Formula 1's broadcasting division has revealed it came close to not being able to transmit the track action from Hockenheim last Saturday after an overnight fire destroyed a truck in the TV compound.
The fire, which started during an electrical storm, burned out the F1 up-link and fibre truck, which is responsible for sending pictures around the world.
With the third practice session of the German Grand Prix weekend fast approaching, the F1 broadcast team had to spring into action on Saturday morning to make alternative arrangements, which it was eventually able to do after broadcast partners came to rescue by loaning equipment.
“0650 on the Saturday morning of a race weekend is never a good time for your mobile to ring,” said the F1 organisation’s television systems group manager Trevor Turner in a race preview.
“The call was to tell me that the truck had been completely destroyed a little over 90 minutes previously. The fire services were leaving the site having done what they could and crews from Eurovision and our host broadcaster in Germany, RTL, were already on site assessing the situation.
“While the truck itself looked relatively intact, inside it was completely destroyed. It quickly became clear that we were in real trouble.
“The Eurovision Services truck is primarily responsible for distributing pictures to our European broadcast partners, but it was also looking after additional transmission services for Canal+ in France and Movistar in Spain. Those services were now unusable.”
Fortunately local broadcaster RTL was able to help, although there was a gap to be plugged. “RTL had already stepped up and arranged for two satellite trucks to be driven to Hockenheim (one from Frankfurt and another from Munich) but neither was expected to arrive before FP3.
“We identified that if we wanted have a chance of getting FP3 to air then the only transmission paths available in the quantity required were those between F1’s Technical Centre at the track and its UK Media & Technology Centre in the UK, the ones used to deliver its social, web, app and F1TV content, and also for transmissions to Asia and the Americas.
“So, the first solution was to use the Asian international feed at our UK Media & Technology Centre to cover the loss of transmissions over Europe and Eurovision teams in Geneva to plan transmission of this feed in both HD and UHD formats from an alternative fixed satellite facility.
“Tata offered access to their on-site back up world feed satellite link to support the new transmission set-up we’d put in place for Europe. In addition, RTL offered access via their fibre to Cologne and Sky UK’s Master Control Room was on standby to support with signals which they also had available via F1 and Tata in London.”
All of this fast work meant that FP3, qualifying and the race were transmitted without problems.
“We were able to broadcast FP3 live without any issues,” said Turner. “It was real team effort and the assistance we received from all our partners – at Eurovision, Tata Communications, RTL, Sky – was brilliant.
“It really was a bit like a Formula 1 team arriving on Saturday morning to find they got a problem and need to do an engine change in a real hurry. In fact it was worse. It was like opening the garage and finding that the car’s gone!”
With no time to replace the damaged truck the same arrangements will be in place in Hungary this weekend.
“All the additional resources we finally had in Germany are going through to Hungary,” said Turner. “We are maintaining the additional services through to Eurovision, but that’s more of a fail-safe than anything else, and they have requested that. There will be a couple of additional trucks there, but yes, on Friday morning in Budapest it will be business as usual.”