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How MotoGP inspired F1's latest TV innovation

Formula 1 teams never stand still when it comes to innovation, and the same can be said for the TV technology that the sport employs.

Sir Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14

The folk who create the F1 world feed are always looking for new camera angles with which to entertain the fans, and the latest owes a debt to MotoGP.

First tried in F1 on the nose of Carlos Sainz's Ferrari at Zandvoort last year, and seen again on Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes over the Japanese GP weekend, the gyro camera keeps the horizon steady and gives a clear impression of the angle of the car in banked or cambered bends.

The technology comes straight from MotoGP, where similar cameras compensate for riders leaning into corners.

"Our whole philosophy is to try and introduce something new as soon as possible," says F1's long-time head of onboard Steve Smith.

"Just to give it a bit more excitement really, give a different view, a bit of a different perspective.

"We're constantly looking at ways we can bring something new, but after 30 years it's very difficult to find new positions!"

The Sony-built gyro camera is an example of that search for new ideas.

"This project initially started because of Zandvoort and the banked curve," says Smith. "We wanted to demonstrate the angle of the banking.

"They use a camera in MotoGP where the rider leans over, but the horizon stays level. We have a close relationship with MotoGP, and we share technical projects and information to enhance the sport for both F1 and MotoGP.

"So last year we asked MotoGP if they could lend us a couple of cameras. And we ran one on the Ferrari nose at Zandvoort, and it was a resounding success, and well-received.

"It is gyro operated, but it's not on a gimbal like most gyro cameras. When you see the car go round the track, it won't move, it'll stay static.

"It's all done electronically, so the sensor is much bigger than the lens and so it moves around the sensor, as opposed to moving physically. It's very tricky."

Lewis Hamilton's onboard camera in the Japanese GP

Lewis Hamilton's onboard camera in the Japanese GP

Photo by: FOM

After some development work, the camera returned for this year's Dutch GP, although again the pictures didn't go out in public.

"We've subsequently got two more units, and developed them in-house," says Smith. "We tried to run them at Zandvoort, but due to the weather conditions and other mitigating circumstances, it never went out live to air.

"Sony did some modifications to the camera, and one arrived in Suzuka on Thursday lunchtime. And by Friday morning, we had built the camera up and put it into Lewis's car."

The camera was mounted next to the airbox of Hamilton's Mercedes, rather than on the nose, as was the case with Sainz last year. The shots it produced went down well.

"To be perfectly honest, we had a couple of teething problems in FP1," Smith admits. "But we resolved the issues, and it went out live in FP2.

"Even though there was no banked track, we wanted to test it. And so what we achieved in Japan was really by default, because it wasn't what we aimed to do. We just wanted to test the unit.

"It went out, and it did that that bit of movement in the corners. And my phone and email haven't stopped going. My guys who do social media said it went mad on the internet!

"Personally I think it's a bit of a Marmite thing, you either love it or hate it. I've probably spoken to 100 people in the paddock, and I would say 80% like it. There are a few people who say it makes them feel sick…"

While the gyro camera was initially targeted for Zandvoort, fans won't necessarily have to wait until next year's Dutch GP to see it again, with Suzuka having demonstrated that it can provide value at other tracks.

"We will continue to develop it in different way in different positions," says Smith. "Like on the roll hoop, on the side of the nose, on the side of the chassis, maybe even looking backwards, just to see.

"In our testing in Zandvoort this year we tried it on the roll hoop, and it's quite a good effect. Unfortunately, it wasn't a standard good enough to broadcast. But that's what we're looking at.

"It's a very subjective thing, isn't it? What you like and what I like are two different things. So if there is positive feedback and we think it's worth pursuing, then that's what we'll do.

"There's no definitive plan as it is. But the idea is that we want to develop it so that by the time we go back to Zandvoort next year we have something that we can use on several cars. I will make the assumption that we'll have more than two units by then! But we wouldn't flood the field with all the cars."

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari F1-75

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari F1-75

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Smith and his team continue to innovate in other areas, and there was another new view at Suzuka – or at least one that hadn't been seen for over three decades.

"We ran a camera under the crash structure rear light on Fernando Alonso's car in FP1," he says. "It went out live, so that we had Alonso's main roll hoop camera, but we had picture-in-picture for the rear view.

"And that was a good shot. But to get it there we have to run a cable, which isn't very user-friendly to teams who are trying to lose weight. And it's in a very harsh position environmentally.

"The last time we ran a rear camera so low was on Nelson Piquet's Benetton in Mexico City. The reason I know so clearly was I built it!"

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Smith and his team continue to work on pedal cameras, with the latest iteration expected to be trialled in Qatar this weekend.

"You have seen it briefly in Silverstone, but it's coming back, the pedal shot, that's what we're hoping," says Smith.

"If you remember last year we had a picture looking at the pedals from behind. We had to do it in that position, because having a picture from behind doesn't infringe on any FIA regulations.

"There's a template that goes in the car, and it mustn't foul any objects for the driver's safety. And the camera we had there initially clashed with the template. Now we've built it so it's much lower profile, and so it looks on the driver's feet from the front.

"And our plan is to use that as an independent shot in its own right, and in the long run to superimpose that pedal shot on top of the chassis, so you correlate how a driver is moving in relation to where he's going around the track."So is there anything else in the pipeline?

"We'd like to bring back the thermal shot," says Smith. "But there's lots of regulations regarding thermal cameras.

"They are regarded as a military-spec item, and some countries won't allow them in. And so it makes life very difficult to ship them around the world.

"But yes, it's something we've done before, and we'd like to do it again. It's more red tape holding us up than anything else."

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