Written in the stars

Since taking over Formula 1 at the start of 2017, Liberty Media have made gradual changes to the presentation of the sport on and off camera. Some of these changes have been noticeable, others have blended into the background.

Following the first three races of the year, I reviewed the main changes that Liberty Media made to the output, noting that whilst their new graphics were not as bad as feared, Formula One Management (FOM) still had some way to go to improve the graphics. It is worth another stock take, as there have been new developments since my April review worth factoring in.

F1 integrates the Halo
One of my main criticisms earlier in the season was that FOM had failed to integrate the Halo into its television package. Whilst I have become used to the cockpit protection system quicker than I expected, it has still rendered the main on-board camera worse than yesteryear.

Since the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, FOM have dressed up the main on-board camera with a virtual game-like heads up display. The display contains the same information as the previous speedometer graphic, but FOM have cleverly used the Halo to their advantage, displaying information moulded to the shape of the Halo.

Formula 1 is part of an ongoing trend in motor sport to attract the younger gaming fan, and this is one way they are trying to do it. Formula E started the trend with their own vision, whilst MotoGP has recently introduced a fresh take on a popular angle, although F1 currently uses it more frequently than their two-wheel counterparts.

2018 Hungarian GP - Halo graphic.png
Riding on-board with Lewis Hamilton during the 2018 Hungarian Grand Prix, with the new Halo graphic present. On the left indicates the amount of braking input he currently has, the right indicates throttle input. The speed in kilometers per hour along with the gear is represented in the centre of the frame, whilst a yellow line below depicts the amount of RPM.

Depending on who you ask on social media, the display is either cool, or tacky. I can see why some might consider it messy, but again you must remember that Formula 1 is catering the virtual display towards a newer generation of fan. I like it, it is different, but for very good reason. There are a lot of things FOM can do moving forward to improve the display: what we are seeing now is only the bare bones of what is possible.

On the other end of the virtual spectrum has been another trend of what is known as ‘sponsor activation’, notably from Heineken and Amazon.

Heineken’s stars make an impact
In my view, Heineken’s advertising activation is having an impact on Formula 1’s World Feed. Fans watching both the Canadian and Austrian rounds this year will have noticed Heineken’s ‘stars’ appearing across the World Feed at various vantage points.

I do not have a problem with Heineken activating their advertising efforts, but I do have a problem with the tackiness of the virtual stars. For a world-class sport, it looks and feels like an amateur hour effort. It detracts from the overall spectacle, and arguably is one of the worst examples of virtual advertising in Formula 1 to date.

As an experiment, I mocked up what the Heineken star would look like in MotoGP, were Heineken ever to turn their attention to MotoGP. The replies on Twitter from those involved in MotoGP speak for themselves.

The virtual track side graphics have not stopped with Heineken. During the British Grand Prix, Formula 1 overlaid their virtual logo track side with the word ‘Hammer Time’ following a pit stop from Lewis Hamilton. The virtual ‘messages’ to drivers continued in full force during the Hungarian Grand Prix, although the execution was better so not to detract from the on-track action.

2018 Canadian GP - three stars.png
The Canadian Grand Prix saw the first appearance of Heineken’s ‘stars’ into the World Feed. Here, a Ferrari car passes through the turn two hairpin, the shot framed to include the three virtual stars at the top of the grandstand.

A further negative trend comes in the form of five ‘beeps’ at the start of each race. The beeps have blighted not only the F1 broadcasts, but also Formula Two, GP3 and Porsche Supercup races. FOM are experimenting in this area, with some races featuring excruciatingly loud beeps, and others featuring no beeps at all (possibly because the sound of the cars masks the beeps).

When you add all of these up, and account for them as a collective, the overall direction of the Grand Prix suffers because of it. Imagine you are a director, who wants to pick the best angles and battles for the World Feed. However, as a director, I need to feature specific shots to get a specific trackside graphic into the frame, for example the Heineken star.

