How F1’s helicopter footage was delivered to a better stage

First free follow of the French Grand Prix has simply ended once we get invited to Paul Ricard’s airport. The person we’re assembly is Belgian Lieven Hermans, who began working as an aerial digicam operator for Formulation 1 in 2007.

In one of many hangars sits a helicopter with a formidable digicam 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 decent variety of buttons and switches, which Hermans makes use of to function the Shotover F1 digicam, 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 Formulation 1, roughly by coincidence. “I’ve at all times had a ardour for video and helicopters,” Hermans tells Motorsport.com. “Helicopters at all times appeared like one thing that was out of attain till I discovered that I may deliver my passions for the digicam and helicopters collectively in aerial capturing. 

“Earlier than I began in F1, a colleague of mine did the Formulation 1 races. On the time it was about 5, six or seven races a yr which Formulation 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 digicam operator for F1. The variety of races then shortly elevated to round 13 per season, and has solely grown ever since.” 

The Shotover F1 camera, which is operated by Lieven Hermans, Aerial Camera Operator for F1

The Shotover F1 digicam, which is operated by Lieven Hermans, Aerial Digital camera Operator for F1

Photograph by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Pictures

Gone are the times of helicopters cameras simply chasing the leaders round, although. In Hermans’ fingers, F1’s aerial digicam has performed an instrumental half in making the printed extra dynamic and bringing the followers – actually – nearer to the motion.

“Prior to now the aerial digicam was truly solely used to observe the drivers on the entrance,” Hermans says. “You stayed on prime of them like a private bodyguard, in order to not miss an necessary second within the race. 

“However now we have now proven that you are able to do way more. You may make pictures which can be way more dynamic pictures by flying decrease and taking part in with the foreground and background, bringing much more velocity to the entire thing. And that’s how we improved yr after yr. The pictures we handle to provide now are, in my view, significantly better in comparison with what was performed fourteen years in the past.”

Working with a rotating forged 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 tools, finding the helicopter and putting in the whole lot. 

“There may be additionally loads of protocol concerned, so now we have numerous conferences. Generally it takes a few hours earlier than we’re performed shaking fingers and eventually arrive on the helicopter.

“Then we do the set up of the digicam and exit for a take a look at 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 classes. After all, we arrive in time daily to verify the digicam and the helicopter another 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 digicam operator, the pilots are often totally different as helicopters at the moment are rented domestically.

“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 scale back CO2 emissions can be turning into a tough 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 a lot of the pilots we work with have some expertise. 

“It additionally occurs generally that you just get a pilot subsequent to you who has no expertise in any respect with aerial capturing. You then actually have to begin with the fundamentals and generally even clarify a number of the maneuvers. Then it’s actually necessary that we develop step-by-step over the weekend.

“The benefit is that we cowl each Formulation 1 session, so now we 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 vital to delivering the fitting photographs. “Completely,” Hermans replies. “The pilot makes for roughly 50 p.c of the tip outcome. It is undoubtedly a staff job. It can be crucial that they’ve a really feel for and see what I’m doing, as there isn’t a time to elucidate the whole lot. 

“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 totally concerned within the rhythm and the patterns. If they do not observe what I’m attempting to do or do not perceive what I would like, issues change into very tough.”

If there’s virtually no speaking within the cockpit by Sunday, then that is a superb signal.

“There are pilots to whom I hardly have to say something on Sunday, as a result of we’re completely in tune with one another. If I say I wish to do an extended shot with one automobile, the pilot instantly is aware of what must be performed. 

“After all, you typically get confronted with totally different eventualities you could’t rehearse beforehand, however typically talking, the much less communication there’s on Sunday, the higher.”

Chasing the proper shot

Naturally, Hermans has a desire for photogenic tracks which can be 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 may play extra with foreground and background, and with the peak distinction. In that respect I additionally actually favored Portimao. I feel they need to put that one again on the calendar. I am going to inform [F1 CEO] Stefano Domenicali that the following time I see him!,” he jests.

