With Rolex taking over timing from LG and Formula One’s onboard live feed being broadcast in HD for the first time ever during the 2013 season, it’s certainly a transitional era as far as our television coverage is concerned; so maybe it’s time now to lobby for those helmet-cams, which, after all, teams and drivers have been experimenting with for some years. Such a device would undoubtedly add an interesting and insightful dynamic to the viewing experience that has already noticeably improved in recent seasons.
The onboard camera has been a feature of Formula One ever since the days when reckless behaviour such as that illustrated below was permissible:
Needless to say the setup shown was never used at any great speed or actually during a live race. No, for that there was this ‘streamlined’, minimalistic version:
It wasn’t until the late 1980’s that mounting a camera on the rollbar behind the driver’s helmet became a regular feature, and even then the quality of the film was altogether too grainy and inconsistent to be viewed for any length of time. Whenever the signal did hold out the picture was often washed out and limited in view, but it conveyed perfectly the frantic intensity of that now-mythical pole position run by Ayrton Senna at the 1988 Monaco Grand Prix.
By the time cameras started appearing on more cars it was the 1997 season, and the initial camera mount proved unsuitable thanks to the badly-thought out aerodynamic profile of the camera housing. It was soon replaced and from 1998 onwards the modern ‘T-Bar’ became the conventional layout for the position above the drivers head. Often providing the perfect view when accidents and arguments are being settled, arguably the most spectacular piece of film the T-Bar gave us was the stomach-turning point of view that Mark Webber had when he flipped his Red Bull RB5 over the back of the slower Lotus of Heikki Kovalainen and demolished a sign overhanging the track in the process.
When 2010 came around it was commonplace for on-screen graphics provided by Formula One Management to be accompanied by an onboard feed that gave viewers an un-paralleled insight into the actions performed by a driver during a race. With the steering wheel and all its associated functions in clear view it was considered that this was as far as F1 viewers could intrude into the realm of the F1 cockpit.
‘Helmet cam’ first appeared on the helmet of the retiring David Coulthard at the last race of the 2008 season, but the hapless Scot was eliminated in a first-corner accident that meant the camera never got the chance to shine. It disappeared into room 101 before being revived in practice sessions during 2011 and 2012, some of the best footage coming from the Mclaren duo of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button at the floodlit Singapore Grand Prix. It was used elsewhere, most notably at Silverstone but stubbornly failed to appear on a Sunday afternoon.
HD cameras for 2013 are all well and good, but after 25 years of what is essentially the same onboard view season after season isn’t it time for something radically different? Keeping the standard T-Bar would of course be supported by the majority of fans that suffer from violent motion sickness (a condition that can easily be induced by the often erratic movement associated with helmet-cam!) and broadcast in HD it could easily be a great advance on the previous analog cameras attached to the front wing pylons and air intake box.
Placing helmet-cam on the standard FOM stream could be a step too far in its current format with some mountings still proving too blurry and with a limited field of view that does nothing to promote viewers enthusiasm for the device. A stream similar to that provided by both Sky and the BBC in the UK, whereby viewers can watch online and pick and choose their camera view, would be the perfect place to trial the concept and provide enough of an idea for FOM as to whether the project would be suitable for HD broadcast on the standard television stream.