For a few moments on on October 22, any cryptozoology nuts who happened to be watching the United States Grand Prix might have felt gloriously validated in their oft-maligned beliefs. Because during those split seconds, the cameras seemed to confirm the existence of an animal that's long been rumored to soar through the skies above America: the Cessna-sized bird of prey commonly known as the "Thunderbird."
As the cameras watched the cars ripping through Turn 1 during lap 48 of the race, the shadow of a bird of prey—which vaguely resembled a giant vulture, albeit one with a clear shadow almost twice the size of an F1 car—passed over the track, roughly keeping pace the with fast-moving racers below.
Caution: The video below may be considered NSFW by some people, due to hilarious profanity.
The British bloke who shot the above video was hardly the only person to notice the ginormous bird shadow at the U.S. GP. Twitter and Reddit were filled with accounts of people catching a glimpse of the remarkable sight.
Then—while it might be hard to believe it, considering we're talking about a real-life Thunderbird flying over one of the most-watched sports events on the planet—things got even weirder. On October 23rd, the official Formula 1 Twitter account posted a copy of the clip, with a caption that read in part, "Who spotted our virtual friend flying over @COTA on Sunday?"
Yup. Formula 1 apparently CGI'd in a giant bird shadow just to mess with viewers.
Like many sports broadcasts, F1 is no stranger to using computers to tweak the outgoing feed—but it's usually reserved for adding details like advertiser logos or supplementary information. (If this seems shady to you, just think about how much more confusing the NFL would be without those line of scrimmage and first down projections.) But using this technology to add in computer-generated raptors seems...well, odd, to say the least.
So far as The Drive can ascertain, no one from Formula 1 has offered an explanation as to where the idea came from, or why they chose to prank the viewing audience by suggesting the U.S. Grand Prix was being overflown by a bird large enough to scoop up Felipe Massa with one foot. (We've reached out to the FIA for more information; we'll let you know if they respond.)
Perhaps the best explanation, then, also comes from Reddit.