By Graham K. Rogers
I have been a follower of motor racing since I was a child: far preferring the mechanical forms of car and motorcycle racing to soccer, which sends me to sleep. When I first became aware of Grand Prix racing, the engines were in the front and names like Vanwall, Maserati, Cooper-Climax and BRM existed. As did Ferrari, of course. There is still Ferrari.
Developments within the management of Grand Prix racing, especially since the 1970s, have seen several changes, Although the FIA is still in charge of the rulebooks and policing, Formula One Management controls the sport in terms of the data content. It sells much of this to TV companies, who make returns on their investments through advertising revenue.
In the last few years, the timing data has also been sold: this is essential for the teams, useful for the TV commentators, but also adds to the enjoyment for the fans who are not totally satisfied with what television deigns to supply.
For a couple of years, Soft-Pauer provided an iOS app that re-transmitted the timing data to users and I bought this app right away. With such data I am able not only to follow the progress at the front of the field, but track changes lower down: sometimes the real surprises come when a driver carves his way through and upsets the expected result.
Last year, there was a change when F1 Management took over the Formula 1 App. It was free, with some interesting content, but users (naturally) had to pay for the good stuff. It was a little flaky at the beginning and would occasionally suffer from intermittent internet throughput (hardly the fault of the developer), but the experience was good enough for me to want this again.
A few days ago, with the knowledge that the first Grand Prix of the season in Melbourne was approaching, I began to check the f1.com site, the app and the iTunes store in case an update had somehow slipped past me.
With the teams already at the track, finally, this morning (Thai time) the app was updated. Not a new app this time, but the existing app had some changes, and content for the new season was available. There are some differences immediately apparent. As the first screen for each race/circuit is opened instead of a still image, there is a looped video. This is a little blurry - just not sharp enough - even on the smaller screen of the iPhone 6.
Basic content with the free app includes a calendar with an overview of the races which can be viewed by scrolling sideways. Each of these has a video like the first panel (Australia). Rather than put the date for each event (this might be useful) the display shows days and hours to the next session. At the top of the screen is a tiny icon (currently marked R1). Tapping this gives a full list of dates. As before, tapping on the menu icon at top right, slides the current panel to the left and a list appears:
- News and Media
- Live Timing and Tracker
- Teams and Drivers
- Inside F1
- Settings and Audio
The free version of the app has limited live race leaderboards, news and videos, team and driver information, post-race highlights and the 2015 schedule. What users have with the subscription is considerably more: the live timing, sector times, interactive 3D map, in-corner analysis, video features, "immersive dashboard" with text commentary (English, French, German) as well as English commentary; team radio transmissions, as well as a number of other options.
Screen-shot from iTunes Store
The subscription, paid for in-app, via the Store, has two options: annual ($26.99) and monthly ($2.99). The monthly subscription will roll over each month and payment will be deducted automatically. I calculate that with 10 months to the season (ending in November), there is a slight saving ($2.91) with the annual subscription.
I paid the fee using my iPhone. Later when I accessed the app on the iPad, I used Restore to allow access to the in-app data. The subscription was made active in a couple of seconds.
I tend to use this app more on the iPad because of the larger display area. I can see most of the driver-data as the race is being run, so follow changes like fastest laps more easily. I tend to use the iPhone more as a backup (if I have forgotten to charge the iPad) or to display a second screen of data for the more interesting races.
Not all of the videos were available in the News and Media section with the free version. However, like those on the Calendar screens, some were of relatively poor quality, especially those related to the Australian GP. Those available were downloaded as I selected each of them, but a number were unacceptably blurry. There was no difference even when I had paid the hefty subscription. On the iPad these videos were even more disappointing. Blurry videos suggest over-economising on resolution and this is shoddy.
As useful as the video background is, the news updates, which have been appearing all winter, are more to the point; but the real reason for paying the fee is for the timing content. Using this with the TV display in past years there has always been a slight time difference: the transmissions are delayed by around 10 seconds. This has the advantage that a user can see a change on the timing screen and then watch the action, giving even more enjoyment.
Screen-shot from iPad Timing Demo
This is not an app for all users, but for those closely interested in Grand Prix racing, the Formula 1 App has become an essential tool over the last few seasons and the update is more than welcome.
Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life.