One of the things that has often struck me as I move around the track at a MotoGP round is the amount of cable Dorna sets up to deliver their TV coverage. Many kilometres of cables run around the entire circuit, are spliced into a complex network of amplifiers, antennas, and cameras, and eventually lead back to Dorna’s TV center in the paddock. In Qatar I was chatting with Pol Bardolet, one of the Dorna staff who is part of the TV and video production department, and he kindly arranged for me to speak with Sergi Sendra, Director of Dorna Sports TV Production. In Austin we sat down for a few minutes on Friday so that I could ask him about how he and his team deliver TV coverage of 18 rounds of Grand Prix racing.
MotoMatters: Most if not all of our readers regularly watch MotoGP on television, but I don’t think many of them have any idea how complicated it is for you to set that up for each race then get it packed up and on to the next event. So, to start off can you tell me a little bit about how you do it?
Sergi Sendra: The infrastructure of the television production [is based on] the experience that we have acquired having produced the show since 1992. We started producing it at every single venue from 2000, more or less.
The way we work is that we have a production team arriving Sunday and then from Monday until Wednesday, which is the installation and setup process, we are working with around 35 tons of equipment, cable and gear for cameras, radio frequency equipment…
MM: The platforms?
SS: The platforms are provided by the circuit, from local suppliers [for fly-away races]. In Europe we have a company that does the same job everywhere. This job is very complicated, so the important thing is to be able to trust groups of people for a certain amount of work, a certain kind of work. The technical side is really critical because a mistake on a cable will be a mistake on the screen on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. So we need to be very strict in the way we set everything up.
Talking about cable we have around 26 km of fibre or Tri-X, basically now most cable is fiber [optic cable], the fibre allows you to have really high quality, long distances and also to manage a lot of signal through this cable. Apart from the 26km, to set up the whole pack of cameras, we have around 22 cameras on the track, this is to get the pictures on what we call the Track Feed. On the other side we have the fibre for the radio frequency.
One of the goals for this production is we have to work in 18 different venues, with 18 different combinations of circuit, where they go from 3.5 km to nearly 6km long, this is the length of the road course. The other concept is that, in terms of coverage, we are talking about between 500,000 to 1 million square meters. This means that you need good equipment and a lot of knowledge and experience in order to deliver the coverage.
The way we cover this amount of square meters is with a number of sites along the track, at different heights, in different positions, and these antennas (basically this will be set up with antennas) are connected with another 16km of fibre. So, all of this makes around 45km of cable in total. The thing you can notice when you walk through the paddock is, as you say, you see a lot of cables. And this set up, as I said, it’s so important to install everything properly because once you start [the production], you then need to adjust depending on the shape and the behavior of the circuit.
For instance, we are here in Texas for the first time, we have suffered here more than anywhere else because even with a plan and our experience, when you start and turn on the system you realize there’s a problem here, there’s a shadow there. So here [at Circuit of the Americas], it’s a challenge.
MM: That was one of my questions, how do you approach coming to a new circuit that you haven’t been to before?
SS: Well, I would say that the important thing now is our experience, the number of years [we’ve been doing this] and the experience of our technicians. Another concept is the technical team is always exactly the same, they go from country to country, from circuit to circuit, from year to year and will learn and gain experience and the analysis of this learning is the most important thing.
I mean, coming to Texas, we’re not improvising, but we didn’t have a week of testing. The testing is today with the first live practice and this is the first time the bikes enter the arena and you need to have everything very very tuned because, [on Friday] you can have 5% or 10% of mistakes that you’ll have to fine tune and eliminate, but the other 90 or 95% needs to be fine because it can only take two days to have everything ready for Sunday.
MM: So today you’re working on solving that 5% of problems?
SS: I would say Friday it should be 5%, Thursday was 10% and Wednesday a bit more... For example, today we had to change three cameras because the cable was too long, the amplifier didn’t deliver enough power. Another camera had a problem on the platform, it was not perfectly set up to get the right shot when panning.
The thing is that the 22 up to 24 positions in the track, every position is its own little world. You have your in shot and your out shot, and the panning setting for each camera requires different friction. The movement of the camera is not going to be the same, because you don’t realize the speed of the bikes until you see them go in front of you. You can imagine it’s going to be a fast section, but then when you are there you must adjust. All this tuning is in the first, let’s say, three hours.
I am sure that this morning… People [watching on TV] don’t realize because we are smart and we were putting shots in between and you don’t know why we’re doing it that way, you just watch the pictures. But on the inside, there’s like, not chaos, but it’s a little crazy. We try always to show that outside is calm and perfect but inside it’s like a family: You have your own problems but outside it’s a big smile.
