Formula 1 is one of the most technological advanced sports in the world. Teams spend millions on designing, building and racing their cars in state of the art facilities at their factories and the race track in order to achieve the aim of being crowned World Champions.
In the past few years, we have seen a big shift in the way that Formula 1 is followed by fans around the world. It is quite fitting that this has been driven by new technology, which has enabled fans to feel closer to the action than never before.
Following Formula 1 in the nineties in the UK meant qualifying on the Saturday during Grandstand on the BBC and the race on Sunday, with race reports available in newspapers and publications such as F1 Racing on a monthly basis, or Autosport every week, to read all the news from behind the scenes in the F1 paddock.
When the TV coverage switched to ITV we got presenters, pundits and more involved analysis. The internet revolution was also taking off so fans were also able to read news and stories from during a race weekend online.
The return of Formula 1 on the BBC has coincided with the new technology available which has allowed fans to take the coverage of Formula 1 outside of the race weekend.
One bonus for all F1 fans is that BBC show the Friday and Saturday morning practice sessions. As a fan it is good to see what happens during these Free Practice sessions as incidents would have been missed without this coverage. In 2010, fans were able to see live the incident with Sebastian Buemi in the Toro Rosso at the Chinese Grand Prix when a suspension failure caused both front wheels to break away from the car at high speed. We were also able to see on Saturday morning of the Monaco Grand Prix, Fernando Alonso smashing his Ferrari into the wall at Casino Square which forced him to sit out Qualifying and start the race from the pit lane.
Showing the practice sessions may seem like a waste of time for some, but for F1 fans, it means we can see all the action, and listening to the commentary provided by the BBC Radio 5 Live team, we can hear analysis and interviews as the session is going on. This also spreads to Qualifying and the Race, we are now able to choose commentary options, switch between the main FOM feed or selected on-board coverage or highlights packages of the race so far.
BBC has also provided a way to get fans more involved with their post race discussions with their F1 Forum. Previous TV coverage would normally end with the post race drivers’ press conference and some short analysis of the race, just due to the huge amount of screen time taken up by Formula 1 coverage. With the BBC putting their F1 Forum on their Red Button service, this allows fans to see more in depth coverage of post race interviews, analysis, debate and the ability to ask questions to the team via a number of different methods.
This marks a stark change from 10 years ago, where fans would normally have to buy specialist publications either a week or a month later to hear what some of the drivers thought of the race that had just finished. Now, this is available instantly.
The TV revolution adds to the internet revolution we have seen in recent years. Broadband is now the standard for internet connections, this means faster access to websites, and more content available. There are now many websites that cover Formula 1, and the official F1 website has also expanded their content in recent years by adding video highlights of races and the ability to view the live timing screens of any active session.
With the likes of Autosport and their impressive coverage, news stories are available as they happen, whether during a race weekend or during the winter. Being able to view highlights on the internet and seeing a lot of the behind the scenes coverage on the BBC website means that the fans can always know what is happening in the world of Formula 1 as soon as it happens.
This is only a part of the new digital age in Formula 1. The biggest change within the past year has been the use of social networking websites, the biggest being twitter. People who do not use twitter tend not to understand it, but for the people who use and embrace this form of social networking, it is an invaluable tool and information service.
The Formula 1 world has been one of the bigger users of twitter, especially compared to other sports such as Football. Most teams have a twitter feed to keep their fans informed of what happens at all times during the year, as well as a lot of drivers updating their own feeds, or having an officially maintained feed.
This is just a small part of the twitter use; for example, most of the BBC TV and Radio 5 Live team have twitter feeds and use these to allow fans to ask questions either during the practice coverage or the post race F1 Forum.
Fans are now able to get more involved by the likes of twitter and read the constant stream of news from behind the scenes as stories develop. Robert Kubica’s recent rally accident is something that sticks to mind as how powerful a tool this has become. The news broke and was picked up by journalists and fans alike on twitter. There was lots of speculation as to the facts of this accident, but the journalists were able to get a true account as to the situation and pass this on to the world via twitter or links to news sources for more accurate information, and this as followed by messages of support to the Renault team and to Kubica by fans, journalists, fellow drivers and other teams, not just from the Formula 1 world, but the wider motorsport community.
Teams and drivers have begun to realise the power of using these tools. Some examples are the Team Lotus feed, which often has a lot of news and pictures from their factory to give fans an insight into the day to day operation of a team. Drivers such as Karun Chandhok are quite active on twitter, and there is much banter between him and journalists, notably when a number of journalists attended the premiere of the Senna Movie last year while Chandhok was not in the paddock for that race weekend, leading to the young Indian driver giving specially made t-shirts to these journalists written with ‘I saw the Senna Movie before Karun Chandhok’
Fans have also benefited from this new form of media. A Formula 1 website’s twitter feed recently held an eBay auction and competitions to allow fans the chance to attend the Marussia Virgin Racing launch. Fans who attended this launch were also tweeting as the event happened as well as uploading pictures of the new MVR-02 as soon as it was revealed.
With the improvements in the mobile networks and smartphones at our disposal, we are able to access news and information anywhere we are. With twitter, we can interact with drivers and teams, as well as pass on our thoughts to journalists, and see the latest breaking news. The faster internet speeds available allow us to watch coverage away from our TV’s and see more of what happens behind the scenes. We are also able to read blogs and websites from people within the paddock, or fans who discuss their thoughts (such as this blog does, and one that is linked to twitter and facebook accounts)
Formula 1 begins a new revolution by broadcasting in HD for the first time in 2011, but the bigger revolution in Formula 1 has already begun.