FOX SPORTS’ Supercars coverage will have a fresh look in 2018 with a new graphics package set to roll out at this weekend’s Adelaide 500.
Changes have been made to the on-screen television graphics both when cars are on track and throughout the broadcast itself, with a modern edge replacing the retro-themed look adopted since 2015.
“There’s two elements, there’s the in-race graphics and then there’s the graphics around the race,” James Harrison, supervising producer of motorsport at FOX SPORTS, told foxsports.com.au.
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“Around the race, with the stings and the openers, the previous look was a bit of a tip of the hat to history; now we’re looking into the future.
“Cutting-edge technology is where the sport’s going to, so the opener has a very different look and the driver stings have a very hi-tech look.”
THE TOTEM GOES FULL-TIME In-race, the most noticeable change is to the leaderboard totem which will now appear on-screen for almost the entire time that cars are on the track.
Along with each driver’s race position, finer details from live timing data have been worked in to help tell the story of the race beyond the picture on the screen at any given moment.
“The challenge in motorsport is that there’s so much happening on the track,” Harrison said.
“It’s not like a linear game where — like a play-the-ball in rugby league — what’s happening on camera is pretty much what’s happening. There’s 26 cars and they all have a different story happening across the track.
“You want to be able to tell that story, both what’s on screen with the car you’re looking at and through the totem, where data can pop up to tell different stories that marry up to the main story on-screen.”
Although the totem has been present in the Supercars coverage previously, the new version has been designed from the ground up taking cues from leaderboards in other motorsports coverage including Formula 1 and MotoGP.
“We’ve gone through quite an in-depth process on how that works for Supercars and how that can be adopted into the sport, which is quite unique to the other motorsports out there,” Erik Fazekas, lead designer at FOX SPORTS, told foxsports.com.au.
“It was quite an effort to get that working and put it into a grid system that will allow for other graphics to be put on air at the same time as this totem, which now lives on screen pretty much through the entirety of a race or a qualifying session, which is way different to what Supercars has done in the past.”
Part of that process was to record the live timing feed from the 2017 season finale at Newcastle to help identify what details could be used to add to the storytelling of a race and how to best display them.
Among the key changes are to the sector splits, which now mimic the purple/green/white colour scheme used trackside.
“The aim was to try and take that information, that so many people up and down pit lane rely on and watch, and we want to bring that into the home,” Harrison explained.
“Live timing is available to the viewers in the Race Centre on foxsports.com.au, but it’s how we bring all that data into a totem, into our lower frames, into a look that allows casual fans watching the television coverage to follow those extra layers of stories.
“It was an extensive process, a major challenge. Erik worked very hard to align our look with the separate data elements in that.
“When that rolls out, I think that’s going to blow people away.”
TREATING THE DRIVERS AS HEROES The coverage around the on-track action will also adopt a new look as part of a company-wide refresh, bringing its motorsport coverage into line with satellite channels FOX League and FOX Footy.
“We’ve taken the opportunity to give everything a little bit of a ‘2.0’, get it as dynamic and as current as we possibly can,” Fazekas said.
A key part of that you may already have seen on social media: all 26 Supercars drivers came through FOX SPORTS’ Sydney HQ this month for various photography and videography, including vision captured in front of three large projection screens set up inside our main studio.
“The big thing is to ‘hero’ the drivers. That’s what we really wanted to do,” Harrison said.
“With other sports we’ve brought teams in and done this type of thing before, but this is the first time we’ve done it for motorsport, again aligning with the other top-tier sports.
“It was a big investment to do all this, but I think everyone will see from the outcomes on screen, even the teaser ones, that it looks really cool.
Fazekas added: “Besides your typical ‘driver looking straight down the camera’, we’ve done hero photography with each of the drivers where they’re exuding a little bit more personality.
“We’ve got them shot with their gloves and their helmet and so forth where they’re playing with the camera a little bit. They’ve got a few different postures, they smile, they gesture with their hands.
“What we’re trying to do there is basically showcase their personality so people at home can identify with who they’re looking at on an end-board or within a commercial, getting the drivers to interact with the camera so that people at home relate more to them.”
The new look will hit screens for the first time when FOX SPORTS’ Supercars coverage of the Adelaide 500 gets underway at 10:30am AEDT on Thursday.
Palmer says Ricciardo ended up having a tougher race than his teammate because of the pit stop strategy which saw him being held up by cars in front while Norris was able to race in clean air early in his second stint. He ended up finishing 10 seconds clear of Ricciardo after the Aussie let him through near the end because the British driver was running on fresher, quicker tyres.
“This was a race where Ricciardo was closer to his best again,” Palmer wrote in his column.
“He seemed to have confidence in the car, and we were getting the old Ricciardo radio messages indicating he was right up for the fight.
“Ironically, because he was the first McLaren in the opening stint, he ended up having arguably the tougher race, doing more overtaking early on as Norris followed him past Fernando Alonso, and Leclerc pitted before Norris had to overtake him.
