The inside story of how F1 kept the Japanese GP on TV

For many Formula 1 fans at home, the biggest inconvenience of super typhoon Hagibis was having to set an earlier alarm for the super Sunday Japanese Grand Prix spectacular of qualifying and the race taking place a few hours apart.

The inside story of how F1 kept the Japanese GP on TV

But down on the ground at the Suzuka circuit, the impact was much greater – for F1 had to pull off a near miracle to ensure that the event could not only be broadcast, but even go ahead full stop.

It was clear in the build-up to the race weekend that Hagibis was going to disrupt the grand prix at some point, although how much and for how long was not initially clear.

As the situation developed, it became increasingly obvious that there was an unprecedented risk from strong winds and flooding. And that meant the impact going beyond a question of track action – for F1's own broadcast centre was suddenly in the firing line.

While the structure that travels around the world protects the high-tech systems inside from the weather that most venues can throw at it, it is not designed to withstand typhoons.

And this was a big problem because the Media and Technology Centre, as it is officially known, is the nerve centre of an F1 weekend.

Without it, there are no television images being broadcast around the world, and probably no race because many of the systems that are essential for the running of a grand prix (including timing) depend upon it. F1 could not risk the thing blowing away or getting damaged.

F1 Broadcast Centre

F1 Broadcast Centre

Photo by: Formula 1

Andrew James, the centre's technical director, said: "If there is no TV, there is not a lot of point of having the race. But [the broadcast centre] drives so many other things as well. We do jump start and pit speed detection, on board cameras, timing, everything. That would all have been compromised."

By late Thursday, F1 was facing up to a scenario where it looked like it would have to dismantle the broadcast centre, store all the equipment somewhere safe and then re-assemble it once the weather threat had gone through.

But things changed for the worse on Friday morning when the latest update meeting with track officials made it clear that the typhoon timing meant there was probably not going to be enough of a good weather period for the broadcast centre to be rebuilt.

James said: "We had a meeting with the circuit at 8am and it was very clear to me then that we would not have time to do a rebuild if we did a strip down.

"And I knew we had to protect ourselves from the weather, so the only way to do that was to get indoors. I had to get it into a garage. I knew we could not not deliver, so we had to find a way of making it happen."

James sent an email out making clear the seriousness of the situation, and it kicked off an amazing sequence of events as he and his staff worked with the circuit and the FIA to get things sorted.

His task was to find a house for F1's entire TV operation, which includes 11 technical containers of equipments and positions for 70 people. You are talking about 80 tonnes of equipment in total.

The solution was to move the equipment that is normally housed in the broadcast structure into somewhere more solid – and the most obvious place at the track was a garage.

Initially there did not seem to be anywhere free, but with a bit of shuffling some space was eventually found.

"We had help from the FIA," added James. "They cleared out their garage, and we moved our onboard camera workshop and camera workshop [that was next door]. The circuit helped us take down the partitioning between the two garages."

F1 Broadcast Centre

F1 Broadcast Centre

Photo by: Formula 1

With the location set, the Herculean task of moving equipment began. It normally takes F1 a day-and-a-half to build up all the equipment in the broadcast centre, and then a further five or six hours to take it all apart again. Those were timescales that were not an option this time around.

"We started stripping everything down from 4pm on Friday and it was all hands on deck," explained James. "We had a fantastic team of people and everybody knew what they were doing.

"We had it dismantled in around two-and-a-half hours. Then we had to move it down into the garage and wire it up. And from when we powered it down at the top, to powered it up in the garage it was eight-and-a-half hours – which was unbelievable. It was all about the people knowing exactly what they needed to do.

"It was very much F1 at its best. When we are up against it. Everybody pulled together to make it happen."

Having originally expected to get everything finished by 10am on Saturday morning, the job was actually completed at 3.30am – and that included the erection of some makeshift air-conditioning units to make sure temperatures inside the garage did not get too hot.

Once F1 knew early on Saturday morning that everything was working, the systems were powered down and the garage sealed for whatever typhoon Hagibis could throw at it.

At 5am on Sunday, the crew returned to power the systems back up, they went through their check procedures at 8am, and were all ready for the start of qualifying at 10am.

