Less is More – Comparing Formula 1 Opening Titles

One of my passions beyond the edit suite is Formula 1. This weekend was the start of the 2013 season, and the BBC have a new opening title sequence, set as always to the magnificent “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac.

After three years of a pure-CG opening (I assume because they didn’t have the rights to any recent footage) 2012 finally integrated some live-action into a motion graphics project, and thankfully this year the live-action is front and centre.

Here it is (starting at 1:57 after a fairly goofy but fun enough introduction for new host Suzi Perry);

Now here’s my question; When you have one of the most glamorous and exciting sports in the world, do you *really* need to add CG to augment it? If you’re a fan of F1, the footage itself will evoke the drama of the situation from which it was taken. Mansell losing the 1986 championship on the last day of the season with a puncture, for example, is dramatic enough footage as sparks fly and he fights to keep himself from cannoning into a barrier. And last year’s crash at Spa, when Romain Grosjean’s car missed Fernando Alonso’s head by mere inches… The CG didn’t add anything, it just stuck out and take you out of the drama.

Ever since Formula 1 returned to the BBC, I’ve been hoping for a title sequence that captivates me the same way it did when I was a kid. It was never particularly flashy as I remember, the footage just spoke for itself because it was real, the cars were fast and dangerous, and the music fit so completely perfectly with the image that you felt it must have been composed especially for it. There was a particular sequence from (I think) 1994 that I can’t find on YouTube which featured close-up shots of that year’s Williams, with footage projected onto it or intercut with it, which really captured the beauty of the car and the drama of the on-track action.

This year’s effort is much, much better than the last four years of BBC efforts, but you have to admit that basically, they copied Sky’s idea. The thing that Sky did that was smart was to make the opening about the drivers and the heritage of the sport. Their title sequence doesn’t have the greatest ever moments of the sport or the most dramatic crashes but it does have beautiful footage from each decade as the cars and technology gradually improved – and it always comes back to the great drivers. It tells a story through the edit.

Sky F1 opener (2012);

Maybe normal people wouldn’t notice the CG in the BBC version the way I do, but it seems to me that if you can’t make a dramatic sequence out of a sport that every year produces incredible footage, you’re doing something wrong. Let the footage speak for itself, hold shots for longer, engage me with a story that draws on the iconic moments and characters from the sport.

You don’t have to be flashy, you don’t have to spice it up with CG – less is more.

And by the way, it’s an even better sequence if you play “The Chain” under it – use the shot of the start at 11 seconds to sync with the drum coming back in on the track. It works really well!