A young rookie driver came to Formula One this year and he may change how the world sees the sport. It has nothing to do with his driving. He has a helmet cam.
One reason why Formula One doesn't have the glamor it had in the past is that it doesn't look as dramatic as it used to. Thanks to high downforce, cars don't slide as much as they did in the '50s, '60s and '70s, so it doesn't look like the drivers are really thrashing their cars at the limit of their abilities. Thanks to safety advances, the drivers are tucked out of sight in carbon fiber cells. In the 1950s, drivers would lean halfway out of their cars in the turns, but today you can really only see their helmets and gloves sticking out.
Onboard cameras add a huge amount of dimension to the sport, making passes look so much closer and the corners so much faster. Take a look at when Fernando Alonso passed Lewis Hamilton yesterday in Montreal. It's the onboard view that lets you see how the two came within inches of hitting each other.
That said, none of the current onboards look anywhere near as dramatic, or make you feel anywhere near as connected to the action as Valteri Bottas' helmet cam. The Finnish driver just started his first season in F1 this year for the very underperforming Williams team. His finishing record isn't great (though he grabbed an amazing third place in wet qualifying for the Canadian GP), but his onboard views are quickly becoming the best part of a race.
Bottas isn't the first F1 driver to use a helmet cam. Test driver Luca De Grassi stuck a camera over one of his eyes and recorded two videos lapping circuits in a Pirelli test car. Lewis Hamilton also used a helmet cam in practice for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone last year. It was amazing.
Formula One has tried a number of tricks to made its racing more exciting in the past few years. 'Push to Pass' DRS wings and self-destructing Pirelli tires have added tons of passing and drama to the races, but the views we see on TV are straightforward and detached from the action.
Bottas' helmet cam is engaging like nothing else in the sport right now. Even this awful cell phone video of a television is fantastic, letting you feel just what it would be like to be on the starting grid of a race.
Only hardcore F1 fans watch qualifying, but you might be convinced to check it out if you could watch from the driver's seat.
If F1 wants to grow, it would be wise to give helmet cameras to the fastest drivers on the field.