.
“Drones aren't quick enough,” explained Locke. “They are brilliant for other sports and sports that can't afford a helicopter, but we are just too ridiculously quick.
“I think the technology will get there quite quickly now, but we're stepping back for a while until we can get it good enough. We don't want to do anything that's rubbish. We will do more proof of concepts at some races, but we are really waiting for really fast drones to catch up with us.”
Photo by: FOM
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