Circuits which can be compact are additionally nice to work at. “As a result of then you may go from one facet of the observe to the opposite facet extra simply. Circuits like Jeddah and Baku are very tough in that respect, as a result of these are mainly one lengthy, prolonged line. You may’t simply reduce a nook to choose up a automobile additional down the lap. If a automobile is at a sure nook and you’re on the opposite facet, it’s important to cross the entire observe, which may take some time. However on a circuit just like the Purple Bull Ring, you may go to the opposite facet of the observe very quickly.” 

With F1’s push for extra road races, city environments like skyscrapers and different obstacles could make the helicopter crew’s process fairly tough.

“In Singapore now we have buildings proper subsequent to the observe. And Jeddah is tough not solely as a result of it is a lengthy and quick observe, but in addition as a result of there are loads of tall buildings and cranes on towers round,” Hermans provides.

“And what typically occurs at Silverstone is that you just abruptly come throughout a helicopter with vacationers, so you may’t do precisely what you had in thoughts.

“You may nail a specific shot ten occasions in a row, but when the eleventh time isn’t good for no matter purpose and that second finally ends up on the planet feed, then it’s actually irritating, as we attempt for perfection.” 

There are loads extra variables concerned in chasing the proper shot and – very similar to aviation normally – the climate is probably probably the most essential facet.

“There are numerous components actually they usually all must work collectively to get that good shot,” says Hermans. “The climate is definitely a significant component, as a result of we regularly have unhealthy climate. Simply consider Spa final yr. I feel that was the worst I’ve skilled in F1. The showers simply stored 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 may occur that visibility is ideal one second however you may hardly see in any respect the following. 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 digicam is effectively outfitted to take care of rain. “We presently have a rain spinner over the digicam system, which is a glass cowl with a motor down under. The glass spins extremely quick, a number of thousand revolutions per minute, which makes the water droplets fly off.

“That permits us to movie completely by the rain, which is sort of a distinction from the photographs we used to see. There are occasions now after I can see higher by the digicam than by the window of the helicopter.” 

Lieven Hermans, Aerial Camera Operator for F1

Lieven Hermans, Aerial Digital camera Operator for F1

Photograph by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Pictures

Final lap in Abu Dhabi

It isn’t simply the helicopter crew that should gel. If the crew needs to have any likelihood of capturing crucial moments of the race, then it additionally must have good communication with the TV crew on the bottom to know what is occurring on observe. And with the delay concerned in positioning the helicopter to seize the following 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 exterior, however in fact miss the overview of the race that one has on the bottom, with all of the graphs and knowledge. Nevertheless, I at all times have the F1 app open and might generally observe the motion on the screens which can be along with the observe. So I mix loads of sources of knowledge after which I filter out what’s necessary for us within the helicopter.

“I is perhaps listening to that they’re following a specific battle, but when the motion takes place on the different facet of the observe, there’s a good likelihood 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 is perhaps going and what the following story may 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 is perhaps 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 would possibly consider. 

“In Abu Dhabi we truly must fly again two laps earlier than the tip to seize the fireworks from a distance. However I used to be so absorbed in what was occurring after which abruptly I realised: Oh, that is the final lap already however we’re nonetheless hanging above the observe! We then made positive we acquired out of there in a short time…”

Musing about drones

Formulation 1 is continually 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 might be a less expensive and extra environmentally pleasant methodology 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’s undoubtedly a future for drones, however I don’t agree with the concept that they may take over the work of the helicopter digicam,” says Hermans. 

“I somewhat see it as one thing complementary. In my opinion a drone can be utilized as an extension of the digicam crane. You will get decrease to the bottom than a helicopter and play extra with the foreground. However I feel a helicopter is healthier at giving the larger overview and gives extra dynamics and velocity to the photographs.

“So, I do not really feel instantly threatened by it. Quite the opposite, I feel we are able to 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 must be a battle there.”

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