So what we say always is that, at the end of the day, the most important is Sunday, race day. The disadvantage of race day, you only have 1 chance, there are no races where you can practice, the MotoGP race happens in between 2 o’clock and 3 o’clock, and if you are ready you will get the shots. If you are not ready, you will make more mistakes.
With this knowledge, it takes 3 years, based on our experience, to fine-tune a perfect GP. I’ll explain. The first year we put 20 [camera] positions, now because of our experience we realize that we are nearly there [with 20]. But you need to see the bikes (MotoGP, Moto2, Moto3), the behavior of the racing, the first race is going to be the first for the riders, too. So in the second year, we learn from that and maybe there is a need to change [camera positions], and the third year is when the positions will maybe be made permanent. So it means we will make changes after this race [at CotA], based on experience, another year we’ll a bit more input and feedback, and then the third year is going to be, basically, ready to go.
Another issue that is important to bear in mind it the weather. If the weather is stable, you will have the same response of racing lines. But if the weather changes, it’s a completely different scenario. Also, in the rain, everything is slower, so if we start with a race weekend in the rain, it doesn’t work [to tune the system] because [the riders] were not fast enough to show you the limit, and we have to know those limits in order to pick up over-takings, crashes, what we call the “hotspots.” Also, what we do now that we didn’t do in the past is talk to the riders, and with the testing they’ve done they’ll tell us “ok, this is a hotspot, we will overtake here,” and with all this information, it’s very important because what we want to show on Sunday is that Texas is like Laguna Seca or Indianapolis or Jerez and the audience deserves for us to be the best and that’s why [this weekend] is probably more challenging than any other circuit.
MM: So that’s just for the fixed cameras that are on the platforms around the track? You also have cameras on the bike, you have a Steadicam and shoulder cameras in pit lane…
SS: We have on-board cameras, a Steadicam, we have a Jimmy Jib, we have a helicopter, a gyrocam, the best ever camera in the air because it has 8 gyroscopes.
This system of coverage is based on what we call the ‘high-view’ and the ‘lower view’ and then the ‘continuous view’. The lower view is based on the cameras but it’s cut after cut, there is no continuity and our job is to give you a sensation of fluidity so that everything looks like it’s connected.
The helicopter can give you a whole, continuous path with the view from the sky, the view on board can give you the same shot from the ground. On-board is another world, completely different, we install between 60 and 90 cameras. Everything is HD now. Right now, we are developing new technology for this season that hasn’t arrived yet. MotoGP is maybe one of the most-experienced series, technically speaking, in on-board cameras. We have the latest technology, the smallest and highest quality cameras in the world, and we know that because we can compare others doing the same job.
Also, there is another thing, that gives us the strength to work harder maybe than others. And this is that our bikes are smaller than any cars. When you have a small object like the bike, we had to struggle so much to make sure the camera was small, the cable was strong enough and that doesn’t happen in a car. We’ve had three cameras on the bikes and we will have four this year. We have gyroscopic cameras, and the new camera that is coming later is a full body camera, very small, with the gyroscope inside all ready to work, so we can make fixed shots or a gyroscopic shot.
MM: It can switch back and forth between those?
SS: Yeah, so we will need to use motors, little motors to turn the camera up to 60 degrees.
MM: So you have remote control on the camera?
SS: Yes, everything is remote controlled. The teams have been working hard with us to improve and develop [on-board coverage]. And last thing we should mention is the high speed camera, for the super slow motion.
MM: Yes, people love that.
SS: It’s called high speed because the camera is filming at the high rate of speed. If we shot on a normal camera, we would get 50 frames per second. That gives fluidity, a sensation of normal speed. If we record at 1000 frames per second, in one second you have 20 times more information. The vision is slower, much much slower. Getting in this slow situation, you pick up things that it is impossible to pick up with your eyes, your eyes can now see the tire spinning, the suspension movement, and that’s another challenge. We have so many circuits, with so many corners, with so many positions, and this is a camera we are introducing now.
MM: So you have one high-speed camera?
SS: We only have one at each GP, I’m sure in two or three years we will have three or four because it’s going to be necessary.
MM: But you have to decide, when you go to a track, which corner you’re going to put that on?
SS: Exactly and we need to learn from that. Maybe a corner looks spectacular and then it looks like it’s not.
As you can imagine, now that you have some idea of how complicated Mr. Sendra’s job is, our talk was interrupted several times by people needing to speak to him. By the end of our 15-minutes together, there was a large crowd waiting outside his office door and he could not make them wait any longer.
Our sincerest thanks to Mr. Sendra for taking time to speak to us, and to Mr. Bardolet for setting up the interview.
Thanks also to PHOTO.GP intern, Kerry Port, for transcribing this interview.