I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Google Glass at the moment and so far I havent seen anything to make me want to rush out and buy a pair (although I reserve judgement till I actually play with one). One of the things getting a lot of attention is the ability to record hands-free video which in my opinion is over-rated. I’m basing this on in-car video recorders (and more recently dashcams) that people have been using to record hands free video while driving for years. I have been using a variety of different setups to capture in-car video over the years and have found that while its very cool at first, it’s quite rare to go back to look at the video. Of the hundreds of hours of video I have collected, I only look at it when there is something specific I needed to check (line, traffic, best lap, etc…) or to see if the video captured something spectacular (spins, passes, accidents, etc…). In general it is quite boring to look at hours of raw video even while doing something as interesting as racing cars on track. As for making edited videos it is a long, slow and difficult process and people wont be bothered to do it once.
What Google Glass really needs is to take a suggestion from the dashcam world and record a continuous loop of video that the user can save after the event to record the important/funny/interesting thing that they just happened to see. It would be a video version of the Personal Audio Loop (paper pdf). A Personal Video Loop if you will.
Imagine being able to immediately save some cute thing thing by your kids/dogs/cats/etc… Instead of remembering to tell Glass to record, it is always recording and you can just tell it to save the last X minutes. Apart from the cute overload videos, the number of dashcam videos on Autoblog and Jalopnik are proof that even the most average people will keep seeing some interesting things. Plus the sousveillance aspect of having cloud-stored video to back up you account of events would be pretty revolutionary as well.
I know there are a bunch of legal (and power) issues around recording video like this but someone should try building it. Glass explorers – start exploring
I had the pleasure of attending the inaugural Formula 1 US Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas last week and want to write up my thoughts after the event. This is not a review of the race itself but rather a review of the venue from a fans point of view and how it compares to other race events I have been to such as IndyCar (Infineon), NASCAR (Infineon) and the 2002 F1 USGP at Indianapolis.
Getting to and from the track
Having read nightmare predictions about parking at the race I decided to use the free park and ride shuttle from the Travis Expo center instead of shelling out $200 for a parking pass. I was quite concerned about how long it would take to get to the track but the folks at the shuttle did an excellent time and it took ~10 minutes to park and no more than 15 minutes after that to board the shuttle. The shuttle ride itself took only 20 minutes which means the total time from entering the paring lot to getting to the track was under 45 minutes which is pretty good for a first time event. Once the shuttles drop you off it is a longish walk (~0.75 mile) to the track gates themselves so you are going to want to wear some comfortable shoes.
The return trips had a long line to get on the shuttle though once again they were very well organized. Friday was a 10 minute wait with Saturday in the 20 minute range. As expected Sunday was the longest wait at ~45 minutes which again is not that bad when you have 110,000 people trying to leave at the exact same time.
Having spoken to some other folks who took the parking passes it appears that they had zero issues parking and you could have saved a bunch of time by using the pass. I’d recommend getting a pass for $200 and then splitting the cost among 7 people in a minivan
The facilities were pretty well laid out and the first thing you saw on entering the track were the large merchandise booths. They were pretty crowded during the day and actually ran out of many items so I’d recommend buying the stuff you want asap on Friday morning (which is when this photo was taken).
There were a lot of food options at the track with things like Outlaw Grill, Po’ Boys, pizza, Krispy Kreme, nachoes, etc… Apart from the pizza and a few vegan tamales the veggie options were a bit thin so you may want to plan for that. The worst problem though was that the lines at every single outlet were soooo long that after day 1 (~60,000 attendance) we just smuggled our own food in as it wasn’t worth it to stand in line for 30+ minutes just to get a burger. The track really needs to get more concessions ready for the next race.
There were a huge number of porta potties lined up right behind the stands and also in the shuttle area which meant that we did not have long rest room lines. The track was also actively trying to improve during the event. People complained about a lack of trash cans in the stands and they brought them in to the stand stairwells for day 2 and 3. All in all the track did a great job serving a huge crowd in their very first year and I am confident that they will only get better next year.
