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15Formula 1 2012
By Spider Online
Formula 1 2012

The 2012 Formula 1 season starts in Melbourne, Australia tomorrow… or in the next few hours depending what continent you’re on.

As far as regulations go, there are a couple of notable changes affecting both the performance and appearance of the cars. Rules around exhaust blown diffusers (the blowing of hot gases over the rear wing planes to improve downforce) have been tightened thus reducing the benefit for teams who successfully exploited this last year. In addition, a new rule has lowered the maximum height for car noses – this is to reduce the possibility of a car nose piercing the body or helmet of another driver. The side effect of this is that the majority of 2012 cars have a horrendous ‘platypus’ style stepped nose… apparently the aerodynamic benefits of a high chassis outweigh the visual benefits of nice clean lines!

Other than the limitations on blown diffusers and the ugly stepped noses, the regulations are largely similar to 2011 and many pundits expect the grid to be a lot tighter this year. McLaren seem to have closed the gap to Red Bull (let’s hope so), AMG Mercedes have upped their game, Kimi Raikkonen is back with Lotus (formerly Renault) while Ferrari seem to be battling an ill-handling and temperamental car that will no doubt get on form later in the Summer – too late for Fernando Alonso to mount a serious title challenge! We can only live in hope that Mr Vettel in his Red Bull charged car doesn’t run away with it like he did last year! Even as an ardent F1 fan, this became rather boring, reminding me of how Schumacher dominated the early noughties.

Anyway, you will be wondering what the hell this is doing on a ‘tech’ website but there have been a number of non-sporting changes over the winter months too. The big news is that the Beeb (BBC) has lost agreed a deal with Sky to share broadcasting rights to the races. Last year, the BBC put together a fantastic package broadcasting all races live on TV, radio and online. This year the BBC will only get to show 10 races live while Sky will have live and uninterrupted coverage of all 20 rounds of the championship.

Initially upset at the thought of having to pay through the nose to watch F1 on UK TV, Sky ‘kindly’ offer a ‘free’ dedicated F1 channel to existing HD and / or Sky Sports TV subscribers. We maybe shouldn’t go so far as to say it’s free but it’s certainly better than having to pay even more per month for the privilege!

Delving into the detail, it gets even better. Sky has a huge F1 budget and has thrown everything at publicising their contract coup. They have press adverts in lots of mainstream publications, but my main point of interest is digital. We know from last year’s launch that sports-hungry fans are able watch sport on the move with Sky Go and F1 has now been added to the list of available channels, ensuring I’ll never miss a race again (even when being dragged round Tesco on a Sunday!).

Moreover, Sky has also revamped their Sky Sports iPad app to include ‘unparalleled’ F1 coverage. Armchair enthusiasts can ‘be the director’ and switch between TV feeds, on-board cameras and trackside cameras within the app. In addition, users are able to access real-time information and feeds live from the track. This is all great interactivity and will no doubt improve some of the more mundane and processional races throughout the season, however, the really big changes to the sport (and no doubt all other sports) is a few years down the line.

In February, Bernie Ecclestone (F1 supremo) signed a deal with Tata Communications providing fixed line connectivity for all Grand Prix’. Traditionally, satellites were used to transmit live images around the world, however, these are restrictive as they are generally only available for a set period of time and offer ‘one-way’ traffic; i.e. they are used purely for broadcast. The switch to fixed, undersea lines allow two way communication and up to 100x the bandwidth offered by satellite communications.

It’s still very early days in this 21st century digital transformation of sport broadcasting so nobody quite understands what will be available when the technology is fully exploited. However, what we can expect is considerably more control than that offered in current applications… we should be able to view feeds in multiple languages, track specific drivers for the duration of the race, choose a trackside camera and ‘camp’ for the race and even communicate directly with teams, drivers and fans.

The possibilities are boundless so it will be interesting to follow over the next few years. It will also be interesting to note how any changes to the broadcast format may be applied to other sporting events such as Football or the Olympics and how digital will be applied to the mix; bringing social interaction to fans is just the beginning.

Ross Hamill