Top Stories from the Sports pages of the International Herald Tribune,
Saturday, September 27, 1997

Formula One's New View

By Brad Spurgeon International Herald Tribune
The Luxembourg Grand Prix on Sunday will be one of the season's biggest tests not only for the two remaining contenders for the drivers' title, but also for the employees of Bakersville, Formula One's mobile digital television studio.

While Jacques Villeneuve and Michael Schumacher took a break between the Austrian Grand Prix last Sunday and their arrival Thursday at the Nurburgring track, many of Formula One Television's 200 employees have been working double-time.

Inside the squat, gray studio building, which can be moved from race to race, all is cool, dark, and sterile. Nicknamed after its director, Eddy Baker, its 2,000-square meters are filled with broadcast studios and mixing rooms, floor-to-ceiling banks of televisions and kilometers of cable. It even has its own cafeteria.

The schedule for transplanting the aluminum-and-fiberglass structure that has nearly completed its first season creating Formula One's pay-per-view digital television show by which viewers can watch many different camera shots simultaneously was cut in half this week. But the usual two-week interval between races already mandates a stringent schedule for what is officially called the Formula One Communications Broadcast Center.

The process goes like this: Technicians begin dismantling the building after each race, always run on a Sunday, and finish by midday on Tuesday. The structure is then driven to the next site in an 18-truck, 3-kilometer (1.9-mile) convoy. It is reassembled between Friday and Sunday.

From Sunday until Wednesday, about 36 kilometers of fiber-optic cable are installed to connect the cameras to the center. Thursday is test day, and the race weekend follows over the next three days.

This week, the moving crew has worked in virtually round-the-clock shifts, according to Baker, who started out as a tire man on the Brabham team. But he says the effort pays off since the television spectator can now see a race through seven different screens offered by the digital coverage.

Formula One Television is owned by the Formula One Administration, which in turn is owned by Bernie Ecclestone, who invested 50 million ($81.3 million) to create the studio. The administration is also the proprietor of the sport's television rights. The teams signing a contract give it a percentage of their profits.

Formula One Television's images come from 20 track cameras, 14 on-car cameras, and six pit-lane cameras, compared with 20 to 25 cameras for so-called Hertzian broadcasters such as TF1, RTL, and ITV.

The digital show hasn't changed life for those broadcasters, however, according to Jean-Claude Dassier, director of sports for TF1. Dassier, moreover, is skeptical about the whole multiscreen concept.

But he says he is not worried about the future of his own kind of advertising-driven television that is free to the viewer but offers only one screen.

The next stop for Bakersville is the Japanese Grand Prix. But the transport arrangements will be different this time: It will be packed into 40 containers and fitted into two 747 cargo jets.

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