Formula E presenter and pit lane reporter Nicki Shields lifts the lid on her race schedule and explains just what goes into creating each Formula E TV programme.
Thursday: The first job of the morning is a team meeting with executive producer Lawrence Duffy, series director West Gillet and series producer Mike Scott. We discuss the features we’ve got planned and who we want to interview. Did anyone get penalised at the previous race? Does anyone have a special connection to this venue?
Then we set the running order. This can consist of up to 100 individual items, including pre-recorded segments called VTs (one or two minutes long) and explanatory features (covering subjects such as points, podiums and track guides).
Aurora Media is the host broadcaster. The world feed that we produce goes out on every channel that picks up Formula E, across all the different regions. Each channel will then package it slightly differently. Some will have their own commentary, or they might have their own introductory and analysis segments.
I sort out all my equipment for the weekend. I have two earpieces with three different channels, linking me in to the commentary box, the producer and the audio from my microphone (so I know if we’re speaking loudly enough when I’m interviewing).
Then there’s my black belt of goodies, which has attached to it my radio and a box of electronics linked to my microphone. I also carry an old-fashioned notepad so I can jot down what’s happened.
This is the day to capture the ambience of the location, with artistic camera work that paints the colour and character of the place. We shoot VODs (videos on demand), where I’ll rove up and down the pitlane to catch team principals and drivers.
It’s also the day to record other one-off features, such as when we filmed at Lucas di Grassi’s apartment in Monaco.
Jack Nicholls, Dario Franchitti and I then go into the editing suit to record voiceovers. We reconstruct what happened in the previous round and set the scene for the forthcoming event.
Friday: I spend most of Friday in the pitlane, capturing more interviews and VODs. At 1500 we do our facilities check, to ensure all the cameras are functioning correctly and that the audio is in sync. Jack and Dario will run through some commentary to check all their systems are working properly too.
We do all of these checks even if there isn’t a shakedown at the event, which has happened a few times. We have 14 track cameras, most of which can be set up even if construction of the track hasn’t been completed.
Saturday: We’re all up at 0530. After a quick brekkie, we have a team meeting at 7am in the TV compound. This the most ingenious way of shipping a bespoke, high end production suite around the world. It’s made up of pods (replay, vision control, sound, engineering and two for cabling) and temporary structures (production gallery, edit suite, commentary box and RF tech prep area). We carry around 30km of cables to each venue, as every track camera has to be hard wired to the production suite.
At 0745, I get set up with my equipment. I have a sound man and two RF camera operators. We head down to the pit lane so that we’re ready to go live at 0810, just before FP1 starts. When we’re in the pit lane, one cameraman is responsible for the top four teams; the other covers the remaining six teams. That can vary depending on the pit lane configuration.
We don’t usually interview teams and drivers during sessions because we don’t want to interrupt. An exception to the rule was in Moscow, where I spoke to Alain Prost during the race, just after a disastrous pit stop for Buemi. The team had thought the minimum stop time was 68s and they didn’t realise they were 10s off the mark until I asked Alain why that was the case, live on air. That was an extraordinary moment!
We have a quick break after FP1. We usually then do a link for ITV, where I interview a driver. This is the time to put together any particular editorial content that the broadcaster has asked for.
At 1025, we repeat it all again for FP2. In between sessions, I pop between the garages to see if there are any issues we should be aware of. I feed that back to the producer who can make Jack and Dario aware in the commentary box.
At 1150, we prepare for quali. The drivers are split into four groups. We tend to base ourselves at the FIA garage so that we can interview the drivers who are in provisional P1, P2 and P3 at the end of each quali group.
The drivers’ reactions can be very different. With some of them, you can see they’re really disappointed when they drop out of the top three. Other just give a quick handshake and walk back to the garage.
The most dramatic reactions I’ve seen so far? Buemi’s frustration with Alguersuari in Moscow and the spat between di Grassi and Piquet in Monaco. That one was very much a case of two cold shoulders.
Being there when Trulli took pole in Berlin was also amazing. He was so happy. There was almost a sense of relief: all that hard work had finally culminated in some tangible performance. I think there was a slight air of surprise too!
After quali, it’s time for a well-deserved lunch break. Sometimes we don’t have a chance to get back to catering so we might just grab something in the TV compound.
One the provisional grid is sent out, I’ll start working out who we’ll want to talk to on the grid. We only have around 10 minutes to grab between eight and 10 grid interviews. Dario usually does two but then he needs to get back to the commentary box.
That’s the best part of my day. I absolutely love it. In that sort of live environment, you’re under pressure to get the best from the drivers when all they want to do is focus on getting in the car and racing. There’s an amazing atmosphere on the grid. It’s like nothing else. Being a part of that and capturing it for viewers is very special.
Then it’s over to Jack for the commentary before the race gets going. I head back down to the pitlane, to make sure I’m ready if any action happens. The race packs so much into such a short space of time that I’m always really busy trying to keep abreast of all the developments!
The end of the race is always completely frantic. We’re on a really tight schedule that we absolutely have to stick to. That part of the programme has to be down to the second. We have to interview the three podium finishers within two minutes and then broadcast the podium celebrations.
At 1730 we go off the air. There’s a huge amount left to do in terms of de-rigging and editing, which goes on late into the evening.
Seeing the evolution of the series first hand has been amazing. A few short months ago, we were heading out to Beijing. A lot of the focus was on understanding the car, battery management, regenerative braking, gearbox and suspension issues. Now the spotlight is on the drivers and the ultimate championship trophy.
As the series has progressed and the broadcast operation has become more streamlined, I’ve also started taking on some production responsibilities, which can be even more stimulating than the presenting work. It’s a challenge to make sure you ask the right questions in the right way at the right time to prompt the interviewees to give meaningful answers and deep insight..
At every race, we’ve pushed to make the programme better and better. I’m looking forward to the biggest show so far, as the first season heads towards a spectacular double-race climax in London next week. It’s been a privilege to be a part of.
Unwatermarked images courtesy of Alistair Guy and Nicki Shields.