The past 48 hours has seen a flurry of reaction to the accident in the pitlane during the German Grand Prix.
None of them would have stopped the accident. None of them deal with the cause of the accident. And all will impact the way in which you receive your information on Formula 1.
I dealt with the FIA’s first response in yesterday’s blog. It was a perfectly useless statement which changed little. However, FOM’s announcement late yesterday afternoon that all TV crews would now be banned from the pitlane for all sessions, was a far bigger blow. Here’s why:
For qualifying and the race, only FOM employed cameramen – those who worked directly for Bernie – were allowed in the pitlane. They roamed free. The immediate reaction after Germany was to restrict them to the pitwall. This would mean a less than ideal view of pitstops, but should theoretically have ensured greater protection.
Regular TV crews from the likes of NBC, Sky, the BBC, Canal + etc were not allowed in the pitlane during qualifying or the race anyway. We, as pit reporters, were not allowed into the pitlane either. Few, and I mean very few, pit reporters were granted access to certain team garages in order to garner information from press officers.
The only time that TV crews and pit reporters were allowed into the pitlane was during practice. This allowed us time to see with our own eyes the modifications that teams were running. It allowed us to look at tyre wear, talk to team personnel, engineers, PRs, and conduct interviews live on air with team representatives. Many TV crews also took this opportunity to film what we term as “B Roll.”
Practice is the safest period of pitlane activity. It is not the competitive arena that it becomes in a race or qualifying.
The announcement from FOM yesterday is that we, as broadcasters and FOM pass holders, will not now be able to enter the pitlane to provide this insight or gather this information in any of the three practice sessions during the weekend. However, FIA media pass holders with pitlane access, will, I believe, still be able to enter the pitlane during practice sessions. It is unclear whether FOM cameramen – those working directly for Bernie – will still have pitlane access for practice, and if so whether they will be limited to pitwall, or even garages.
The issue, from a broadcast perspective, lies now with how information is disseminated from the teams to the TV media. I cannot foresee every team allowing every TV crew in the paddock to wander freely into the back of the garage, past engineers pouring over telemetry, past KERS units, fuel cells, engines, gearboxes and into an already crowded workspace. It isn’t feasible. It certainly isn’t safe.
During a race we have, for many years, had to rely on what the teams tell us, or are willing to tell us. This information is limited and often hard to come by as press officers often prefer to remain in their garages than to come out and give over any information that may help us, and in turn their rivals, understand what is going on.
I’ll give you an example. During a race, driver X has retired. There is no sign of a press officer in the hospitality unit. A text message is sent asking what was the issue for the retired driver. The response says that this press officer does not know, and so to ask the other press officer who is in the garage. Cue a reply from us which says we do not have garage access. After 15 minutes a reply arrives saying somebody will come out to tell me what is going on. But by this point, I’m down the other end of the paddock interviewing another retiree.
If we have no access to the garages, nor to the pitlane, then the teams are going to have to buck up their ideas tremendously from Hungary onwards.
I would like to see, and I have been pushing ever since my election to the FIA Media Communication Group (formerly known as “The Press Council”) that teams are forced to keep one press officer in hospitality and one in the garage, such that the easy flow of information can be established between TV crews in the paddock and what is going on in the garage.
Teams have been quick to embrace social media, but many have done so to the detriment of the dissemination of information to those of us on the ground who rely on it in real time to update our TV viewers.
I hope that the new changes to pitlane access will only sit in place for the Hungarian Grand Prix. I can think of no TV station that will be happy with what has been announced, and furthermore I cannot see how any teams will be happy with the drop in coverage their teams, sponsors and partners will receive as a result.
While it is better to be safe than sorry, the ban on TV crews from the pitlane does not address the issue which remains the speed and safety of pitstops themselves in race situations.
If I genuinely believed these changes would make the pitlane safer, I’d accept them in a heartbeat. But I don’t believe they will. And I fear the people watching F1 at home will suffer as a consequence.
At the end of last year, we as pit reporters lost a key tool with the end of Fanvision’s deal in F1. Having lost one critical link to real time information we had to rely on what we could see again with our own eyes in the pitlane in practice. Now this tool has been taken away, too.
FOM is, I’m sure, simply looking out for the broadcasters it has accredited for the races. And we must be thankful for their swift action. Should this change negatively impact the broadcast as much as I and many of my paddock colleagues fear it will, however, I do not envisage it will be long before a more workable solution is met.