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Against the clock: Formula One coverage in Italy

Sky Italia’s new round-the-clock Sky Sports F1 HD channel is providing Italian fans with dramatic live coverage of all the season’s 19 F1 Grand Prix, 10 of which will be Sky Italia exclusives. Riedel and Lawo are key players in this high-tech ‘portable’ F1 OB production.

Sky Italia’s new round-the-clock Sky Sports F1 HD channel is providing Italian fans with dramatic live coverage of all the season’s 19 F1 Grand Prix, 10 of which will be Sky Italia exclusives.

Thanks to virtual studio sets and augmented reality, dramatic race action and graphics will appear alongside the Milan Santa Giulia studio hosts (who include former F1 driver Jacques Villeneuve, also VIP commentator at the actual races).

There are constant links with the racing circuits, updates and real-time, and dedicated Live Paddock coverage and interviews before and after the races. Fabio Guadagnini, head of the motorsports project at Sky, comments: “We wanted to maximise the impact as far as content and technology were concerned, based on what the fans asked us for in a market survey and what was the original aim of our project: experiencing F1 close-up, to the point of almost being able to touch the cars.”

The team behind the complex production project is led by Riccardo Botta, head of sport production, and operation & technical operations manager Tiziano Mantovani, who also follows operational work at the circuits. The impressive
Sky Italia production, post-production, graphics and playout set-up is freighted between locations in nine flight-cases and assembled in four hours inside dedicated containers on site.

Adds Guadagnini: “The whole project was put together by our F1 team, which includes technical service company Videe (of Pordenone), which took our ideas and, along with our IT and broadcasting department colleagues, turned them into a streamlined, efficient and above all ‘safe’ production machine.”

Videe has worked with Sky Italia for 10 years, covering top international sports events; this year the company celebrates 25 years of providing technical broadcast services worldwide. The 16-strong globetrotting technical team manning the ‘portable’ HD OB unit includes an audio mixer operator and an audio assistant in the commentary position.

Nineteen ‘world feed’ AV signals are received via fibre (50Gb) from the FOM (Formula One Management) master control room, which the Sky team customises, adding commentary, interviews and further video coverage and graphics. The majority of the 160 audio signals (including Dolby 5.1 surround) handled by the 32-fader Lawo mc256 console are transported via MADI, AES/EBU and video embedded, greatly reducing the need for outboard hardware.

A smaller number of analogue signals is converted and transported by the MediorNet and Riedel RockNet systems. The set-up is completed by a Lawo V-line Pro 8 multiprocessor for embedding and de-embedding and this Lawo/Riedel combination’s tasks also include routing, conversion, delay control, cross conversion and test signal generation.

The MediorNet system, comprising eight expanded Compact Pro frames, is of strategic importance and was chosen as it enables users to carry out the necessary signal processing and transport without any ‘outboard’ hardware, considerably reducing matrix dimensions. The frames are connected with Neutrik’s rugged OpticalCON Power Split cables, with four pairs of optical cable plus mains power in each, able to cover distances of up to 1km.

With the exceptional noise levels found at F1 races, wide use is made of noise-cancelling headphones, while the technicians in the air-conditioned oasis of the production container can count on eight Genelec 6010A biamped enclosures for audio monitoring.

Considering that there is also a 10-member Sky team at every race (journalists and commentators, plus director Aurelio Astori and executive producer Mauro Ottino), intercom is of key importance at such fast-moving events. A Riedel Artist 64 digital matrix system with 14 control panels is used to link camera ops, assistants, all the fixed workstations, commentary zone and audio, Avid and EBU positions. Two RiFace G2 radio intercom interfaces remote controlled via GPIO are located in the production control area and commentary position. Last but not least, there is a VoIP eight-user intercom link in Sky’s Milan studio, so, while keeping a sat link as an emergency backup, the fibre link ensures real-time communication, without the annoying audio delay often noted in long-distance outside broadcast coverage.

Regarding the intercom facilities connecting the Milan Santa Giulia studio and the circuits, Guadagnini confirms the status of this aspect: “The communication is fundamental for the live programming.”