Jul 30, 2006

Coming soon : Number replay

I have two kinds of weekends. An F1 race weekend - where all my plans will revolve around watching the qualifying and the race - and other weekends where I am free to do my thing. This was a race weekend. And also a good time to ruminate on the nature of 'watching' a race.

Of late, I have been watching F1 on TV armed with a live data feed from the Official F1 Racing site. The feed is directly connected to the computers at the racing venue and is what's available to commentators and other professionals. It's pretty comprehensive in giving where each driver is placed along with his lap times, sector by sector. Colour coding indicates who's fastest in a sector or lap, and also who's doing a personal best.

From day one I have been hooked to this feed and sometimes I find myself transfixed by the F1 Live Timing screen (click on pic) more than I am with the TV images. I love taking in all the details in a glance and often find that this motley bunch of numbers say more about the current situation in the race than even the most stunning pictures the TV crew can dish out.

So evocative are the numbers, in fact, that whenever there has been no telecast of F1 qualifying, I have simply connected to F1.com and happily watched the qualifying drama unfold as a series of decimal-pointed numbers. (There was no telecast yesterday but there was no power either.)

Having found it a workable replacement for watching the race on TV, I now wonder if we can train ourselves to experience an event with a set of senses other the ones with which we are normally used to perceiving it.

Culturally, we are very attuned to visual images and our senses work in perfect harmony to extract loads of information from pictures. But even the best TV picture still consists of a set number of frames. The mind, while watching it, is filling in the motion and connecting each frame in a smooth continuous video - a video than in reality doesn't exist. Not unlike, the details my mind is filling in as it sees a series of rapidly changing numbers - a particularly bad sector time may mean an excursion off the track, for eg.

Sometime in the future, maybe, with some much more additional detail and appropriate data coding for easy assimilation, systems like F1 Live Timing will create an alternate way of watching a sport. Of course, F1 is better suited to such a scheme than say football. Or maybe I am wrong about that.

Unfortunately for me, the one thing F1 Live Timing hasn't been able to replace yet is the pleasing sight of a spectacular crash. And there were a few today. I hope the guys at F1 Racing are flooring the accelerator to come up with the next version of Live Timing soon.
About the author:
Iqbal Mohammed is Head of Innovation & Strategy at a digital innovation agency serving the DACH and wider European markets. He is the winner of the WPP Atticus Award for Best Original Published Writing in Marketing & Communication.
You can reach him via email or Twitter.


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