Formula 1 is the fastest sport on the planet, and in order to broadcast it across the world to millions of viewers, there’s a lot of technology, staff and hard work that goes into the filming of the sport. Capturing these cars at their limits is no easy task, making filming F1 a major operation.
F1 is filmed using more than 120 trackside cameras, onboard cameras and a helicopter to capture every race. Hundreds of microphones are used around the circuit to capture the sounds of the cars. At the end of each race the equipment needs to be packed up and shipped to the next race.
There’s a lot of behind the scenes work that goes into filming Formula 1, and it’s a lot more difficult than many people think. It’s easy to criticize the broadcasting team for missing something when you don’t truly understand how difficult their job is. Below, we discuss this job in more detail.
Do They Use Drones To Film F1?
They don’t use drones to film F1 race weekends. While drones may be used at filming days for the teams during the preseason, drones are generally not used for filming much of the race weekend as they pose a safety risk if they were to malfunction, and they’re not fast enough to follow the cars.
While not necessarily your conventional “drone cam”, Formula 1 uses the cable camera directly above the pit lane. This is the same camera that is often used in other sports such as the Olympics and in Hollywood movies.
The system used is called the “Camcat” which is a rig that’s hooked up to a cable system. The camera can move at up to 80 miles per hour, and it’s perfect for tracking the cars as they head into the pit lane for their pit stops.
Because the cable cam is situated between the pitlane and the start finish straight, it also gives viewers a new dynamic angle to race starts. The cable cam can track the cars as they pull away, or fly down the main straight.
No Flying Drones
Formula 1 has not yet implemented the regular use of flying drone cams at race weekends. It remains to be seen whether this will be incorporated in the future. Currently drone cams are only being used in promotional events as teams find new angles to use when filming their cars, or at the occasional race to try them out like we saw in Barcelona in 2022.
One of the main reasons drones are not used in races is due to the risk of them ending up on the circuit. If anything were to happen to the drone and it fell onto the circuit it would be right in the path of oncoming cars.
Ultimately, this could present a danger to the cars on track, and also a disruption to the race as a safety car would need to be brought out in order to retrieve a stricken drone in the middle of the track, especially if has been hit by a car and is broken into tiny pieces. For this reason, it’s unlikely that drones will be used in races in the near future.
Not Fast Enough
But the other reason drones aren’t used for filming F1 is that they are just not fast enough to follow the cars. While they are useful for getting good angles during filming days, the cars perform far more unpredictably during a race, so the drone pilots would need to be far enough away from the cars to not present a safety issue, but also close enough to get valuable shots.
This is just too difficult at the speed of modern F1 cars, and while during a promotional event they can essentially choreograph a filming sequence with the driver, this is not possible on a race weekend. Aside from that, there are also just lots of other cameras already doing a good job, along with the all-important filming helicopter.
How Does F1 Use A Helicopter To Film Races?
The helicopter camera is the most expensive camera in use when it comes to Formula 1 broadcasting. Simply flying the helicopter is an expense in itself, in terms of fuel usage and paying the crew, but the technology used on it is even more impressive.
The TV helicopter was first introduced in the 1990s, but the helicopter would simply hover in the air over the circuit and get a static angle from above. However, with the advanced technology that has been implemented, we now get some of the most interesting and dynamic shots from the helicopter camera in modern Formula 1.
The helicopter camera uses an advanced camera stabilizer to keep the image steady and the quality high. This helps to smooth out the footage as the helicopter moves, which is why we can get some great footage from a moving helicopter during a Formula 1 race.
The camera is connected to a control panel that the camera operator can use while the pilot flies the helicopter. The pilot and the operator work together in constant communication to get the perfect shots of the cars going around the circuit.
What Cameras Do They Use In F1?
F1 uses Grass Valley cameras paired with Canon broadcast lenses with a zoom range of between 9mm and 810mm (which is a 90 times zoom) and these lenses can cost a up to $250,000 each. There are at least 25 of these cameras placed around the circuit.
