Live Timing – Great, Good and Bad

Live timing systems. It’s incredible how useful they can be. Sometimes, however, they can also be very irritating. They might break down, or they simply fail to provide information you want to know. There are a wide variety of systems available for European and International racing, so here is a useful guide to the good – and the bad – of live timing. Unfortunately for fans, we don’t get to choose which system we get, but hopefully this will be helpful to the companies who make the systems, as they strive to provide a better experience in the future. Please note: this article only refers to systems available online.

How close would you like it? P8 to P11 in #f2 FP2 on Twitpic

Features
All live timing systems will show lap times, position, and the gap to the next driver. The following features are not available on all systems, but are commonly available:

  • Sector indicators: Which sector a driver is in/has completed
  • Time indicators: If a driver is on a personal/overall best time
  • Track status: Flag/safety car indicator
  • Weather data: Wet/dry, wind, temperature, etc.
  • Messages: Messages from race control eg: penalties/warnings
  • Driver status: If a driver is on track/in pits/has seen chequered flag etc.
  • Countdown:Time/laps left in the session
  • Speed: Speed trap and/or average speed
  • Fastest lap: During the race, also displays the fastest lap of each driver

Systems

  • FOM: (example) Used by F1, GP2 and GP3. One of the best live timing systems, on the GP2 (and GP3?) websites no registration is needed, and registration for F1 is currently free. It is very interactive, especially on the “weather/speed info” tab which provides wind direction/speed, track and air temperatures, wet/dry indicators, humidity and pressure. It also includes most other features. The live commentary makes up for the lack of race control messages or lap countdown. There is also no indicator of when a driver has passed the chequered flag. Updates in real time.
  • Al Kamel Systems: (example) As used by the World Series by Renault, it is a very similar system to FOM. The driver status indicators are more detailed: each driver has a coloured ‘blob’ next to their name which changes colour. The system also includes a race timetable on a separate tab. Messages from race control are displayed, and the track status is clear. It also displays a driver’s best lap, as well as their current lap time, and it’s easy to see when drivers are within fighting distance of each other (example). There is no weather information. Updates in real time.
  • TSL Timing: (example) Used by the BTCC. Unusually, it does not show sector times. However, there is good use of colour to demonstrate when a driver has set a fastest lap or is in the pits. As well as the most recent lap times, a driver’s best lap is also shown. There are several indicators at the bottom for messages, weather, etc. The speed given is the driver’s average over the race, rather than through the speed trap. Updates every 5 seconds (normal)/30 seconds (mobile).
  • Timeservice.nl: (example) Used by several series and racetracks. It is accessed by downloading a small program to your PC, which I would recommend. Sometimes an online version is available for mobile/tablet viewers. The text size can be altered on the downloadable version. There are no sector times, but there is a clear visual indicator of which sector a driver is in – this also has the pit indicator. Timeservice has a unique ‘countdown’ feature for each driver: when they cross the line, the timer by their name sets itself to their most recent lap time. It counts backwards, changing colour in the final ten seconds. This can be used to guess whether drivers have passed each other in a lap, as it adjusts itself should a driver spin or be overtaken. If they go longer than this, the time changes colour again, eventually displaying a question mark if they fail to reach the line. The system also displays if a driver has gained or lost position with coloured arrows. At the end of the session, this becomes a chequered flag if they cross the line. There is also a session countdown, a message display and track status indicators. It sounds complicated, but this is a really good system once you get used to it! Usually updates in real time.
  • Cronococa: (example coming soon) Used at various events around Europe, though not consistently. This is probably one of the least useful live timing systems. It does have its good points, such as displaying a driver’s speed through the trap. However, sector times are not highlighted to display fast laps, and the black on white colour scheme makes it hard to read. There is no countdown, though the session length and current time are given. If you forget when the session starts then it’s confusing. There are also no weather, track status or driver status indicators, so during qualifying if a driver pits it can become confusing. However, it has been useful during the F2 at Portimao as it displays sector times, so it was easy to judge the status of the battle between Bacheta and Tuscher. If I am honest, this is the system that inspired me to write this article. Updates every few seconds.

Please bear in mind that live timing is not the only thing these companies do. They also provide data for the on-screen graphics, and excellent services to the commentators and teams. Without these guys, it would be impossible for teams, drivers, commentators and stewards to do their jobs. They also retain the data from the races to be viewed on their websites (or on the FIA website in the case of F1). Certainly there are also other live timing systems that I have failed to mention here.
I hope that this short study can be used to make sure live timing continues to be of great assistance to teams and fans alike in the future. Please let me know in the comments or on Twitter about your experience of live timing.

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