Monday, October 22, 2007

Live timing = more interesting

Shock horror: I watched an F1 race yesterday (Clive, you'd be so proud...)

Call me a fairweather F1 fan, you'd be right, but this race was rather important, and had the added bonus of not being at the bum-crack of dawn. When you watch live you can pull up the live timing and scoring from the Formula 1 website and I won't lie when I say that watching this was in some ways more interesting than watching the TV. I'm not trying to bash F1, but I say this to illustrate something that's critical for those involved in racing to realize:

Beyond the spectacle of cars or bikes moving fast, what draws people to racing is the competition, and a genre of racing that best highlights the competition is a genre that will be successful.

This is easy for some racing: World Superbike or British Touring Cars for example have constant action between leaders, and the battles are clear to see using nothing but TV as a communication medium. But in something like the American Le Mans Series, or even Formula 1, where large gaps open up between competitors, live timing and scoring can be a lifeline. As I watched the F1 race yesterday I was completely captivated by the scoring, letting out of whoops of joy every time a purple number showed up indicating a fastest sector time, or even seeing green numbers that showed a driver was putting in their personal best times. Such simple presentation made it much easier to follow how the race was unfolding, and instead of watching 90 minutes of cars that appeared to be one long unchanging train with large gaps, the subtleties of the drama became obvious.

Following the progress of young Lewis Hamilton as he clawed back from 18th place was much like what I'd been doing the day before, when I sat in the media centre at Laguna Seca watching the ALMS race. My focus was on the dramatic recovery of the Andretti-Green Acura which came from two laps down to just 30 seconds off the lead of the race in four hours. It was a picture best painted by timing and scoring, and the advantage of being in the media centre was that it was real-time, as opposed to the aggregated version that's online and is often delayed.

MotoGP timing is a model for many other racing series, especially in qualifying, where fast sector times are illustrated by coloured "helmets", and online users can check the progress of riders in real time, sector by sector.

Whatever the mechanism, any technology that more clearly communicates the competition is going to make for a more compelling product. It's an area I expect to see utilized ever more comprehensively. For any race series that wants to see the possibilities, NASCAR's system is perhaps the most highly developed, with GPS tracking in every car allowing for a computerized image to be presented, along with driver communications and timing that shows the progress of the driver in a plus or minus format over the current fastest time or leader. Fascinating stuff indeed, although perhaps edging into "information overload" territory. For now, Formula 1's simple yet effective system is for me the benchmark if for no other reason in that it made the race more enjoyable to watch. And that has to be the bottom line for any such system.


Rob said...

Agreed - live timing reveals many stories untold by TV coverage or attendance at the track. While it can show the struggles of a recovering driver like Hamilton in Brazil, it also affords another level of detail not available elsewhere when things get frantic.

The last 5 minutes of a MotoGP qualifying session where the TV struggles to follow the seven, eight or nine riders with blue or red sectors are illuminated brilliantly with live timing.

I wouldn't be without it. It is what the internet was invented for.

turaso said...

I am sort of beginner conrening F1. But, your blog is very interesting so will keep checking your blog!

Clive said...

Yup, live timing gives a perspective on any race that television just can't compete with. To be able to follow the drivers you're interested in, instead of being at the mercy of the TV director, now that's what it's all about!

I must be a geek - those little numbers actually tell me much more than I would get from watching the race. Modern life is weird when you step back and really look at it...