However, in some cases, such as when Formula 1 visits Spa, they may need to use more cameras. Trackside cameras are a staple in Formula 1 broadcasting, and these cameras provide much of the action for the TV viewers. Formula 1 needs high-quality cameras in order to capture the images and they need perfect camera placement around the circuit in order to capture every angle.
Stability Is Key
Each camera is mounted on a Vinten tripod which allows the cameras to record smooth footage. It also allows the camera operators to move their cameras quickly in order to track the cars without destabilizing the image.
F1 may use other brands and dimensions of camera and tripod throughout the circuit and at press conferences and other events. However, the specifics of the brands are really not terribly important, as it’s the high-quality nature of them and the technology inside them that is most impressive.
As camera technology has improved over the years, F1 has become even easier to film from various angles and locations that weren’t possible before. However, with the increase in quality of the image and the cameras in general, many fans think F1 cars look slow on TV. But regardless of whether they do or not, the advent of slow motion replays has been great for the at-home watching experience.
Slow Motion Cameras
The slow motion replays that we often see during the broadcast are not recorded by the regular broadcast cameras. The slow motion cameras are separate, and they are mixed in with the broadcast cameras that are dotted around the circuit.
These cameras are only used for replays, which gives the viewers a good view of an incident after it’s happened (usually a crash or to show a close up of a car’s worn tires for example). The slow motion camera is usually some form of Phantom high-speed broadcast camera, which can record at more than 1000 frames per second. This explains how they get those stunning slow motion captures.
How Do F1 Onboard Cameras Work?
Onboard cameras have become a fan favorite as they allow the viewers to watch a driver close up and see some of the action from their perspective. They are great at depicting how fast the cars are and how challenging it is to drive them.
Formula 1 cars usually have at least five onboard cameras, and the technical regulations outline which ones are mandatory each year. Two of these can be found in the ‘T-box’ on top of the car. This is known as the “T-cam” in F1. One of the cameras point forwards, giving a view of the driver’s helmet and steering wheel, as well as the nose of the car and everything happening in front of the car.
The other camera faces backwards and gives a view of the rear wing and the cars behind. The other three cameras are placed on the nose of the car and at different places on the chassis. Sometimes you’ll see a view of the tires, in some cases it will be a view looking back at the driver.
These onboard cameras are incredibly small and lightweight. More recently we have seen 360-degree cameras being used, and these can capture some incredibly interesting footage, especially during incidents on track.
Finally, we have also recently seen implementations of helmet cameras to give us a driver’s eye view of the action. These cameras aren’t used all the time, and it’s usually just one driver that is equipped with a camera tucked into their helmet for parts of an event. These cameras provide an unprecedented glimpse into the view the driver gets when travelling at 190+ mph.
How Long Have Onboard Cameras Been Used In F1?
Onboard cameras have been used in F1 regularly since the 1970s, but they were first used in a race in 1985. The quality of the picture was poor, and there was also the issue of the camera losing signal due to the high speeds of the cars and interference from trees and buildings around the circuit.
For example, we didn’t get a live onboard camera feed from inside the Monaco tunnel until the mid-2000s as the feed would always cut out. However, the quality of onboard cameras quickly improved, and they became one of the most sought after camera angles in the F1 feed. In 1998, it became mandatory for all F1 cars to be fitted with at least 3 onboard cameras.
It wasn’t until the mid-2000s that we got reliable high quality onboard cameras. When high definition cameras became commonplace, the onboard footage became much clearer and more consistent in Formula 1. Nowadays, the onboard footage is extremely clear, and provides some of the best broadcasting angles.
Other Cameras Used In F1
In addition to all of these cameras, Formula 1 also uses a number of specialty cameras around the circuit to add even more angles to capture the cars. These cameras add to the variety of the footage and can be used at any time during the race.
