Conditions at many of the recent Formula 1 Grand Prix races have been challenging for wireless cameras. Besides coping with lots of other radio frequency users, the weather has often been appalling.
During the Silverstone Grand Prix over the weekend, there were several downpours, particularly on the practice days, and similar conditions affected previous races in Australia and Malaysia. In Malaysia, rain was so heavy that the race was stopped for a period, due to poor visibility and water on the track.
Broadcast Sports Inc’s new UK office, which supplies wireless video and audio systems outside the USA, provided unbroken RF coverage of the Grand Prix for Sky Sport’s F1 HD.
This includes up to six radio camera systems with two return vision systems, all in HD, with receivers and a fibre-based infrastructure, which had multiple antennae to allow complete coverage of the pit lane and paddock garages. These were used with Panasonic camcorders with full camera control provided by BSI for the races, all on the 7GHz frequency.
Forecasts of humidity and very challenging weather conditions had caused speculation about the performance of wireless equipment in the first races of the series. BSI, which was founded to deliver on-board cameras for NASCAR and now dominates point-of-view motor racing coverage in America, provided a small team of engineers on site to set up and manage all of the RF equipment during the races.
“The key to success lies in preparation and planning, which was all done in advance to ensure that everything worked right first time. A lot of thought went into getting it right, so that we could just turn up, plug in and switch on and have all of our cameras fully operational right through each race,” said BSI’s Technical Director, Tony Valentino.
“The RF environments in and around the F1 venues are some of the most difficult to deal with so when Sky Sports were looking for a RF supplier, we needed one who had a proven track record of working in these environments, and a team that had the expertise to deliver in any difficult condition,” added Sky Sports’ Director of Operations Darren Long. “BSI have delivered 100% of the package we asked for and Sky Sports have been very happy at the service we've received.”
For Silverstone BSI visited and did tests in March. “That was the very first time we deployed the 7GHz system and the fibre network. It worked surprisingly well, which was very exciting,” said Valentino. “However the circuit was empty on that day and there was no other RF around. It was interesting to go back, with all the other vehicles in situ and the on-board RF cameras live, and we found that the RF cameras performed just as well as they did in the tests. We covered the paddocks, the pit lanes, the garages and the grid walkabout with four radio cameras, and the whole of the live show was done with these four RF cameras for Sky Sports.
“Sky Sports News had an independent team operating on site with one radio camera. This one needed coverage of the whole site and the signal was received on the same fibre infrastructure.
“We supplied the backpacks and the return vision operating at 3.5GHz. Sky Sports could choose between two different feeds on that system - the programme or the timing data from the cars,” he explained.
“All of the kit held up well in the rain. Everything is fully waterproofed and there are rainproof covers which were specially made for the cameras. The remote fibre is designed to operate in those conditions and it was all OK except for a minor fault when one cable shorted out, possibly due to the rain, and BSI engineers on site were able to deal with that quickly.”
Sky Sports launched the dedicated Sky Sports F1 HD channel in February. It is broadcasting live coverage of all 20 races in the F1 season as well as every practice and qualifying session, plus a range of support programming including the weekly preview programme The F1 Show and the F1 Legends series. In addition, the channel is also showing live GP2 and GP3 coverage showcasing the emerging stars of motorsport.
The photo above shows Johnny Herbert and Simon Lazenby reporting in the rain for Sky Sports at the Silverstone practice session on Friday - BSI's radio camera is visible on the left with rain covers, and the backpack is to the right.
By David Fox