You can see how the two will not always match up, and could lead to FOM missing something critical (thankfully, yet to happen). “Put up or shut up” might be the only way forward to accepting virtual graphics and advertising activation, as both are likely to continue at a faster pace of knots in the future.

Whilst Formula 1’s direction may be compromised slightly by virtual advertising, one thing that has improved vastly compared with previous seasons are the camera angles FOM have used.

The return of Formula 1 to Paul Ricard saw a variety of camera angles which helped portray the speed of the cars, whilst FOM used drones to give a different perspective on the infield section during the Austrian Grand Prix. To FOM’s credit, they are experimenting with angles, seeing what works, and what does not.

Formula 1 expands new media footprint
Wherever you look on social media, Formula 1 is constantly expanding its footprint, with weekly additions.

With Tom Clarkson at the helm, the sport has moved into the podcast space. As host of Beyond the Grid, Clarkson has interviewed a range of stars, such as four-time champion Lewis Hamilton and current Sky Sports commentator Martin Brundle. If you have an hour of your spare time, or even on your train journey home, I encourage you to listen to these. The tone is different to the paddock interviews you hear during the weekend, giving you an insight into the people behind the helmets.

As anticipated pre-season, Formula 1’s live post-race show on Twitter has also got off the ground, with Will Buxton fronting it. I have not yet watched their output, simply because Sky Sports and Channel 4 gives me what I need post-race. After watching F1 for three or four hours, watching a further show on Twitter does not appeal to me. Controversial perhaps, but a live interactive show outside of race weekends to fully digest the weekend’s events might be better. Others who live elsewhere in the world without expansive post-race coverage might disagree.

Formula 1 has used social media to their advantage this season to help explain stewarding decisions. Some fans thought that Lewis Hamilton should have been penalised harsher than a reprimand after a pit lane incident during the changeable German Grand Prix. But F1 used their outlets, and FIA race director Charlie Whiting to help fans understand why Hamilton was not penalised.

2018 Hungarian GP - Charlie Whiting.png
Charlie Whiting explains why Lewis Hamilton did not receive a penalty during the 2018 German Grand Prix.

Elsewhere in the social media space, Formula 1’s teams have brought fans even closer to the action with a special camera embedded inside glasses, showing a day in the life of Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly at the Monaco Grand Prix and a lap with Romain Grosjean at Montreal. There are a lot of very cool things going on in the social media space, but you need to have a keen eye to find them, as not everything is in one place. Blink, and you miss it.

F1 TV’s archive starts to take shape
After an early season delay, Formula One Management finally launched F1 TV to the world in the run up to the Spanish Grand Prix. Although fans in the United Kingdom do not have access to live coverage of this year’s action through F1 TV Pro, fans can access Formula One Management’s rich archive through the entry-level F1 TV Access.

In its first three months, over 100 full races have been added to F1’s over-the-top service. As of writing, there are 13 full races from the 1980s, 21 from the 1990s, with the remainder from 2000 onwards. New additions have stalled in recent weeks, but expect things to pick back up soon. FOM will be constantly analysing user trends, seeing which years are more popular than others, which will drive their internal decisions moving forward.

Although track side adverts promoting F1 TV have been present, the promotion on social media has felt passive rather than aggressive, with little promotion of F1 TV from Formula 1 across its social media channels aside from the generic messages, FOM going for a soft launch approach rather than a big bang.

Even where FOM have posted classic clips on social media, they have failed to link back to their over-the-top service, which feels like a major oversight to me. If the service is to grow, Formula 1 needs to promote it at every opportunity, otherwise they could make a substantial loss in the early years.

And finally, the one thing I have yet to mention throughout this piece is Formula 1’s new theme song. Because, frankly, it is superb. I do think that, in a year or so, it will be a theme that people outside of F1 looking in, will instantly associate with the sport. It is that good, and that is a huge credit to Brian Tyler and all that were involved in the making of the tune.

Now to go away and hum the theme again…


16 thoughts on “Written in the stars

  1. The only time I thought the virtual star was really bad was in Austria where they made it a virtual bridge over the track.

