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How the Driver’s Eye camera became the Formula 1 TV game changer

On-screen graphics are regularly updated to improve fans’ understanding of F1, while new camera angles and techniques are constantly being explored to bring the action on track to life.

But no camera angle has gotten as close to giving fans a real sense of what it’s like inside the F1 cockpit as Driver’s Eye. A small 9mm x 9mm camera mounted on the helmet’s padding allows fans to better understand what riders can see through the visor and provides spectacular footage.

One of the most beautiful moments last year was the opening race in Bahrain, when Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen dueled for the lead over several laps. F1 TV directors were able to switch to the driver’s eye camera in Leclerc’s helmet during the race, giving incredible insight into how a winning overtake is executed from the cockpit.

Developing a camera capable of providing broadcast footage while still meeting helmet safety requirements was a major challenge. Alex Haristos, the Chief Operating Officer for Racing Force Group, which founded and owns the Driver’s Eye technology, tells Motorsport.com that safety was a top priority throughout development in order to gain the support of the FIA.

“We didn’t start from ‘We need a camera with the best picture’, but from safety requirements,” explains Haristos. “We worked our way backwards. That was the challenge because we found the right position, next to the driver’s eye, on the liner that is the protective pad. The camera has to be smaller than the liner when it touches down so the driver’s face doesn’t come into contact with the camera.”

Driver’s Eye camera detail

Photo by: Racing Force Group

A camera and the necessary sensors fit into the small space, and the wider electronics were connected through the car and into the helmet with a very thin cable. Haristos says it’s a breakthrough after “six or seven official attempts” to integrate camera technology into the driver’s helmet.

“Ours was the first and it was a great success,” he says. “I probably didn’t even realize it at first, but people have been waiting for it.”

But there wasn’t an immediate call from F1 to include the technology in their coverage, prompting Haristos and his partners to speak to Formula E, who he said were “very receptive”. It proved to be the perfect development environment for Driver’s Eye, although concerns from the teams about transferring the footage on the steering wheel dashboards meant that some elements had to be defaced.

However, working in Formula 1 has always been the long-term goal – and with the summer 2021 window of exclusivity coming to an end, little time was wasted. “After 10 days we were in Spa with Fernando Alonso and did this first test,” says Haristos. “It was extremely exciting.”

Haristos recalls standing in the F1 broadcast center with his TV bosses Roberto Dalla and Dean Locke when they saw the first F1 Driver’s Eye footage. It was only supposed to be a first test, but that changed quickly. “After a few seconds they looked at it and said, ‘Can we air it? We’d love to broadcast it!’” he recalls. “I said yes, ok, let’s do it. As soon as they did that, about 30 seconds, a minute later, all the phones in the room started ringing! Everyone wanted to know what that was.”

Driver’s Eye soon became a key part of F1’s TV offering as part of a fully bespoke project for the series. All of the riders who wore Bell helmets – Bell is part of the Racing Force Group – had the cameras fitted last year, while camera positioning has been refined to offer a better angle and improved stabilization, but without losing the rawness that what makes the footage so authentic and close to what the drivers experience. Haristos believes the technology has been “very well received” in Formula 1, which is a win-win situation for all parties. “We do business with Formula 1, Formula 1 produces content and can sell it to the broadcaster and the teams, they get more attention,” he says. “And in a unique way, the driver is personally exposed for the first time.”

Driver's Eye camera detail

Driver’s Eye camera detail

Photo by: Racing Force Group

Zhou Guanyu joked last year that the driver’s perspective made it a “nightmare for me to analyze my driving line in comparison to the other [cameras]’ but recognized it was ‘very cool footage’ for fans, which remained the target audience. “It’s more for the audience,” he added. “But the team can also see what you change on the switches, which makes it less private.” Unlike in Formula E, in Formula 1 there was no smearing of the different messages or movements on the wheel.

The success of Driver’s Eye has led to a full launch for 2023, as requested by the F1 Commission at a meeting last year. Haristos says the Driver Eye camera’s modular design meant it could be adjusted as needed to fit competing manufacturers’ helmets. “The key was to first develop something that already had a vision of how modular it would be to adapt to different contexts,” he explains. “When we started this project, the dream scenario was that this technology would be available to everyone. This technology was the only thing that brought us [manufacturers] everyone is working in the same direction and we have been very supportive of the technology and the way we install the technology to fit their helmet.

The current Driver’s Eye camera is generation 2.5 and has already reduced the weight by almost 50% (2.5g to 1.4g) and size from the initial 21mm x 12mm to the current 9mm x 9mm of the first generation reduced. However, as the process progresses, other possible uses beyond motorsport will also be considered.

“Skiing is a very good example,” he says. “Can you imagine walking down the slope and having this amazing view? But you don’t have a car. You only have the athlete. You have safety regulations. Where do you get the electricity etc.?

Within motorsport, the interest generated by Driver’s Eye could see it reaching the entire racing world, even in closed cockpit series like NASCAR and sports car racing. “The ability to bring this immersive experience to the audience from the driver’s perspective is appealing to everyone,” says Haristos. “It goes down very well, even in closed cars. I’ll be there for the opening of the Supercars season in Australia in March and we’ll roll it out there. It’s very exciting.”

From a practical point of view, it may not be of much use to drivers and teams, but in the drive-to-survive era, where demand from fans is growing to appreciate the driving experience more, Driver’s Eye has pushed great boundaries.

Also read:

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari with Driver's Eye camera

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari with Driver’s Eye camera

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