Formula 1 often uses small cameras that are built into the kerbs which film the cars as they go past. Cars can drive over these cameras without damaging them. In addition, there are also five roaming cameras in the pit lane to film pit stops and capture any incidents that take place in pit lane. There are also camera crews capturing footage on the pit walls too.
There are also cameras that are placed in the grandstands to get a wider angle of the action as well as the crowd. You can also find some special pit stop cameras which are often placed above the pit box of a team. This gives us that great aerial view of the incredibly fast Formula 1 pit stops.
Finally, there is also a special camera that is only used in turn one. An operator will be sent up with a scissor lift where they will be able to capture all the action at turn 1 from an aerial perspective. While the helicopter often follows the action from above, this view is ideal to film the action head on.
Microphones Used In F1
One of the biggest selling points of Formula 1 is the incredible engine noise that the cars produce. The switch to V6 turbo hybrid engines in 2014 has resulted in many fans being left disappointed by the lack of sound that modern Formula 1 cars put out. However, this has made it even more important for Formula 1 to capture the sound at the track and make it sound as good as they can.
The 120+ different cameras at the track are not enough to capture the sounds of a Formula 1 car. The microphones on these cameras aren’t actually that good for recording race sounds. So instead, Formula 1 uses separate microphones around the track to capture the sounds of the cars more effectively.
There are more than 100 high quality microphones placed around the circuit to capture the sounds of the cars as they go past. In order to try and improve the sound of the cars for viewers at home, Formula 1 introduced a microphone in 2018 that was placed underneath the cars right next to the exhaust.
This microphone measures less than 1 square inch, is waterproof, and can withstand temperatures up to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
How Do They Film Drive To Survive?
Drive to Survive is the Netflix documentary series that first covered the 2018 F1 season. While the Netflix crew are at the races, they do not film the cars on track. Formula 1 has all the specialty equipment needed to do so, and Netflix uses some of their footage of the cars.
However, Netflix does have behind the scenes access, which is where they bring their own film crews and get them to film whatever is happening off the track. This is usually what people don’t get to see on the live broadcasts. This may be scenes from the garages or from the side of the track.
Netflix also hosts interviews with several drivers and team members, which their crew is in charge of filming. In terms of the on-track footage though, the majority of it is filmed by the Formula 1 crew which Netflix then incorporates into their documentary.
The Broadcast Center
Having hundreds of cameras and microphones around the track is great, but it still all needs to be produced and put together for the world feed. The television production teams are responsible for this. They monitor all of the camera angles and sound inputs and put it all together to create a seamless production while broadcasting the event live.
There are two main divisions in the broadcast team, which are the replay team and the track feed team. Both of these teams are in charge of capturing the action and putting it together, while the TV director chooses what goes onto the world feed.
The Formula 1 feed might not show everything that happens on track because oftentimes there’s too much going on. Instead, they tend to focus on the bigger picture such as the championship leaders or something that might impact the race in one way or another. That said, they try to send as much action to the live feed as they possibly can.
Races are long, and there are 20 cars to film. If there’s no action at the front, the production teams will focus the filming on the middle of the pack where overtakes are occurring for example, or perhaps on a backmarker that spun off the track. It’s all about filming the most exciting parts of the race.
The Logistics Of Filming Formula 1
Filming Formula 1 is a tough job, but there is also the overall logistics behind the filming to consider. All of that camera equipment has to go to each race, and if there are back to back races, it can be a really tight schedule to get everything transported.
Many tracks don’t have a dedicated broadcast center either, so a mobile broadcast center may need to be set up. This involves pitching up their own building where the broadcast team can do their job. This involves a lot of time and effort as it needs to be taken down and rebuilt, sometimes in as little as five days.
All of the Formula 1 filming equipment is sent to the next destination using numerous trucks and planes, depending on the locations. This can be logistical nightmare, especially during a longer season that includes triple headers!
F1 is filmed using more than 120 cameras around the circuit, combined with a helicopter camera, onboard cameras, and many microphones located around the track and on the cars. This footage is all combined at the event by a dedicated production team, and the equipment travels from race to race.