I was sitting in Sec 9, Row 33 of the T12 stand which put me ~10 feet past the apex of T12. These were the most expensive seats ($500+) in the race and the price was justified by the view. Apart from the excellent view of T12 (above), you could also see turns 13, 14 and 15 up close, turns 5, 6, 7 on the other side of the course and you also had a distant view of turn one though it was too far away to be able to tell which cars were which. One issue with sitting high up was that its too hard to read the text on the big screens (sec 9 is equidistant between 2 screens which exacerbated the problem) which makes it hard to follow the race in details. If I was doing it again I would sit towards the bottom of the T12 stand as you are closer to the cars and the loudspeakers at the bottom will let you follow the race better. Since most of the passing happens at T12 anyway you dont really miss too much by losing the view of the far side of the track. The following video was taken during the installation laps from Sec 9, Row 1 at T12.
Turn 3 was a stand which received rave reviews from the assembled journalists. The painted runoff areas lead to some spectacular photographs and the drivers love the high speed sweepers which are reminiscent of Silverstone. However as a fan I’d rather watch some passing or passing attempts and with only two moves being pulled off at T2 all race I’d suggest sitting in a different stand.
The general admission areas of the track has some spots with excellent views as long as you come early and camp out. The prime spots IMHO were in front of the T15 grand stand (allows you to see down the straight), T19, exit of T20 (great acceleration + view of the podium, pic below) and the entrance of T1 (packed on all 3 days). If you are willing to come in early and camp out I’d suggest doing that as it will save you a lot of money and be a more memorable experience. You can also try going into the tower which gives you a spectacular view of the track but you will likely need binoculars or a long lens to be able to identify cars and follow the action.
Finally if you can get access to a PSL seat I’d recommend T15 and T1 as they will allow you to see down the straights which really shows the speed of these cars.
The track had autograph sessions for all the drivers but the drivers were there for just 15 minutes which is truly pathetic when you have 110,000 paying fans at the event. FOM should really force all drivers to have at least a 30 minutes session and extend it to an hour for the more popular teams and drivers (Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren, Kimi, Schumacher, etc…). Compare this to NASCAR and Indycar where you can get a garage pass and chat with the drivers, F1 is extraordinarily fan unfriendly. As a friend of mine said later – welcome to F1 where the fans come last.
Once other thing that F1 really needs to learn from NASCAR is in easy identification of the drivers. While the cars themselves are very easy to identify, it is almost impossible to tell the team mates apart. Some drivers use very different helmets (Michael and Nico, Alonso and Massa) which make them easy to identify but to many of the team mates use helmets that are too similar to differentiate at 100 mph from 20 meters away. And to top it off people like Hamilton and Vettel actually changed their helmet on each day of the race which made them even harder to identify. The only team with a clearly readable number on the car was McLaren. Even the HRTs which have a large number of the car have put the significant digit on the sidepod such that it is difficult to read(below). FOM should force team mates to have clearly differentiable helmets and also make drivers carry the helmet (or a replica) on the parade lap so that fans can tell who is who.
This is a mobile controller that you can rent for $69 for a weekend and gives you access to multiple video and audio feeds as well as live data statistics. I decided not to get one as I expected to use earplugs the entire weekend which would have made the audio pointless. People around me did have them and the verdict was a little split. Most everyone felt that the video was pretty useless as the screen is quite dim and can barely be seen in direct sunshine. People did use them to get live stats since the intermittent cell service made all the free timing apps very flaky at the track. Those that used the earphones said that they were able to hear the audio and really liked the ability to plug into a drivers radio feed as well. When you spend this much on the race its probably worth spending the extra $70.
Now I come to the part of the experience that really pissed me off. The rampant profiteering from the hotels and airlines lead to $750 round trip airfares and places like Motel 6 charging $300/night. I understand supply and demand makes rates go up but raping your customers also guarantees zero repeat business. One person I met said that the Austin Crowne Plaza was charging $750 per night with a 4 night minimum when their usual rates are ~$120/night. With ridiculous prices like this the price of a race weekend for a couple from the Bay Area would be well over $6000 ($1100 tickets, $1500 airfare, $3300 hotel) at which point I would rather go for a luxury cruise or drive the Nurburgring instead. This is no fault of the race organizers and is out of their control but is the thing that is making me want to avoid the race in future. Hopefully if the New Jersey race does happen the profiteering wont be as bad since 100,000 people would just be a drop in NYC bucket.
One of the best things about attending an F1 race is the number of F1 related off-track activities that take place. The Formula One Team Association (FOTA) held their first american FOTA Fan Forum where 500 fans got to directly interact with team representatives ask the kind of questions you never see on TV. I was unable to attend but will definitely try to attend the next time.
