36 years apart: how F1’s broadcast from Zandvoort has changed

This weekend sees Formula 1 return to Zandvoort in the Netherlands for their first race at the circuit since 1985.

In the 36 years since, much has changed for Formula 1, for Zandvoort, and for broadcasting overall.

But some of the Zandvoort circuit remains intact from the layout F1 raced on in 1985, allowing us to compare how F1, and its camera angles, have changed since McLaren’s 1-2 back then.

The headline figures

Unlike in 2021, where Sky Sports airs every session live, back in 1985, the BBC covered only the race live.

The 1985 race formed part of BBC Two’s Grandstand offering in late August, with Show Jumping, Swimming and Athletics also featuring on the bill. In addition, a 35-minute highlights package aired late on Sunday evening.

Back in the 80s and 90s, local broadcasters typically produced the World Feed, this long before the World Feed was centralised in-house within F1. For the Dutch round, public broadcaster NOS produced the feed in 1985.

To show how much motor sport broadcasting has evolved, NOS utilised just 8 trackside cameras to produce the Grand Prix.

Now, Formula 1’s in-house team uses around 25 external trackside cameras to produce the action, this figure excluding all of the additional pit lane and on-board cameras that the team has access to.

Although the Zandvoort circuit configuration has changed in the past 36 years, the circuit length has remained the same. So, how has the number of external cameras tripled over the past three decades?

With the help of Formula 1’s television images and motor sport digital producer Chain Bear, we analyse the lap…

Tarzan (turn 1) to Hugenholtz (turn 3)

The lap starts with the run down the start-finish straight into a 180-degree hairpin, commonly known as Tarzan. Out of Tarzan, the cars head through a left-hand kink before a right-hand bend named Gerlach.

A comparison between 1985 and 2021 – comparing the main angles used on the start-finish straight for the Dutch Grand Prix.

From an advertising perspective, the start-finish straight has radically changed. The 1985 angle features a few small BMW boards heading towards turn 1, whereas the 2021 angle features prominent Heineken advertising, making it impossible to ignore.

The overhead gantry has its disadvantages though: the gantry can block the banked final corner, which means F1 cannot cut to the above angle too early, otherwise they may miss any overtakes at the start of the straight.

Back in 1985, the director had just one choice of camera heading into Tarzan: a high up camera (seen in the image above) covering the start-finish straight and all of Tarzan.

This weekend, F1 has five different camera options for the director to play with. Pointing up the start-finish straight towards the final bend, F1 has a choice of a high and medium-level angle.

Two lower cameras bring viewers closer to the action: the first positioned towards the end of the start-finish straight when the cars are at top speed, with a second camera positioned on the exit of Tarzan.

Furthermore, F1 has a remote camera located at the apex of turn 1. The camera, positioned on the pit lane barrier, tracks cars as they sweep into Tarzan, the director heavily using this angle during the first Formula Three race.

With thanks to Chain Bear, a visual comparison between 1985 and 2021, focusing on sector 1. Cameras, quite literally, everywhere! Use the slider to compare the two.

Both the 1985 and 2021 iterations of Zandvoort have cameras located at Gerlach, although the 2021 version also has a camera positioned on the short straight between Tarzan and Gerlach.

Out of Gerlach, the cars brake for the Hugenholtz hairpin. Now banked to aid overtaking, F1 has placed four cameras around the hairpin, a justified decision based on the weekend’s action so far.

A high camera, reminiscent of the hairpin at Suzuka, is the traditional World Feed shot. Supplementing the high angle is a Jib camera on the inside of the hairpin, while there are two ‘ground level’ angles on entry and exit respectively.

The exit camera worked beautifully on Friday, capturing W Series driver Fabienne Wohlwend’s accident in slow motion from a very close distance, while F1 captured Carlos Sainz’s smash on Saturday morning from a variety of external angles, helping to tell the story to the viewer.

In contrast, the 1985 version of the broadcast featured… zero camera angles at Hugenholtz. Instead, the broadcast focused on the hairpin from the preceding camera at turn 2 and turn 4, known as Hunserug.

The closest viewers would get to the Hugenholtz hairpin in 1985.

NOS used the higher angle to track the cars through turns 5 and 6. One camera angle covered 15 seconds of action per lap, a common feature of F1 broadcasting back then, but such a trait would be below 2021’s broadcasting standards.

Hondenvlak / Master (turn 8) to final corner

Following the fast decline right hander at Scheivlak (turn 7), the 2021 circuit deviates from its 1985 counterpart. The 2021 circuit heads right again through Master, while the 1985 straight continues a little longer before heading through a left-right chicane.

Showing how few cameras there were trackside in 1985, there were no external cameras positioned at turns 6 or 7, the 1985 director relying on the cameras at turns 4 and 8 respectively to cover this section.

Although the track layout changes at this point, the comparison between these angles is still valid, and shows again how much sports broadcasting has moved on from an advertising perspective.

Elevation is noticeable on both shots, but the 1985 angle features multiple advertisers, while the 2021 shot sees the Pirelli brand advertised to its fullest potential, with no other brands ‘interfering’ in the angle.

A comparison between 1985 and 2021 – looking back towards Scheivlak (turn 7) at the Dutch Grand Prix.

Wherever fans look during a race weekend, there is a ‘Heineken’ shot, a ‘Pirelli’ shot, an ‘Aramco’ shot, and so on, which is a better way of activating brands than the old school approach, even if it looks ‘samey’ on screen.

Throughout the second sector, 2021 reverts to the one camera per corner set up, with 9 cameras positioned from Hunserug at turn 4 through to the turn 12 hairpin, and an additional camera covering the straight between turns 10 and 11.

F1 has not given the turn 12 hairpin the same treatment of Hugenholtz earlier in the lap, a sign that F1 does not expect much action to take place at this section of track.

The extended gravel run-off area here and closeness of grandstands also limits F1’s options: there is unlikely enough room for a Jib camera on the inside of the hairpin.

As old re-joins new, both the 1985 and 2021 shots are in a similar position. As we see earlier in the lap, the 1985 angle is again higher to capture more of the action as the cars headed onto the start-finish straight.

The lower 2021 angle helps capture the elevation change as the machinery exits the banking to begin another lap of the 4.3-kilometre circuit.

With thanks to Chain Bear, a full visual comparison between 1985 and 2021. Use the slider to compare the two.

Contribute to the running costs of Motorsport Broadcasting by donating via PayPal. If you wish to reproduce the contents of this article in any form, please contact Motorsport Broadcasting in the first instance. If you enjoy the content that Chain Bear produces, head over here to join his Patreon.


One thought on “36 years apart: how F1’s broadcast from Zandvoort has changed

  1. So interesting to see the difference between the ’85 and current track coverage. The sliders were very helpful. It seems to me that gantry really detracts from the drama of the start finish angle. IMO, F1’s camera coverage and live direction, as good as it is, sometimes detracts from the drama by switching between close shots too quickly. I think it might be be more dramatic to more frequently use longer shots that show the cars going through a couple turns, if that’s possible. The sliders also show how cluttered the tracks are with physical and virtual adverts compared to the older days. It detracts from the drama and aesthetics of the track layouts. The sliders also show how frequently the screen now is festooned with extra data windows. IMO, this is overdone and detracts from the drama of the action.

    Thanks for the great article, David!

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