The creators of F1‘s live television coverage are constantly exploring innovative new methods to enhance the viewer experience. Their latest idea is a technology borrowed from MotoGP; the gyro camera. Installed on the front of Carlos Sainz‘s Ferrari last year at Zandvoort and more recently on Lewis Hamilton‘s Mercedes at the Japanese Grand Prix, the gyro camera offers a unique and stable perspective on bends or banked sections of the circuit.
The gyro camera technology was originally designed for MotoGP, enabling a steady view of a biker tackling corners. As Steve Smith, F1‘s veteran Head of Onboard explained, “Our whole philosophy is to try and introduce something new as soon as possible. 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 gyro camera is a product of this continuous search for fresh aspects. Smith added, “This project initially started because of Zandvoort and the banked curve. They use a camera in MotoGP where the rider leans over, but the horizon stays level. We asked MotoGP if they could lend us a couple of cameras last year. It is gyro operated, but it’s not on a gimbal like most gyro cameras. It’s all done electronically, so the sensor is much bigger than the lens and it moves around the sensor, as opposed to moving physically. It’s very tricky.”
After trials and refinement, the gyro camera was reintroduced at this year’s Dutch GP, though bad weather, among other factors, kept the footage from live broadcast. Smith stated, “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.” This time, the camera was placed beside Hamilton’s Mercedes airbox, creating a selection of well-received shots.
Initially, there were minor technical issues in FP1. However, these were soon resolved, and the camera went live in FP2. Even without a banked track, Smith and his team were keen to test it. Far from going unnoticed, Smith quipped, “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.”
The gyro camera was originally developed specifically for Zandvoort, but it could fill more slots in F1‘s calendar after Suzuka demonstrated its potential. Smith disclosed, “We will continue to develop it in different ways in different positions, like on the roll hoop, or on the side of the nose, the side of the chassis, or even looking backwards, just to see.”
Smith and his team have been busy with other exciting projects as well, including a camera placed under Fernando Alonso‘s crash structure rear light at Suzuka, a view that hadn’t been seen in three decades, and another pedal camera version set to be tested in Qatar.
In terms of future plans, Smith hinted at the return of the thermal shot camera, provided they navigate some complicated regulations which classify such cameras as military-spec equipment. Nevertheless, Smith’s team is unfazed; they continue searching for new ideas to enrich our viewing experience.