Fans of F1 history also got to attend the world premier of “1: The Unvarnished Story” which charts how safety has improved over the years. The red carpet held at the Paramount theater attracted a host of F1 luminaries like Sir Jackie Stewart, Emerson Fittipaldi, Damon Hill, Bernie Ecclestone, Herbie Blash, Eddie Jordan, Christian Horner and Martin Brundle. I highly recommend watching the movie when it release to the public. The target rich environment was an awesome place to be if you are an autograph seeker
For the more casual fans Austin create the F1 Fan Fest which shut down a 9 square block area of downtown Austin with music, food, stores and all manner of motorsports related activities. Mobil 1 had a tent where fans to do a pit stop on an actual McLaren show car while Red Bull and Lotus show cars were all over the place. If you are staying in a downtown hotel it is well worth a visit to the fan fest.
All-in-all it was an enjoyable experience and I would recommend doing it at least once especially if you have never been to an F1 race before. It is however quite pricey and as a result I’m not sure if I will be going back next year.
I recently attended the 2011 Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma at Infineon Raceway and was immediately struck by how different the experience was to the US Grand Prix at Indianapolis that I attended in 2002. This post is a quick recap of what I saw at Sonoma and why F1 needs to change and become more fan accessible.
I am a massive F1 fan and have missed watching only a handful of races since I started watching it in 1995. When I moved to the US in 2002 and got funding for my Masters degree the very first thing I did was start planning a trip to the 2002 US Grand Prix at Indianapolis. While it was a good race and a decent experience I was not particularly blown away by the live experience and decided at that point that it made more sense to watch the races on TV where you are way more comfortable and can follow much more of the race. Saving over a thousand dollars on tickets, hotels and airfare made it much easier decision as well. I instead spent my $$$ on track days, Lemons racing and making my annual visit top the Monterey Motorsports Reunion. This year though I attended the 2011 Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma at Infineon Raceway and was absolutely blown away by the fan friendliness of the event and have resolved to make this an annual event for me as well. The following is a quick recap of my experience at the event.
First off the tickets are significantly cheaper, since the race promoters don’t have to pay Bernie Ecclestones extortionist prices they are able to give the fans a much more reasonably priced experience. For just $109 I was able to purchase the Legends of Indycar package which included a reserved covered grand stand seat, garage pass, pit pass, Indycar legends Q & A session (Mario Andretti, Johnny Rutherford, Al Unser Jr) and free parking. Compared to the ~$200 it cost for just weekend grandstand tickets to the USGP 10 years ago it was an unbelievable bargain.
When I actually arrived at the track, I was amazed to see the main grandstand literally overlooks the pits (the pic above is from row 1 of the stands). Since I had gotten there a bit early I walked over to the garage area (Infineon Garages are about 30m away from the actual pits themselves). to have a look. All of the cars were lined up in front of the garages and the mechanics were waiting for the track to open before pulling them into the pits. The garage pass allowed me to walk through the entire area and the mechanics were happy to let the fans take/pose for as many pictures as they wanted. In addition the teams trailers were across from the garages and you could see the mechanics and drivers leaving after their morning briefing (that’s me with Takuma Sato below).
After walking around the garages for a bit I decided to walk into the pits area to see what kind of access I had. Incredibly for just $109 my pit pass gave me full access to the pitlane for all of the morning events right up to 30 minutes before the actual race start. This meant I could watch the morning practice from the pit lane just 20 feet from the race cars and literally looking over the shoulders of the pit crew. Additionally the morning practice was delayed due to fog which meant that the drivers were also spending some time in the pits which led to a lot of photo and autograph opportunities. The drivers are very cool and were happily spending time talking to the fans that were in the pits. Taku had several Japanese fans following him around while Sebastien Bourdais was just wandering around the pits. While most of the drivers I saw were quite cool, I have to say that Dario Franchitti was being a bit of dick and intentionally avoided the fans who had queued up for his autograph after the session.
Eventually the practice did get underway and it way an amazing experience to be able to stand that close to the cars as they accelerate out of the puts and thunder through turn 1. You are close enough to feel the vibrations as they go past and see them bob over the bump at the exit of the turn. The pit lane experience by itself is enough to turn even the most casual of attendees into a hard core race fan.
Next was the Q&A session with the Indycar legends. Nothing particularly spectacular learned but it was great to see the friendships that still existed between the guys and also their memories of old races. I was able to get Marios autograph on the piston off his own Lotus 81.