    And personally I really don’t like the theme tune. It just seems tacky and overly Americanised to me. And the graphics have a similar kind of 90s trying to imagine 2018 look to them.

    1. I also don’t like the halo graphics. I would have much preferred a camera in the front of the halo and having the graphics around the screen in a similar virtual visor HUD style as FE. I think that looks cooler.

  2. The official theme tune is certainly good and will become more and more popular as the years go on but for me personally…. The Chain will always be my official F1 Theme 👍🏁

  3. I don’t think the trackside adverts or graphics too intrusive. In Hungary, the banner used to tell drivers to push, actually fooled me for many laps, thinking it was a trackside screen and the drivers could actually see it!

    I like the halo graphics. Good use of screen real estate. No complaints here. I’ve also got used to the look of the halo on the car. Something I didn’t think I would. I’ve also spotted the onscreen “Insights” powered by Amazon Web services. Clearly, just another advert because they’ve provided the computing power.

    The beeps for the start lights – I have nothing against these as they’ll be more useful for spectators at the track.

    FOM have done some cool stuff with technology to engage fans. One of my favourites is the 360-degree camera footage they post to YouTube showing up close footage of some of the most exciting action.

    Totally agree on the theme song. It is amazing. Very blockbuster. However, Alistair Griffin’s, Just Drive, as used by the BBC and Sky captures the feeling of F1 very well, especially to a UK audience.

  4. I self edit the broadcast and just watch the race bit, when is the official theme tune played in?

  5. The impression I’ve got from this season is that Liberty Media seem unsure how best to present F1. It’s as if they’re trying anything and everything then reacting retrospectively rather than having their own clear plan of what they want to present. What they are coming up with isn’t generally impressive either.
    Personally, I don’t have a problem with the halo graphics, it doesn’t block any more of the screen. It’s the ‘numpty vision’ graphics that are creeping in that annoy me, and the ever increasing pointless radio transmissions.

    I’m not keen on the ‘virtual’ advertising but I concentrate on the cars so I probably notice it less. Bit by bit Liberty are now turning me away from F1, with additions such as the ‘facts’ about the host nation, I couldn’t give a toss quite frankly. It’s like the ‘countdown’ sequence that Formula E uses, that is the tackiest thing I’ve seen when it comes to sport and I can see Liberty doing similar.

    Bernie made errors by giving the teams too much power, loyalty payments etc, but he did have standards. I think that Bernie knew that F1 fans are knowledgeable about the sport, the last thing they need to be shown is a bold graphic saying that 3rd and 4th places are battling for 3rd. With each race now there seems to be something else that has changed, and so far hardly any of it has been for the better.
    I don’t think that Liberty realise that people either like motorsport or they don’t, it’s niche and people usually get into it from a young age. I can’t see them attracting fans in the long term with their dumbing down approach.

    As I only watch live races on C4 now I ignore their coverage until just before lights out, so I hadn’t noticed the new music. I had to look it up, I won’t be doing that again either, it’s pants!

  6. I quite like the Halo overlay. It does a good job of making use of the real-estate created by the inside of the Halo, disguising it somewhat. It is much better than the Formula E heads-up display which covers the whole screen and, as it is semi-transparent over the entire area, makes seeing what’s happening ahead more difficult. Why do that?

    What I don’t like about the Halo graphic, and I can’t believe no-one else has said this and it has not been fixed, is that some elements off it are off centre.

    Look at the at the speed and gear indicator. They are both off-set to the left. Yes, we are looking at it from slightly to the left, but they are not centred relative to the driver. See the spaces between the brake and throttle bars and the lighter area around the gear indicator. Look at the current gear (6th in the above image) and the 6000 and 9000 rpm markers below it. It distracts every time they use the Halo graphics.

  7. Great article… except turn 2 in Montreal is part of the “Senna S” — the hairpin is turn 10, at the other end of track, and has been referred to as the Casino hairpin when the Montreal Casino had advertising on the inside.

