First free observe of the French Grand Prix has simply ended after we get invited to Paul Ricard’s airport. The person we’re assembly is Belgian Lieven Hermans, who began working as an aerial digital camera operator for Method 1 in 2007.
In one of many hangars sits a helicopter with a powerful digital camera system mounted beneath. Subsequent to the pilot seat, the opposite entrance seat contained in the cockpit has been modified to accommodate a big controller containing a joystick and a good variety of buttons and switches, which Hermans makes use of to function the Shotover F1 digital camera, which he can monitor on the display in entrance of him.
Hermans had been working as an aerial cameraman for a number of years till he ended up in Method 1, roughly by coincidence. “I’ve all the time had a ardour for video and helicopters,” Hermans tells Autosport. “Helicopters all the time appeared like one thing that was out of attain till I discovered that I might convey my passions for the digital camera and helicopters collectively in aerial capturing.
“Earlier than I began in F1, a colleague of mine did the Method 1 races. On the time it was about 5, six or seven races a yr, which Method 1 produced themselves. All different races have been nonetheless dealt with by native TV stations.
“I changed my colleague as soon as, adopted by a second time, and earlier than I knew it, I used to be the common aerial digital camera operator for F1. The variety of races then rapidly elevated to round 13 per season, and has solely grown ever since.”
The Shotover F1 digital camera, which is operated by Lieven Hermans, Aerial Digicam Operator for F1
Photograph by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Photos
Gone are the times of helicopters cameras simply chasing the leaders round, although. In Hermans’ palms, F1’s aerial digital camera has performed an instrumental half in making the published extra dynamic and bringing the followers – actually – nearer to the motion.
“Prior to now the aerial digital camera was really solely used to comply with the drivers on the entrance,” Hermans says. “You stayed on high of them like a private bodyguard, in order to not miss an necessary second within the race.
“However we now have now proven that you are able to do way more. You may make pictures which are way more dynamic pictures by flying decrease and taking part in with the foreground and background, bringing much more pace to the entire thing. And that’s how we improved yr after yr. The pictures we handle to provide now are, for my part, significantly better in comparison with what was completed fourteen years in the past.”
Working with a rotating solid of pilots
For Hermans the Grand Prix weekend begins on Thursday. “Thursday is set-up day for us. We begin within the morning with checking the gear, finding the helicopter and putting in all the pieces.
“There may be additionally loads of protocol concerned, so we now have a lot of conferences. Generally it takes a few hours earlier than we’re completed shaking palms and eventually arrive on the helicopter.
“Then we do the set up of the digital camera and exit for a check flight. We take a look on the first photographs and attempt to recall how we did issues in earlier years.
“On Friday, the manufacturing schedule begins, so we cowl all of the F1 periods. After all, we arrive in time daily to verify the digital camera and the helicopter yet one more time and do a briefing with the pilot. Then we roll the helicopter out of the hangar and get to work.”
Though F1 works with a everlasting aerial digital camera operator, the pilots are often totally different as helicopters at the moment are rented regionally.
“There was a time that we labored with the identical helicopter and the identical pilot inside Europe, however that is costly and with the necessity to cut back CO2 emissions can also be turning into a troublesome story.
“However as a result of we come again to the identical locations yearly, we now have a pool of pilots that we make use of yearly. That implies that many of the pilots we work with have some expertise.
“It additionally occurs typically that you simply get a pilot subsequent to you who has no expertise in any respect with aerial capturing. Then you definately actually have to start out with the fundamentals and typically even clarify among the maneuvers. Then it’s actually necessary that we develop step-by-step over the weekend.
“The benefit is that we cowl each Method 1 session, so we now have two hours on Friday and one hour on Saturday to get used to one another. By qualifying, however definitely by the race, the cooperation is assured to be so as.”
And a superb understanding with the pilot is essential to delivering the best photographs. “Completely,” Hermans replies. “The pilot makes for roughly 50 % of the top end result. It is undoubtedly a crew job. It is crucial that they’ve a really feel for and see what I’m doing, as there isn’t a time to clarify all the pieces.
“Additionally they have a monitor to allow them to see which photographs we’re making. Some pilots have extra expertise flying and this than others. However they’re actually watching the footage and flying together with it, they’re absolutely concerned within the rhythm and the patterns. If they do not comply with what I’m attempting to do or do not perceive what I would like, issues develop into very troublesome.”
If there may be nearly no speaking within the cockpit by Sunday, then that is a superb signal.
“There are pilots to whom I hardly must say something on Sunday, as a result of we’re completely in tune with one another. If I say I need to do an extended shot with one automotive, the pilot instantly is aware of what must be completed.
“After all, you usually get confronted with totally different eventualities that you could’t rehearse beforehand, however typically talking, the much less communication there may be on Sunday, the higher.”
Chasing the proper shot
Naturally, Hermans has a desire for photogenic tracks which are positioned in hilly or mountainous areas, such because the Purple Bull Ring in Austria and Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium. “They’re much extra enjoyable for me as a result of you possibly can play extra with foreground and background, and with the peak distinction. In that respect I additionally actually appreciated Portimao. I feel they need to put that one again on the calendar. I am going to inform [F1 CEO] Stefano Domenicali that the subsequent time I see him!,” he jests.