After the Q&A I went back to my seat and watched the Historic Grand Prix race. Ex-Lotus IMSA driver Doc Bundy was on pole in Marios Lotus 79 and ended up finishing in second place after a race-long battle with a Williams. The historic cars sounded great and the drivers were pushing quite hard for someone driving irreplaceable million dollar machines Click here to watch a quick video of the start of the race as well as the view from my grandstand seats.
After this there was about an hour long break which was filled in by an airshow by the Patriots Jet Team. Surprisingly this was the first airshow I was watching in the US and I have to say it was a lot of fun. It also fits in very well with the speed theme of the weekend and the hour in between just sped by. Special note of some of the crazy low passes that the pilots were making below the level of the grandstands.
At this point I suddenly remembered that I needed to buy some gloves from Wine Country Motorsports which ended up taking a little longer than expected and I ended up missing the start of the race. On the way back to the stands I took a shortcut through the garage and ended up watching the first few laps from the windows at the back of the actual team garages – the clip below is the hairpin at the end of lap 1.
While it was an awesome location to watch the race from, the clip does show the problem with the Indycar race in general – there was absolutely no attempt at passing especially through the Turn 11 hairpin section (admittedly a different hairpin that NASCAR but still). I ended up watching 50 laps of the 75 laps of the race and I think I saw only one pass for position during that entire time and even that was on the big screen. Its pretty sad that 30 year old F1 cars put on a better show than the premiere american open wheel series on the very same track.
All in all while the main race itself was boring I had an awesome time at the event and I will definitely be coming back next year. Being in the thick of the action was a real eye opener and really gets you excited about the sport – I will actually watch the Indycar races on TV this year rather than immediately change the channel. What F1 really needs to understand is that by bringing fans closer to the action and getting the interaction with the drivers is the best way that you can grow the sports – no DRS required.
I recently ran into David Miller, a longtime GGLC member and the newly published author of Circus before Dawn, a novel set in a fictional version of the 1999 Formula 1 season about an start-up F1 team based in the Bay Area. As soon as he told me the basic premise of the novel I knew I had to read it and now here is dust jacket description followed by my own review.
Shortly before the dawn of the new millennium, a video arrives at the postbox of internationally acclaimed motorsport journalist, Trevor Banks. The startling images depict the elite driving talents of an intriguing racecar driver.
Banks is assigned to investigate the story. As he does so, he discovers that the talented performer also has attracted the attention of a psychopathic saboteur. From Northern California’s legendary racetracks to multiple European venues, including the dazzling jewel that is the Monaco Grand Prix, the story takes the reader on a wild, unpredictable ride within the dangerous circus that is Formula One racing.
With an engaging style and a journalist’s sharp eye for detail, David Miller has crafted a compelling drama that hurtles toward its shocking climax with the purposefulness and hair-raising excitement of a Formula One racecar as it rockets toward the chequered flag.
As the cover says, Circus before Dawn is basically a thriller set in the world of F1. The entire book is told as a first person narrative from an F1 journalist who is suddenly thrust into added intrigue beyond the regular machinations of standard F1. My basic thoughts are as follows:
A good description of the F1 circuit for the casual reader along with many little details that an F1 fan will really like. Rather than glossing over the racing, the author actually explains many of the details about F1 (eg 107% rule, sponsorship, superlicense, etc…). The only slight fakery is the margins of some of the laptimes but that is something I can easily understand had to be enlarged for the regular audience
Excellent references to F1 history at various points in the book. They really show the authors involvement with F1 and actually got me to refer to wikipedia a few times while reading the book
Extra points for using Lotus as the premier marque during the book as well as talking about Laguna Seca and Infineon in great detail. Unlike most thriller I could actually visualize many of the action scenes in the book which made it more fun than the average thriller.
One issue with the explanations is that some of them do go a bit longer than needed and IMHO the book could have been trimmed by a good 50 pages
One of the things I loved about the book was that I actually personally know several people that are in the acknowledgements which was pretty cool. The author also gets extra points for mentioning the GGLC in the climactic scenes of the book.
I also really liked the idea of the F1 season ending with an F1 race through the streets of SF – too bad Bernie will never let that happen
All in all I have to say that it is a good book especially for the F1 fan and an excellent effort for the authors first book. I suggest you pick up a copy yourself while I look forward to reading the sequel and/or seeing the movie.
