How Formula 1's new Driver's Eye camera embraces AV's potential

How Formula 1's new Driver's Eye camera embraces AV's potential
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Motorsport.com - US
Motorsport.com - US Motorsport.com - US

How Driver’s Eye camera became a Formula 1 TV gamechanger

On-screen graphics are regularly evolving to aid fans’ understanding of F1, while fresh camera angles and techniques are constantly explored to bring the on-track action alive. But no camera angle has got as close to giving fans a true feeling of what it is like inside the F1 cockpit than Driver’s Eye. Through a small 9mm x 9mm camera fitted to the padding of the helmet, fans are able to get a closer understanding of what the drivers can see through the visor, offering some spectacular footage. One of the finest moments last year came at the opening race in Bahrain, when Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen duelled for a series of laps for the lead. The F1 TV directors were able to switch to the Driver’s Eye camera in Leclerc’s helmet throughout the scrap, giving some incredible insight into how a race-winning overtake is executed from the cockpit. Designing a camera that is capable of delivering broadcast footage while fitting within the safety requirements of the helmet was a big challenge. Alex Haristos, the chief operating officer of the Racing Force Group that founded and owns the Driver’s Eye technology, explains to Motorsport.com that safety was the number one priority throughout development in order to gain the support of the FIA. “We didn’t start from: ‘We need to have a camera with the best image’ - we started from safety requirements,” Haristos explains. “We worked backwards on this. That was the challenging bit, because we found the right position next to the driver’s eye, on the liner that is the protective padding. The camera has to be smaller than the size of the liner when it bottoms out, so the face of the driver doesn’t get in touch with the camera.” Driver’s Eye Camera detail Photo by: Racing Force Group A camera and the required sensors were found to fit the small space, and the wider electronics were hooked up through the car with a very thin cable into the helmet. Haristos says it was a breakthrough after “six or seven official attempts” to integrate camera technology to the driver’s helmet. “Ours was the first one, and it was a big success,” he says. “I didn’t even realise it at first probably, but people were waiting for it.” But there wasn’t the immediate clamour from F1 to get the technology into its coverage, prompting Haristos and his partners to talk to Formula E, who he says were “very receptive.” It proved to be the perfect development ground for Driver’s Eye, even if concerns from teams about broadcasting the footage on the steering wheel dashboards meant some elements had to be blurred out. But long-term, the goal was always to work in F1 - and little time was wasted once the exclusivity window expired in the summer of 2021. “After 10 days, we were in Spa with Fernando Alonso and we ran that first test,” says Haristos. “It was extremely exciting.” Haristos recalls standing in the F1 broadcast centre along with its TV chiefs, Roberto Dalla and Dean Locke, as they watched the first F1 footage come through using Driver’s Eye. It was only meant to be an initial test, but that quickly changed. “After a few seconds, they looked at it, and said: ‘Can we air it? We would like to air it!’” he recalls. “I said yeah, OK, let’s do that. As soon as they did that, like 30 seconds, one minute after that, all the phones in the room started ringing! Everyone wanted to know what that was.” Driver’s Eye soon escalated to become an important part of F1’s TV offering as part of a fully customised project for the series. All drivers using Bell helmets - Bell being part of the Racing Force Group - had the cameras fitted last year, while refinements were made with the positioning of the camera to offer an improved angle and improved stabilisation, albeit without losing the rawness that makes the footage so authentic and close to what the drivers experience. Haristos feels the technology was “very well accepted” across F1 in a win-win situation for all parties. “We do business with Formula 1, Formula 1 is producing content and it can sell to the broadcaster, and the teams, they get more exposure,” he says. “And in a unique way for the first time, the driver gets personal exposure as well.” Driver’s Eye Camera detail Photo by: Racing Force Group Zhou Guanyu joked last year the angle of Driver’s Eye made it a “nightmare for me to analyse my driving line compared to the other [cameras]”, but recognised it was “very cool footage” for fans, who remained the target audience. “It’s more for the audience,” he added. “But for the team, they can see what you are changing on the switches as well, which makes it less private.” Unlike Formula E, there was no blurring of the various messages or movements on the steering wheel in F1. The success of Driver’s Eye has prompted a full roll out across the grid for 2023, as requested by the F1 Commission in a meeting last year. Haristos says the modular design of the Driver Eye camera meant it could be tweaked as needed to fit rival manufacturers’ helmets. “The key was to develop in the first place something with already the vision of how modular it would be to adapt to different contexts,” he explains. “When we started this project, the dream scenario was that this technology would be available for everybody. This technology was the one thing that put us [manufacturers] all working in the same direction, and we gave all the support to adapt the technology and the way we install the technology to adapt it to their helmet. The current Driver’s Eye camera is generation 2.5, and has already reduced in weight by almost 50% (2.5g down to 1.4g) and in size from an initial 21mm x 12mm to the current 9mm x 9mm from the first generation. But as further advances are made, thought is being given to other uses even beyond motorsport. “Skiing is a very good example,” he says. “Can you imagine going down the slope, having that immersive view? But you don’t have a car. You only have the athlete. You have safety regulations. Where do you get the power supply, and so on?” Within motorsport, the interest stirred by Driver’s Eye could see it reach right across the racing world, even in closed-cockpit series like NASCAR and sportscar racing. “The possibility to give the audience this immersive experience from the point of view of the driver is something appealing for everybody,” says Haristos. “It’s very well received, even in closed cars. I’m going to be at the opening of the Supercars season in Australia in March, and we’re going to roll it out there. It’s very exciting.” It may not be much use for the drivers and teams from a practical point of view, but in the Drive to Survive era where fan demand is growing to greater appreciate the driver’s experience, Driver’s Eye has broken big boundaries. Read Also: How a gyro camera became latest F1’s latest TV innovation Why floor designs have become a key F1 battleground Ferrari: Claims of 30hp F1 engine step for 2023 “a joke” Carlos Sainz, Ferrari with Driver’s Eye camera

