Inside F1’s race to reinvent itself

Friday morning, just outside Barcelona. Workers unload kegs of beer off a Heineken truck and unpack cured hams as they set up a stall on the path leading to the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, a race track located in Montmeló in north-eastern Spain. In two days’ time, crowds will fill the grandstands for the Spanish Grand Prix, the fifth race in the 2018 FIA Formula One World Championship.

It’s 10.55am, and the first practice session of the weekend is about to start. Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsports’ Lewis Hamilton is leading the driver standings following his first win of the season in Azerbaijan, with Scuderia Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel hot on his tail. The drivers prepare to take the wheel, ready to test out their car’s latest upgrades.

Back in the paddock, the F1 technical team is poised to catch it all on TV. Crew members take their positions in the Broadcast Centre, a 50-metre-long structure that looks like a big, grey polytunnel. It’s here that they put together the International Feed, the live race broadcast that goes out to more than 50 countries.

At the front of the main production room, television production team leader Philip Rorke sits silhouetted against a wall of screens.

“One minute to opening sequence,” he says into his headset.

I sit at the back of the room, beneath an illuminated “ON AIR” sign. I can hear Rorke through my headphones but no one else. The F1 title sequence starts playing on a large monitor, with images of drivers flashing up to the sound of a new theme tune – a dramatic classical score written by Hollywood composer Brian Tyler.

“This is great,” Rorke says. “Got time for a weather graphic?”

Rorke speaks in a constant patter, directing the show blow-by-blow as he chooses which camera angle to show at any one time. He has dozens of options at his disposal. There are 25 cameras positioned around the track, plus five roving pit operators and up to TK onboard cameras on each of the 20 cars. Then there’s the helicopter camera, the CAMCAT – an overhead camera on a wire that can zoom from one end of the starting and finishing straight to the other – and other special angles, such as cameras embedded in the track and pit lane for close-up shots as cars go whizzing past.

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 , Wired.co.uk