F1 for Channel 4 with Whisper

F1 2021
THE CLIENT

Whisper is an innovative media production company focused on sports, live and unscripted entertainment.

THE PROJECT

Whisper secured the contract to produce Formula 1 coverage for Channel 4 in 2020. Due to COVID-19, the season start was delayed, ultimately running from 5 July to 11 December, comprising 17 rounds and taking the teams from green light in Austria to chequered flag in Abu Dhabi.  

Race weekends were transmitted as highlights shows on Channel 4; qualifying on Saturday and race highlights on Sunday – apart from the British Grand Prix, which was live. The Gravity Media team provided onsite technical facilities to deliver the content via fibre circuits to studios in London for inclusion in the highlights show. 

THE APPROACH

Gravity Media technical crew travelled to each circuit to rig the required kit to control surfaces, monitors and keyboards within our OB facility – a bespoke, lightweight flypack – to create a production gallery and vision/sound control areas. 

The onsite presenter, pundits and guests each had radio mics, which were sub-mixed by a mid-point operator standing nearby. This operator had a high-power backpack that sent the mix, and a clean feed of the presenter’s mic, back to the onsite OB. From there, those audio stems were sent back to the production facility in London. 

Working with the Whisper production team, we were also commissioned to facilitate pre-recorded material using Sony PMW-F5 cameras, which offer a more filmic look than the PXW-X500s used for track-side interviews. To achieve maximum video quality, recording was a choice of XAVC HD, MPEG2 and 2K RAW. Rushes from those PSCs were manually replayed to London for editing. 

The race commentary team was split between David Coulthard onsite and Ben Edwards back in London. Onsite commentary microphone feeds were passed via fibre to the studio to be mixed with the on-track sound and London-based commentary by a UK-based sound supervisor. Coverage of the racing itself was produced by Formula One Management (FOM), and then combined with Whisper’s live presentation elements and graphics for Channel 4. 

We delivered two 1920x1080i HD-SDI video signals to the studio via an always-on fibre connection, and four levels of embedded audio, including full stereo mix, clean FX and international sound. The always-on connection had low latency and a high bandwidth, which gave us the flexibility to send rushes or live contributions on demand, without having to book a specific time slot. 

FOM brought forward plans to move to a completely remote model for the 2020 season. As a result, we installed a bespoke flyaway rack at FOM headquarters in Biggin Hill, so we could collect all 24 video feeds, including on-board cameras, timing pages and the World Feed. Remote control of this rack gave us the ability to select feeds as required to switch down four program lines via fibre to both London and to the onsite facility at the circuit. 

As-live sequences using the onsite cameras were directed from the studio and recorded to EVS. Cameras were delivered to the UK individually, and vision mixing took place in the London gallery. The gallery also produced a sound mix, combining presenter, pundit, reporter and guest mics. 

These presentation sequences were combined with graphics in the edit, and VT features edited from rushes sent from the OB, or shot elsewhere, to create presentation ‘blocks’. An edit suite at the studio then built each complete show, using the presentation blocks and the race action to assemble the final programme. Ultimately, the playout to Channel 4 was from EVS, with discrete main and backup paths between the studio and Red Bee (the transmission partner) offered for safety.

THE OUTCOME

Continually innovating its editorial and creative production, Whisper has succeeded in making a technical sport entertaining for ardent fans and casual viewers alike. We’re delighted to have supported our client in immersing viewers with its novel ‘on location’ offering, using a clever and slickly packaged remote production solution alongside an impressive presentation crew and engaging features. 

Through careful planning, intelligent use of technology and deep experience of major motorsport events, Gravity Media has delivered a powerful portable solution that punches well above the mark whilst reducing equipment weight to a minimum. The 2020 package allowed all teams to work efficiently, effectively and safely, delivering a quality output that kept Formula One available for British fans to watch on free-to-air television for another year.