Proof of the success of F1's battle against the weather and time was that fans at home didn't notice anything different.

And for James, while the speed of what his team did at Suzuka showed what was possible, it is not something that he wants to become a regular thing.

"I said that to Chase [Carey F1 CEO] on race morning," smiled James "He said: 'Well done.' I said, 'Please don't expect us to do this at every race!'"

F1 Broadcast Centre

F1 Broadcast Centre

Photo by: Formula 1

shares
comments
F1 agrees Miami Hard Rock stadium plan for 2021

Previous article

F1 agrees Miami Hard Rock stadium plan for 2021

Next article

Does the master of Suzuka have an F1 future?

Does the master of Suzuka have an F1 future?
Load comments
The Mercedes lap that puts F1 victory fight back on a knife-edge Prime

The Mercedes lap that puts F1 victory fight back on a knife-edge

Red Bull led the way after the first two practice sessions for the 2021 French Grand Prix, but only just ahead of Mercedes. There was all the usual practice skulduggery complicating the performance picture, but one aspect seen at the world champion squad gave it a ‘surprise’ lift, as it looks to leave its street-circuit struggles firmly in the past.

How Ferrari got its F1 recovery plan working Prime

How Ferrari got its F1 recovery plan working

After its worst campaign in 40 years, the famous Italian team had to bounce back in 2021 – and it appears to be delivering. Although it concedes the pole positions in Monaco and Baku paint a somewhat misleading picture of its competitiveness, the team is heading into the 2022 rules revamp on much stronger footing to go for wins again

Formula 1
Jun 18, 2021
The joy that exposes F1’s key weakness Prime

The joy that exposes F1’s key weakness

Long-awaited wins for ex-Formula 1 drivers Marcus Ericsson and Kevin Magnussen in IndyCar and IMSA last weekend gave F1 a reminder of what it is missing. But with the new rules aimed at levelling the playing field, there’s renewed optimism that more drivers can have a rewarding result when their day of days comes

Formula 1
Jun 17, 2021
The F1 figures Red Bull and Mercedes can't afford to see again Prime

The F1 figures Red Bull and Mercedes can't afford to see again

OPINION: An interloper squad got amongst the title contenders during Formula 1’s street-circuit mini-break, where Red Bull left with the points lead in both championships. But, as the campaign heads back to purpose-built venues once again, how the drivers of the two top teams compare in one crucial area will be a major factor in deciding which squad stays in or retakes the top spot

Formula 1
Jun 16, 2021
Why Alfa's boss is up to the task of securing a stronger F1 future Prime

Why Alfa's boss is up to the task of securing a stronger F1 future

Two tenth places in recent races have lifted Alfa Romeo to the head of Formula 1's 'Class C' battle in 2021, but longer-term the Swiss-based squad has far loftier ambitions. With the new 2022 rules set to level out the playing field, team boss Frederic Vasseur has good reason to be optimistic, as he explained to Motorsport.com in an exclusive interview

Formula 1
Jun 15, 2021
How Barnard's revolutionary McLaren transformed F1 car construction Prime

How Barnard's revolutionary McLaren transformed F1 car construction

The MP4/1 was pioneering by choice, but a McLaren by chance. STUART CODLING relates the tangled (carbon fibre) weaves which led to the creation of one of motor racing’s defining cars

Formula 1
Jun 15, 2021
Why the end is nigh for F1’s most dependable design tool Prime

Why the end is nigh for F1’s most dependable design tool

Wind tunnel work forms the bedrock of aerodynamic development in Formula 1. But as Pat Symonds explains, advances in virtual research are signalling the end of these expensive and complicated relics.

Formula 1
Jun 13, 2021
Why Mosley’s legacy amounts to far more than tabloid rumour Prime

Why Mosley’s legacy amounts to far more than tabloid rumour

The newspapers, naturally, lingered over Max Mosley’s tainted family history and niche sexual practices. But this is to trivialise the legacy of a big beast of motor racing politics. Stuart Codling weighs the life of a man whose work for safety on both road and track has saved hundreds of thousands of lives, but whose penchant for cruelty remains problematic and polarising.

Formula 1
Jun 12, 2021