“Ricciardo’s charge also prompted his own early stop as he undercut Pierre Gasly, forcing him into a longer, more perilous final stint. But he managed it to perfection, with his most complete drive for McLaren thus far.”
Norris has finished ahead of Ricciardo in six of the seven races this year with the Aussie only besting his teammate at the Spanish Grand Prix.
He never wants to come off as ungrateful or, worse yet, like he’s making excuses.
Sheepishly, he agrees that parts of the 2021 season have been the toughest of his career, from a driving perspective.
Asked how he would rate his first six races at McLaren, he says: “Oh, don’t make me do that … I mean, from a results point of view, I wouldn’t give myself too much of a flattering grade.”
Laughing, he adds: “But I don’t want to say what (number) I think because then it just makes me sound pretty sh*t! But there’s definitely room to improve.”
Eventually, he settles on a five out of 10, although it’s a painful admission that comes with a caveat.
“On a more positive off-track grade, I would definitely give myself a nine,” he says.
“The results aren’t through a lack of trying and I certainly feel like I’ve put in the work … So although my score is a five out of 10 now, I’m uber confident that increases at the year goes on.
“So panic not, my friends.”
Ricciardo has never panicked, and always thrived when the odds have been against him.
In 2014, he outdrove a four-time world champion, Sebastian Vettel, in his debut season at Red Bull, where the German had been settled for five years.
In 2020, he claimed two podiums at Renault, a team which hadn’t had a driver in F1’s top three in more than nine years.
Even making it to F1 at all, without significant financial backing, is the realisation of a dream that, for most, is fanciful at best.
Ricciardo is now in his 11th season, which he’s spending at a fifth F1 team, on which his lifelong dream of winning a world title hinges.
Dauntingly, McLaren hasn’t won a Grand Prix since 2012, and hasn’t stabled a world champion since Lewis Hamilton in 2008.
Realistically, becoming an F1 world champion is a long shot.
But the adversity Ricciardo overcomes in 2021 could, ultimately, elevate him to the peak of his powers, and lay the ground work for a watershed moment in Australian motorsport.
Australia has not had a Formula One world champion since 1980 – a streak Ricciardo still hasn’t given up hope of breaking, even with the odds more heavily stacked against him than ever.
“I’m aware now that to win five titles is becoming slimmer and slimmer,” he admits. “But still, to win one, I think there’s time on my side.
“McLaren is certainly where my ambition is and I definitely want to see this one through, hopefully with a lot of success.”
‘LIKE KICKING WITH MY LEFT’
At 31 years old, and just months into a fresh three-year deal, time still favours Ricciardo, who has often been rated as one of the category’s best drivers.
Sleeping F1 giant, McLaren, is still just stepping out of hibernation, although a massive rules shake-up in 2022 could shuffle the deck.
And if the team plays its cards right, seven-time Grand Prix winner Ricciardo — and teammate Lando Norris — could be in the hunt for wins once more.
First and foremost, however, Ricciardo must overcome a significant hurdle.
Feeling comfortable in new surrounds has come relatively quickly, he says, but feeling comfortable in the cockpit has not.
Ricciardo has made no secret that his new drive has its list of quirks that don’t gel with his driving style.
Just how difficult the transition is, however, becomes clearer as he explains it’s similar to a top footballer learning to become dominant with their weaker foot.
“I’m basically trying to get good at kicking a ball with my left foot,” he says.
“So my instinct is obviously (to) kick a ball with my right foot, and that’s easy, but to really try and perfect this car, I’m trying now to learn to kick with my left. That’s maybe a good analogy.”
Ricciardo isn’t naive — he fully expected the McLaren to be different to what he experienced at previous teams.
Just not this different, or temperamental.
“The team’s had some really good results the last few years, so once you can kind of balance it on this nice knife’s edge, the car can certainly be quick,” Ricciardo says.
“I think that’s probably another way of putting it as well; it does have a bit of a sweet spot, but it’s just quite small and obviously if you’re outside of it then you’re not getting the performance.”
He adds that changes to front tyres and narrowing of the car floor at the rear have likely contributed to the unfamiliarity, too, as Norris has made similar observations.
‘DIFFERENT NEEDS TO BECOME NORMAL’
After seven races, Ricciardo has outdriven Norris just once, although there were signs in France last weekend that the he’s closing the gap.
A long road still lies ahead, but Ricciardo understands it’s a punishment worth enduring — a two-footed footballer is a dangerous weapon, after all.
“Adapting to the Renault, I was still able to adapt with a similar driving style or something that was more natural for me,” he says “The McLaren is a little more detailed than that, I guess.
“But I look at it as a positive as well. In the long run, if I can, let’s say, learn how to drive with a different style, then I have more tools in my arsenal.”
He adds: “I’ve got to a point now where I’m also not trying to fill my head with it. It’s different, sure, but it can’t be different forever.
“At some point this is it, this is the car I’ve got and different needs to become normal and get on with it.”
