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A History Of Onboard Cameras In Formula 1 Racing

Believe it or not, but onboard camera technology on Formula 1 race cars has been around nearly as long as Formula 1 racing itself. Formula 1 was launched in 1950, as Giuseppe Farina drove his Alfa Romeo to the first World Drivers title that season.

Midway through the decade, the first rudimentary onboard cameras were being experimented with on European racing circuits. In 1956, British driver Mike Hawthorne took a lap around the Circuit de la Sarthe prior to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with several onboard cameras attached to his Jaguar.

Of course, those early cameras were bulky and box-like in shape. There was no way that they could be utilized in tandem with a sleek Formula 1 car on race day. It simply wasn’t practical. But the process had begun, leading to what race fans get to enjoy today. In current Formula 1 racing, it’s a safe bet that not a moment of the action will be missed. Every car in the event is outfitted with six camera mounts and in each event all cars carry two FOM cameras that offer angles to viewers to make them feel like they’re actually in the race.

Fangio Records History

By 1957, F1 racing legend Juan Manuel Fangio was utilizing an onboard camera to film his Maserati 250F as he put down some test session laps at the Modena Autodrome in the first instance of an onboard camera and an F1 race car working in tandem. In the 1960s, two seminal films featured onboard footage captured from moving F1 race cars.

The first was the West German documentary Mediterranean Holiday, which included onboard footage from practice sessions filmed at the 1962 Monaco Grand Prix. Four years later, the Hollywood film Grand Prix, starring James Garner, utilized footage shot with onboard cameras from a car driven by Phil Hill during practice runs at the Monaco and Belgian Grands Prix.

Boon In The 1970s

Advances in onboard camera technology led to more footage being filmed during F1 testing, as well as practice sessions in the early 1970s. Graham Hill provided narration as he toured the famous Circuit de Monaco in 1970. Swedish driver Ronnie Peterson filmed a similar segment in 1973, offering commentary as he drove a lap around Monza.

It was in the late 1970s that Australian television network Channel Seven developed the RaceCam system. It featured car-mounted cameras in combination with microwave radio transmitters working in a relay system with helicopters, as well as a live audio feed between the driver and the TV commentary team. NASCAR and IndyCar were the first major racing circuits to adopt the RaceCam system.

Lights, Camera, Action

Onboard camera technology finally made its debut in Formula 1 racing in the mid-1980s. For the first time, an onboard camera was mounted on a car in an F1 race during the 1985 German Grand Prix.

The lone camera was carried by the Renault of Francois Hesnault, who’d qualified 23rd for the race. Unfortunately, he retired on Lap 8 with clutch issues. However, the newfangled technology was able to capture Hesnault’s pass of Zakspeed’s Jonathan Palmer in the early stages of the race. So rudimentary was the technology at this stage of its development that the camera lens was wrapped in cling wrap to protect it from the elements.

By the 1990s, ground-based receivers replaced the helicopter relay system. Anti-vibration mounts resulted in increased stability in the images presented.

Since 1998, every car in each F1 race is outfitted with three onboard cameras, including a mandatory T-mount placement on the air box directly behind the driver’s head. Positioning of the second camera is chosen via consultation between the racing team, each driver and FIA officials.

Today’s Technology

Since 2016, all images from onboard cameras in F1 races are delivering hi-definition images. Three years ago, 360-degree cameras were added to the nose cone of every car. Each car is outfitted with six camera mounts, though not all of them are used in every race.

These onboard cameras cover the race from every conceivable angle. It’s now possible for viewers to virtually get into the seat of the car as if they were piloting that F1 racing machine instead of Lewis Hamilton or Max Verstappen. Every pass, every crash, every close call is captured and available for viewing.

Also read: The risk of using dummy security cameras

Written by Casim Khalid

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