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Formula 1® Australian Grand Prix, Melbourne 2016

Few events compare to the Formula 1® – the largest motor sport event in the world – and its party atmosphere. Celebrating its 20th year at Melbourne’s Albert Park, this year’s Formula 1® Australian Grand Prix is the first in the FIA Formula One World Championship season. The race in Melbourne is followed by twenty-one Grands Prix, finishing in Abu Dhabi on 27 November 2016.

Now in its 67th year, the championship is recognised by the sport’s governing body, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), as the highest class of competition for openwheel racing cars.

The 5.303 km Albert Park Grand Prix Circuit is built every year partially utilising public road sections around Albert Park Lake, which is a small man-altered lake south of Melbourne’s main business district. In preparation for the event, work starts two months prior to the race – erecting trackside fencing, pedestrian overpasses, grandstands and other motorsport infrastructure. All infrastructure is then removed within six weeks of the final race.

Equipment list:

* 574 Portable Radios
* 4 Desktop radios
* 2 x 12 channel repeater sites
* Mixture of accessories including:
     - P.A. People Turbo Push to Talk adapters for head sets
     - P.A. People custom chest harnesses
     - High Noise headsets
     - Light weight headsets
     - Bone induction headsets
     - 2 wires
     - Hand Mics with earpieces
     - Chargers and spare batteries

Partnerships are Key

One partner company dedicated to the success of the Formula 1® Australian Grand Prix is The P.A. People. Based in Sydney, The P.A. People is among a very select group of event communications specialists world-wide, with experience extending to events such as both summer and winter Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games, Asian Games in Doha Qatar (2006), the Inaugural European Games in Baku (2015) and the iconic Sydney New Year’s Eve celebrations on Sydney Harbour.

“We want to have the best product and the best service, and Motorola Solutions has the best product,”Chris Dodds - Managing Director The P.A. People

The team members at The P.A. People have honed their technical skills and expertise over many years of providing large scale event communications systems and equipment. They understand the rigours of working in a design construct environment and working with other trades and services for a successful outcome.

Their partnerships include some of the most innovative and dynamic companies internationally, ensuring that regardless of the complexity of an event – such as the 2016 Formula 1® Rolex Australian Grand Prix – the right solution is delivered.

One such partner working with The P.A. People is Motorola Solutions, which connects people through technology. Motorola Solutions was selected by The P.A. People for the radio network and two-way radios deployed at the 2016 Formula 1® Rolex Australian Grand Prix. The P.A. People has used Motorola Solutions equipment and solutions for over a decade, due to their high quality. “We want to have the best product and the best service, and Motorola Solutions has the best product,” says Chris Dodds, Managing Director of The P.A. People. 

 

A Complex Design

The project kicks off with the design and implementation plan of the audio and communications system. Despite having provided these services for five successive years, The P.A. People must still ensure that the design works optimally each year. While the track is relatively unchanged from year to year, various activity areas and suppliers change, making it necessary to ensure that the design accommodates any alterations.

As testament to the agility of The P.A. People, in 2016 there was a change of supplier for the V8 stands, which was not evident until set-up had commenced. Team members discovered that their previous speaker brackets were no longer compatible with the new stands, so an alternative solution was quickly implemented to ensure the secure attachment of audio equipment.

In addition to the V8 corporate area, The P.A. People also supply solutions in the Pit Exit building and the Chicane corporate area. And, of course, the sheer size of the area is unchanged, and is one of the main challenges of the project.

Once the required gear is transported to Melbourne, set-up commences just six weeks before the first day of the Event weekend.

At the commencement of the installation of the audio system around the track, the only infrastructure in place is an underground fibre optic network provided by the Australian Grand Prix Corporation.

By race day, The P.A. People had installed approximately 470 speakers over 6km at 20m intervals, using a total of 28kms of cable. Nine stainless steel cabinets, containing amplifiers that receive all audio back to The P.A. People command centre, were installed. Each cabinet required up to 800m of cabling back to the speakers. 

Antennae for the radio contract are erected or attached to high locations for maximum coverage. Site 1 is a 40m pole with antennae at the top and six Motorola SLR5000 repeater bases at the bottom. Site 1 does the entire Event area while a scaffolding tower – site 2 – provides excellent coverage within the pit building. 

Command and Control

The nerve centre of The P.A. People operations is the “bunker”, located in Formula One Management’s command centre. From here the team manages the entire track audio system, the sound system for the International and National Press Conference rooms, and sound amplification over the entire event area.

Confederation of Australian Motor Sport (CAMS) manage the event from their command centre, the race control room (RCR), where race staff view every section of the track via screens to ensure that the event is running smoothly and safely. At set-up, The P.A. People supply and install a video wall for Race Control, install the audio and communications system and then hand over to the CAMS team to monitor the track. Constant footage from over 40 cameras positioned around the track ensures that Race Control can view every section of the race in order to maximise the risk-free running of the event.

Radios and Networks

Prior to the race, the two-way radios operate on the Orion Connect Plus network with the benefit of city-wide coverage. During race week they cut over to a separate Mototrbo IP Site Connect system (the “event radio system”). Changing over to the event radio system enables a tactical network as the network is dedicated to event users. As a result the network can be more responsive and all radios can key up very quickly – critical for such a big event.

The P.A. People deploy a combination of Motorola Solutions portable (DP4600 and DP4800 series) and mobile radios to staff: engineers, race control, sector marshalls, medical staff, recovery and rescue crews, cleaners and fire fighters.

MOTOTRBO was selected by The P.A. People for the Formula 1® Australian Grand Prix for a number of reasons, such as call clarity, security, rugged design, dedicated channels and transmission interruption functionality. In particular, good battery life is important as a trunked radio system places greater demands on battery life, yet long days on-site mean that the radios must operate for long shifts without recharging.