Circuits which are compact, are additionally nice to work at. “As a result of then you possibly can go from one facet of the monitor to the opposite facet extra simply. Circuits like Jeddah and Baku are very troublesome in that respect, as a result of these are mainly one lengthy, prolonged line. You’ll be able to’t simply lower a nook to select up a automotive additional down the lap. If a automotive is at a sure nook and you might be on the opposite facet, it’s a must to cross the entire monitor, which may take some time. However on a circuit just like the Purple Bull Ring, you possibly can go to the opposite facet of the monitor very quickly.”
With F1’s push for extra avenue races, city environments like skyscrapers and different obstacles could make the helicopter crew’s activity fairly tough.
“In Singapore we now have buildings proper subsequent to the monitor. And Jeddah is troublesome not solely as a result of it is a lengthy and quick monitor, but in addition as a result of there are loads of tall buildings and cranes on towers round,” Hermans provides.
“And what usually occurs at Silverstone is that you simply abruptly come throughout a helicopter with vacationers, so you possibly can’t do precisely what you had in thoughts.
“You’ll be able to nail a specific shot ten occasions in a row, but when the eleventh time is just not excellent for no matter cause and that second finally ends up on this planet feed, then it’s actually irritating, as we attempt for perfection.”
There are a lot extra variables concerned in chasing the proper shot and – very similar to aviation basically – the climate is maybe probably the most essential side.
“There are numerous elements actually and so they all need to work collectively to get that excellent shot,” says Hermans. “The climate is definitely a significant factor, as a result of we regularly have dangerous climate. Simply consider Spa final yr. I feel that was the worst I’ve skilled in F1. The showers simply saved coming, however there was additionally loads of fog.
“And since Spa has loads of elevation and the situations within the Ardennes can change in a short time, it could possibly occur that visibility is ideal one second however you possibly can hardly see in any respect the subsequent. We then acquired to the purpose the place we mentioned: now it isn’t okay to work.”
Whereas an absence of visibility can result in harmful circumstances, the aerial digital camera is effectively outfitted to take care of rain. “We at the moment have a rain spinner over the digital camera system, which is a glass cowl with a motor down under. The glass spins extremely quick, a couple of thousand revolutions per minute, which makes the water droplets fly off.
“That enables us to movie completely via the rain, which is sort of a distinction from the pictures we used to see. There are occasions now once I can see higher via the digital camera than via the window of the helicopter.”
Lieven Hermans, Aerial Digicam Operator for F1
Photograph by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Photos
Final lap in Abu Dhabi
It isn’t simply the helicopter crew that should gel. If the crew desires to have any probability of capturing a very powerful moments of the race, then it additionally must have good communication with the TV crew on the bottom to grasp what is occurring on monitor. And with the delay concerned in positioning the helicopter to seize the subsequent large second, Hermans wants to have the ability to look forward.
“I am in fixed contact with the TV director and there’s a producer who speaks to me,” Hermans explains.
“I can look outdoors, however in fact miss the overview of the race that one has on the bottom, with all of the graphs and knowledge. Nevertheless, I all the time have the F1 app open and may typically comply with the motion on the screens which are in conjunction with the monitor. So I mix loads of sources of data after which I filter out what’s necessary for us within the helicopter.
“I could be listening to that they’re following a specific battle, but when the motion takes place on the different facet of the monitor, there’s a good probability that by the point we get there or the vehicles get to us, they’re speaking about one thing fully totally different. So, it is necessary to have an thought of the place the story could be going and what the subsequent story could be, and to not act on what is going on on at that very second.”
Hermans is effectively conscious that he has the most effective seat in the home and whereas he could be targeting getting the proper shot, he nonetheless will get to benefit from the sport.
When requested if any battles he filmed stand out for him, the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix comes up. However not for the explanations you may consider.
“In Abu Dhabi we really need to fly again two laps earlier than the top to seize the fireworks from a distance. However I used to be so absorbed in what was happening after which abruptly I realised: Oh, that is the final lap already however we’re nonetheless hanging above the monitor! We then made certain we acquired out of there in a short time…”
Musing about drones
Method 1 is consistently new methods to boost its TV protection, together with experiments with helmet and pedal cams. In Barcelona this yr, FOM first examined capturing with drones. As F1 goals to be internet zero carbon by 2030, drones could possibly be a less expensive and extra environmentally pleasant technique of capturing aerial footage, however Hermans doesn’t worry that his job will transfer from the cockpit to an workplace any time quickly.
“I feel there may be undoubtedly a future for drones, however I don’t agree with the concept they’ll take over the work of the helicopter digital camera,” says Hermans.
“I moderately see it as one thing complementary. For my part a drone can be utilized as an extension of the digital camera crane. You may get decrease to the bottom than a helicopter and play extra with the foreground. However I feel a helicopter is best at giving the larger overview and provides extra dynamics and pace to the pictures.
“So, I do not really feel instantly threatened by it. Quite the opposite, I feel we will work completely facet by facet. We’re each involved with the producer, who can swap from drone to helicopter and vice versa. There doesn’t have to be a battle there.”