Formula 1 has been a staple in sports broadcasting internationally, exciting fans worldwide for the better part of a century. In many ways, it has represented the forefront of getting the fans involved from every perspective possible. From the track side to the cars themselves, viewers have an increasing number of options. Until as recently as 2017, though, a combination of strict media protocols and underdeveloped technologies hamstrung F1's growth. The media restrictions were lifted following a change in ownership, and the floodgates opened as teams implemented new AV technologies to bring the fans even closer to the track. Global awareness of F1 grew exponentially and coupled with the breakout success of Netflix's Drive to Survive series, a tidal wave of new audiences arrived.

Among these key AV innovations is the implementation of the Driver's Eye, a literal eye-level perspective that allows fans to put themselves right inside the helmets of their favorite drivers.

Yuki Tsunoda, running a lap around the Bahrain International Circuit

Developed by Racing Force Group, the Driver's Eye is a 9mm x 9mm-sized camera fitted to the driver's helmet padding. To successfully implement the Driver's Eye, a variety of technological and situational hurdles had to be addressed. First and foremost, the Driver's Eye had to operate within the safety standards set out for drivers, ensuring that the camera did not come in contact with drivers or obstruct their view. In addition, the camera couldn't pose a risk in a crash scenario, requiring rigorous testing in the process.

Data streaming and broadcasting posed their own challenges. To send back a high-quality signal for global broadcasting, the helmet needed to connect to the car's electronics suite via a thin cable. Each car had to conserve data resources, accommodating aspects such as performance feedback across components. This means that F1's broadcast team must decide which cameras are streamed from which cars, as well as how many active cameras can be broadcast at once. “We’ve only got so much bandwidth off the car,” said Dean Locke, F1’s director of broadcast and media, while speaking with The Race.

Naturally, the bandwidth limits also mean that camera operators must be judicious with the selected cameras, focusing on expected (or unexpected) battles for each position as race conditions change. The Driver's Eye is a narrow, focused field of view and thus omits wider situational awareness from the audience's perspective. As a result, the camera truly shines when drivers are pitted against each other in one-on-one scenarios, such as overtaking another car or defending through a chicane.

The result is an incredibly immersive experience for fans that captures the blistering pace and skilled maneuvering endemic to Formula 1. Watching a lap through the Driver's Eye, it's no surprise as to why F1 represents the pinnacle of racing for many, as drivers react with blinding speed and surgical precision throughout the race. The resounding success of the little camera has spread to other racing leagues, and with the potential it shows, who knows where we may see it next?

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Absolutely! The Driver's Eye camera in F1 has redefined how fans experience the sport, providing an unprecedented level of immersion. Its success not only enhances racing but also sets the stage for future advancements in technology across various fields.

For sure! It's been interesting to see as other sports in general go for a much more personalized approach, just looking at things like the NHL/NFL having mic setups arranged for their players. Definitely curious to see how it progresses!