The radio design came to the fore when the Event weekend in 2016 experienced the best that Melbourne’s weather had to offer: extreme heat followed by cold, stormy days. Scott Davidson, senior systems engineer for The P.A. People described it as “first dusty, then wet, then muddy, but the radios stood up to it all”. Arthur Cooksley, senior marshall, is stationed directly underneath an audio speaker around the track, yet reported that “the radio clarity was good and I can hear over all the noise.”

 When setting up and integrating all the radios in the fleet, The P.A. People were able to use Motorola Solutions’ Software Radio Management application to bring all radios online on the network quickly and easily. The application can program up to 16 radios at one time and track which radios have been successfully programmed, providing a clear view of the entire radio fleet and a code plug history for each radio.

 “The radios are rugged and reliable,” says track manager for The P.A. People, Campbell Waller. “We’ve been using these radios all around the world. We first purchased a lot of these radios in 2006, and they are still going today which is a testament to their quality.”

 In determining the correct radio solution for the medical crew, The P.A. People demonstrated its ability to listen to the client’s specific requirements, then design a system that fits their needs. The role of the medical crew is to attend any accidents on the race track and provide first aid to the drivers, so a rapid response with constant access to communication is vital. Their activities must not be encumbered by the equipment they use. The medical crew initially requested mobile radios for each car, however, The P.A. People suggested portable radios, held in place by a chest harness that can be worn under a seatbelt. A headset could then be attached in a way that ensured it did not become an obstacle if a medical officer got out of their car, thereby ensuring continuous radio contact with the RCR.

No Room for Error

The contract for The P.A. People to provide the audio system was seamlessly renewed for a sixth year in 2016, demonstrating the trust placed in the company by the Australian Grand Prix Corporation. The contract involves the provision of audio for public address systems surrounding the almost 6 km course, as well as adjacent areas and facilities.

Screens are located throughout the course, including open areas, stages, corporate and dining areas, providing commentary for attendees. Audio systems are also provided for other activities such as the BMX track, seven music performance areas & stages, autograph stages and Melbourne Walk (where fans have the opportunity to see racing legends as they walk to the Paddock). Appropriate sound level monitoring is necessary to accommodate a range of activities, such as the RAAF Jet and Roulettes, not to mention the noise of the

Formula 1® cars!

For the first time at the Formula 1® Australian Grand Prix, in 2016 a second contract was awarded to The P.A. People for the radio network. This contract entailed taking over from an incumbent supplier of 20 years to provide two MOTOTRBO IP Site Connect sites and more than 500 Motorola Solutions twoway radios with 12 channels. Two-way radios provide critical communications for the duration of the event. For example, medical teams who wait at the side of the track all carry radios. They are also deployed to security staff, engineers, fire fighters, race control, as well as recover and rescue crew, who are on hand to remove damaged cars or debris from the track.

Craig Moca, Manager, Engineering, Australian Grand Prix Corporation, has high praise for The P.A. People: “With the Formula 1® Australian Grand Prix, there are no second chances; it has to run perfectly. The P.A. People know our event and they deliver – every time. The P.A. People’s service is excellent.”

Motorola Solutions’ equipment also impressed Moca, particularly the battery life of Motorola radios. “The big issue in digital radio before was battery life, but these batteries have been lasting a day and a half, which is fantastic, as is the ease of using the handsets” he said. 

Fit-for-Purpose Accessories

Not all headsets are created equal! The P.A. People solutions tailor their headsets to the specific requirements of the environment: lightweight for all-day wearing, heavier for in-vehicle use, noise-cancelling, microphone capability etc. The P.A. People have introduced a standardised connection that connects any one of 10 headsets to the same MOTOTRBO radio, meaning that the ideal headset can be used depending on the wearer’s task, yet they are all still connected to the same radio system.

Similarly, the correct microphones must be matched to the relevant task. Remote Speaker Mics can be used on their own prior to the race, then earpieces and radios added for race days. Dynamic microphones proved to be a wise choice at the Event, as they are tolerant of water, as opposed to electrical microphones, which can be damaged by rain. 

Redundancy a Must

No matter what happens on the day, the race must go on. Therefore, The P.A. People provide uninterrupted power supply (UPS) which ensures that even if the power fails, the race can still go on. Redundancy is assured in the audio system around the track as every other speaker is installed on a second circuit. Therefore if an amplifier fails, only every second speaker is knocked out. 

Technical Support

Once the Formula 1® Australian Grand Prix weekend kicks off, the role of The P.A. People moves to technical support, making sure that everything is operational each morning until the track closes every day of race week. As Campbell Waller describes it, “there is not much to do as the system runs so well”.

Occasionally equipment needs to be repaired where a car hits a wall where equipment has been mounted or installed. For example, the material that prevents excessive light from shining in the drivers’ eyes blew off on day two, taking some of The P.A. People equipment as well, requiring quick repairs.

The Future

The staff at The P.A. People are enthusiastic about the opportunity to expand on their services, particularly in the functionality of the two-way radios, at subsequent Formula 1® Australian Grand Prix events. Proposed initiatives include merging the list of staff names with radio programming for improved asset management of the radios, a radio shack for troubleshooting, and a dedicated channel for The P.A. People on the same two-way radios instead of using a separate radio system, among other enhancements.

Summary

The Formula 1® Australian Grand Prix is an event known for its glamour, excitement and passion – in both the fans and the drivers. It is also an event renowned for a high level of professionalism and superior organisation with no detail overlooked. A part of its success comes down to the high standard of organisations forming the backbone of the event’s infrastructure. With The P.A. People expertise and technical ability, combined with Motorola Solutions high quality equipment, that standard can continue. 

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