  8. I did not notice any floating stars at all thank goodness, but in minute I do I will switch off.

    What new theme music? Is still The Chain by Fleetwood Mac.

    Graphics: I have been asking for about five years now for the subtitles not to be overlaid on the leader/time board. But the top two in SD or top one and a half in HD are still missing the two or three right hand characters. V annoying especially during qualy or when gap deltas are important
    during the race. There is plenty of room on the screen to shift the subtitles three character spaces to the right. .

  9. The chain has never been formula 1’s theme tune. It’s a brirish t.v. only theme music that is the theme tune too the BBC and channel 4 coverage of formula 1. Not the official theme tune.

  10. Overall, a decent job by FOM so far.

    A few things stand out:
    I hate the stars and the start-line bleeps. I would prefer the sound from trackside was increased to build the start tension.
    Being blue, the Halo graphic constantly makes me think I’m looking into the cockpit of a Sauber, circa 1995-2001.
    Must disagree about the them tune. It is awful, dreary noise that probably wasn’t good enough to be included in some overblown James Bay crash-a-ton.

  11. As has been said, they’re in a period of trying new things and seeing what works in the long-term. I’m not a fan of several of the changes unfortunately.

    I’d noticed the tacky red stars at each race but hadn’t a clue they related to F1’s beer sponsor so I’m not sure how much of a plug they’re providing. The CGI ‘messages’ trackside are intrusive and awful too. If this is an area that’s going to expand then I’ll be dismayed.

    The Halo graphics are purely a necessity to hide the monstrosity of that device. They’re an improvement on seeing the black ‘thong’ as we had in the early races of the season but, for me, the in-car shots are horrific compared to the Halo-less F1 pre-2018. Graphics or no graphics, the viewer will never again be able to see the front end of the car entering and exiting corners.

    I can’t say I’ve noticed much of a difference in terms of camera angles used. As for the Avengers-style theme tune, it’s overused. Hearing it once 15 minutes before the race as the feed introduces the venue is fine. To hear it time and again at the end of race is overkill – and it’s often heard again in the background as Sky play their interviews with Toto etc recorded off-screen.

    And as was said earlier in the year, the overall graphics suite is less refined than the previous one. It’s a thumbs down from me on the changes by Liberty I’m afraid.

    1. Am in complete agreement on the theme tune; honestly, having the theme repeated so much just highlights how generic it is. (Not surprising as it sounds just like all of Brian Tyler’s other work on the Marvel themes, which tbh are even less memorable) Everyone is going “Oh, after a few months everyone loves it!” Well I’m tired of it already; the only part I think it works fairly well at is during the race build up as it builds tension fairly well during the statistics/grid overview; all the post-race usage of it is just obnoxious. And the intro video they use just doesn’t work for me at all; the drivers are not really gladiators or superheroes, (I mean, they all have different personalities, none of which comes across in that intro) in my opinion it should have been about the technology and the teamwork, the effort that all the mechanics, engineers, and drivers do to win, to get the thing on the road and keep the show going on. Simplifying it to just being about the drivers is very Hollywood-ised, and actually sells the sport a little short IMO; it reminds me an awful lot of ITV’s “Lift Me Up” intro, which was also extremely cheesy.

      If you want to see theme music done right for a Motorsport series and integrated into the broadcast, Formula E did it first, and did it better. The genre may not be to everybody’s tastes but it gets across accurately what the series is all about, change and looking to the future. It’s certainly more memorable to me than yet another cinematic score which tries to make the sport seem more “epic” than it really is. Formula E has gone for a kind of video game aesthetic, especially with the whole FanBoost element; F1 on the otherhand tried to turn itself into an action/superhero movie. I guess the former just interests me more whilst the latter puts me off, because it’s F1 pretending to be something that it blatantly isn’t.

  12. When F1 TV launched, there was an ‘FX’ option to watch the archive races without commentary, which was a completely different experience. Recently this feature has been removed, I hope it will return.

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