Spoilers: The following bits are spoilers which you should not read unless you have actually read the book. The author has done a great job moving very close to real events in F1 and these are just some of the things that came to my mind while reading the book:
The superlicence idea while a good idea is something that would never work in real life – exhibit A being Sebastien Loeb being denied a superlicense while being the 5 time defending World Rally Champion
The Grim Reaper campaigns reminded me of scenes from Mad Men where Draper talks about doing tobacco advertising about everyone dying
The Austrian flag bit from Imola 94 really hit a bit close to home especially since I had seen the Senna doc just a couple of weeks before
The orange track and Aurora loop were the only parts of the book where I felt the author went a little too crazy even for F1
The Bernie/Mosely show as an equivalent to the Xenon character in the book – its sad how those two managed to suck that much power under their control
Having spent the last weekend at the Indycar race and witnessed Danica mania first hand I do hope that the first woman in F1 be an actual talent like Michèle Mouton rather than a talentless publicity whore
I recently had the chance to see a special pre-release screening of the Senna movie and since people have constantly been asking me for my opinion of it I figured its time to put my thoughts down on paper. Since the movie was shot entirely using archival footage it is being classified as a documentary though since there are no talking heads and only period accurate is used it can also be called a movie and depending on your point of view it has very different reviews
As a Movie
As a movie it is absolutely brilliant especially if you have limited knowledge of Ayrton. The director has done a masterfull job of weaving together clips from thousands of hours of FOM/Teleglobo/family/fan footage to create this powerful story of a brilliant driver fighting his way through F1. The movie has an excellent pacing and does not throw too many racing terms around which keeps the movie esy to understand for non-motorsports fans. The single most amazing thing for me is that he keeps you in your seats despite the fact you (the f1 fan) know exactly how the film will end. I highly recommend everyone watch this move and that you take all your non-racing friends to watch it as well.
As a Documentary
As a documentary though several of the movie strengths become immediate weaknesses. Chief among which is how the movie depicts Prost as a bad guy while Senna is shown as a pure but misunderstood genius. The truth as we all know is that Senna did plenty on unsavory things himself and many of his own peers did not like his driving style. Autosport recently posted a 1986 interview (subscription required) with Nigel Mansell where he says about Senna:
“Next time he does that, I won’t move. If he wants a very big accident… If he puts me in that position… All I will say is that I’m a driver, I’m a professional, I’m paid by my team to do my job, and if he wants to carry on being crazy, that’s up to him. At the moment I’m trying to avoid everything. I don’t want to get near him. I don’t really want to race with him. With Alain or with Keke, everybody I’ve known in F1, there’s never been a problem when you race properly together. But Senna has demonstrated to me that anyone who tried to overtake him he has complete disregard for, and he’ll knock them off the road if he has to.
“The other day I hard someone comparing him with Villeneuve, whom I knew very well, and it’s an insult to Gilles’ name to say that Senna is anything like the man he was. Gilles was a brilliant driver, but also a totally fair one.”
The film also misses several significant points in Sennas life which will annoy the F1 fan who is looking for a documentary experience. For eg:
Stefan Bellof was catching Senna faster than Senna was catching Prost at Monaco 84
Beating Prost by 1.4 sec in Monaco 88 qualifying
Senna breaking the San Marino 89 agreement with Prost
Senna generally putting people in the position to cause accidents. The Jackie Stewart interview clips begins to talk about it but they basically brush it away.
It also has relatively little actual track footage though I can understand why they would want to remove it from a film made for the mass market who dont necessarily appreciate the skill needed to lap Monaco.
All in all I think that if you approach this film as a movie you will have a great time and if you look at it as a documentary you will be disappointed. I’s suggest watching it on a big screen with some non-motorsports fans to get the full impact and experience of the movie. Also the director said that the DVD/Blu-Ray will have an extra hour of interview footage that is fairer to Prost and makes him look better than in the theatrical release. He also said to wait and purchase the british version of the movie since the current versions are in Portugese.
And as a final tidbit I’ll leave you with my recording of a 50 min Q&A session with director Asif Kapadia after the screening where he talks about how the movie came together including the process of shooting a movie with only archival footage, getting access to Bernies archive, showing the movie to the Senna family, extended footage in the DVD/Blu-Ray, writing the music before making the movie, etc…