STAYING AT MCLAREN… AND THE LANDO ‘BROMANCE’ THAT ISN’T
Ricciardo is sick of moving around.
He stunned Red Bull when he quit in 2018, seeking a fresh start as the team’s obsession with Max Verstappen grew to scary new levels.
Less than two years later, he had seen all he needed to of Renault, and was on the move once more.
Three teams in four seasons certainly hasn’t made Ricciardo’s McLaren transition any easier.
Asked if that means he’s now looking to stay put long-term, he laughs again, saying: “For sure, for sure.
“Changing teams and that, although I’ve done a bit of it the last few years it’s certainly an inconvenience and you’re obviously forced to relearn things. But I think the beauty of that as well is you have a chance to grow and to learn more.
“So it’s more challenging, but I think in the long run it will pay off and that’s why I certainly want to stay here and make it work, build up this speed and this understanding over the course of years until when it eventually feels perfect.”
Ricciardo has been thrilled with his new team from the little time he’s spent there, praising its work ethic, attention to detail and open-mindedness.
He’s also pleased that he’s on the same page with teammate Norris at the development table, even if they aren’t anywhere else.
The F1 world became infatuated with the pair’s apparent ‘bromance’ since Norris made his debut in 2019, but Ricciardo revealed the strength of their bond outside of the garage has been largely overstated.
“You can’t deny there is a generation gap,” Ricciardo says. “There’s even some phrases and some things I’ll say that he just doesn’t get, so you have to pick your conversations at times.
“Is it the bromance he had with Carlos (Sainz)? It isn’t yet. But I honestly just put that down to generation as well.”
He adds: “In all that being said, there’s certainly no friction or anything like that. I’d say we’re getting down to business for now and putting that first and foremost. Not trolling each other or anything too much.”
How their working relationship progresses will have a major influence on McLaren’s overall development towards a championship-contending car.
Ricciardo wants to push the team in one direction, saying he wants to become a better driver of the current car, but also develop one that leans more on his strengths.
As of last week, Ricciardo said Norris was looking for similar improvements, which bodes well for the McLaren garage.
“It’s a two-way process now, but the team’s been great. I want to give them more absolutely, but I think they also understand this is a journey, Ricciardo says.
“I signed a three-year contract with them so would love to have fireworks already, but we know that we’ve got time on our side to get it right and go through the process properly.”
‘I’LL CLICK MY FINGERS, AND IT’LL HAPPEN’
Meanwhile, Ricciardo and his former Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul haven’t been to the tattoo parlour yet.
The day will come soon; Abiteboul owes his former star some ink having made a bet he effectively wanted to lose – and did last year when Ricciardo stood on the podium in Germany.
“Now it’s just a matter of time,” an excited Ricciardo says.
“I’m trying to do it in London because I know some tattoo artists there, so we’re just trying to work some dates when we’re both together in London.
“Then I’ll click my fingers, and it’ll happen.”
Ricciardo wishes he could enter a fight for podiums, wins, or even see his family again in the same way; with a click of his fingers.
In a way, he likes that he can’t.
“If I am making these sacrifices and being away from family and friends, and missing events — even like families getting older, grandparents and all that, life goes on,” he says.
“So if I am over here missing important things, which I do value a lot, then I’m like, ‘Alright, well I better make this right and make this work.
“Lando Norris, having gone off, sort of complaining a little bit on the radio about Daniel Ricciardo, telling them, ‘He’s pushing me wide, not giving me enough space’.”
Norris would eventually pip Ricciardo to fifth place but told Motorsport.com he planned to speak to his teammate about the incident.
“It was aggressive defence,” he said.
“I have nothing against Daniel but I think he shouldn’t have done that. It’s racing, I probably would have done the same with him, but I was on the edge of the shackles.
“If there had been tar or something on my right then I wouldn’t be complaining. But because there were all those buzzers and bumps I couldn’t take my turn and had to go straight on because he pushed me down.
“I’m not trying to complain about it but we will definitely discuss it.”
McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl, however, said he had no issue with the race.
“As long as they are fighting for a position and there is no clear difference in strategy, we let them race,” he said after the race.
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“That’s the deal we made with the two drivers. At the end of the day, it’s a pretty straightforward directive: ‘We don’t hang on’. But it is clear that if there is has a reason behind a big difference in pace, so I’m not saying we’ll interfere but we’ll make sure we don’t make our lives hard for no reason.
“I also think if you look at the moment when Lando passed Daniel it was clear that he had an advantage with tires 10 laps cooler. And Daniel didn’t make the pass very difficult because it was clear that Lando had the advantage.
“If you look at the team’s strategy, I think it was perfect in both cases. The goal was clear today, to finish fifth and sixth and we were able to do it with our strategy.”
Ricciardo, meanwhile, believes the French GP was a turning point in what has been a difficult season.
“So this car will feel like home and I think today it started to feel a little more like home,” he said.
“And the next two (races) coming up are hopefully fun ones as well, with some good moves, battles — and it’s nice seeing the others suffer a little bit more than us as well.”