History repeats itself, as first ultra high-def F1 race footage appears—thanks to a fan’s smartphone


posted Wednesday, October 9, 2013 at 5:45 PM EDT

Formula One grand prix racing is often referred to as the pinnacle of motorsport, and whether or not you agree with that categorization, there's no denying that the level of technology that goes into a modern F1 car is amazing. In one respect, though, Formula One has proven to be decidedly low-tech. Its TV coverage has been slow to adopt new tech, leaving fans to plug the technology gap themselves. Case in point: The first 4K Formula One footage has just arrived, shot by a fan at last weekend's Korean Grand Prix.

On-track, there's high-tech aplenty on show. In recent years, F1 teams have used -- or been rumored to use -- everything from carefully-sculpted exhaust outlets exploiting the Coandă effect, and passive fluid switches that stall wings to reduce drag above a certain speed, to shape-memory alloys and polymers that alter the aerodynamics of cars during a race lap. Teams are willing to spend vast sums on the latest tech in an effort to claw a hard-fought tenth of a second or two in advantage over their rivals. If a potentially advantageous piece of technology hasn't been explicitly forbidden by the rules, you can be pretty sure at least one team is testing it in the lab, if it hasn't already tried it on track.

The first publicly-available 4K footage of a Formula One race was shot last weekend, at the Korean Grand Prix in Yeongam, South Korea.

The F1 coverage provided by Formula One Management to its affiliate broadcasters around the world is another matter entirely. Testing and initial rollouts of high-definition broadcasting took place in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and by 2008 or 2009, there was little question that demand for HD footage was significant. Much to the chagrin of fans, though, it wasn't until 2011 that high-def F1 broadcasts arrived -- long after rival sports had made the switch. In fact, those same fans had already been shooting races in high definition themselves for quite some time, leading to the curious situation that if you wanted to experience grand prix racing at its best -- and you couldn't get to the race in person -- you had to trawl the likes of YouTube for high-quality footage hours or days after the race was over.

The ultra high def videos were filmed by YouTube user DarthMaineCoon with the recently-released Samsung Galaxy Note 3 smartphone.

Now, that situation has repeated itself once more, with the first ultra high definition video footage of an F1 race appearing on YouTube, courtesy of a fan shooting with their cameraphone. In a nice piece of circularity, the videos -- shot at the Korea International Circuit in Yeongam, South Korea -- were all filmed with Korean manufacturer Samsung's recently-released Galaxy Note 3 smartphone. The footage is handheld, and just a little shaky, but it's nonetheless an impressive demonstration of what the latest Note-series phablet can do. (At least, if you've got a 4K-capable display to view it on. If not, you can see a screenshot from one of the videos here.

If history's any indication, we probably won't see 4K cameras filming F1 routinely until the second half of the decade.

Of course, UHDTV adoption is nowhere near the mainstream as yet, and so it's not surprising that we've not yet heard of any plans for F1 to switch to UHD cameras. Given the slow adoption of HD video in F1, we wouldn't expect to see races routinely filmed in UHD any time soon -- at least, not by anyone other than the fans. We'd love to be proven wrong, though: FOM surprised us all recently by adding thermographic cameras to some cars, providing a really cool view of the temperature extremes faced by some parts of a modern open-wheel racing machine. (And especially, by its tires.)

In somewhat related news, while Formula One Management's adoption of technology hasn't always been the quickest, its high-paid racing drivers are a different story. Most drivers these days take advantage of social media to bring themselves a little closer to the fans, tweeting pictures from the track, and even inside the garage. 2008 world championship-winning driver Lewis Hamilton-- currently racing for Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One --has one-upped them all, though, by sporting Google Glass as he roamed the pit lane two race weekends ago in Singapore. As for whether Hamilton -- said by Forbes to be the world's 26th highest-paid athlete -- managed to make the geeky eyewear seem more fashionable... well, we'll leave that up to you to decide. Discuss in the comments below!

Mercedes AMG Formula One driver and 2008 world champion Lewis Hamilton (inset) has joined the ranks of celebrities who've given Google Glass some extra street cred.

(via F1 Fanatic. F1 car image courtesy of zhul / Flickr, used under a Creative Commons CC BY 2.0 license.)