Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

3D Formula One goes virtual insanity // A fly by of the first corner action from Abu Dhabi

Published by Mr. C

There was a brief moment during the coverage of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix when our minds were completely blown, and it wasn't when the fancy hotel changed from a dark blue hue to a slightly more orange one.

A few laps into the race, during the usual start replay sequence, the screen froze and a graphical representation of the field replaced the real video. A virtual camera then began to fly through the scene, from the front of the grid to the very back, passing every car as it did so.

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Christine and I sat through the whole 20 second sequence with mouths agape, stunned at what we'd just witnessed. The live comments covering that moment retell the story rather well. There's no doubt in my mind that this will significantly kick Formula 1 coverage up a gear.

Unfortunately, nothing of any huge significance happened at the first corner, which is a shame. This meant a number of people were left scratching their heads as to what the point of showing it was. My guess is we were looking at a proof-of-concept that needed some real world testing before the season was done. On that front the technical execution was carried out flawlessly, and subtly dropped in amongst the standard replays.

To make the effect happen, I'm guessing a fixed camera was mounted high above the circuit and GPS data used to place the cars relative to each other. The scene was rendered with the correct liveries assigned and a camera flown through it. Not a cheap effect to produce, but well within Formula One Management's budget I'm sure.

At the moment, with such a brief look at the possibilities, one can only raise more questions. For example:

  • Can the virtual camera be controlled manually, or will a predetermined path be assigned pre-race?
  • How is the direction of a driver's helmet obtained, and was Webber really looking so far to the left?
  • Can the initial overhead camera be positioned anywhere on the circuit or will it be limited to first corner action?
  • Will broadcasters have any access to this technology beyond simply commentating on what they see?

Questions aside and looking at the bigger picture, if this technology gets a full rollout next season, imagine how much easier it would be for stewards to make judgement calls if they could fly around the scene of an accident at their leisure. How useful this could be for teams during post-race debriefs, and then imagine how much easier it would be for us watching at home to figure out what in the world happened during a moment of chaos.

If you didn't catch it the first time, or wouldn't mind seeing it again please watch the following video with an open mind. It's not so much what you are seeing, as what you could potentially be seeing.

If that footage was created at Monaco, you could see instantly who'd cut the chicane and penalise them appropriately. It no longer matters if a television director misses an incident, so long as the data is accurate (and we can only guess at measures of accuracy right now), the calls should be straightforward and more importantly, they should be almost instant.

I mentioned earlier that F1 needs to improve its coverage online, and I do think on that front it has a long way to go. However, in terms of the visual experience from the World Feed, the sport is heading in the right direction. This year we saw the return of ghost car overlays, we saw thermo-cam go mobile as it wandered around the pits in a predator-esque fashion and we saw more detail in the on-screen graphics that get shown during quiet periods.

No doubt further improvements can be made, and it's hard to know if FOM or FOTA are driving these changes. I do know that I like what I see, and I'd like to see even more of it in 2010 please.