Aussie Rules

What a great weekend, Monaco never disappoints.

The man of the moment was most definitely Mark Webber and the celebrations on the Red Bull Energy Station rounded the whole weekend off brilliantly. I arrived there quite early, knowing that something would happen because they have a history of celebrating in style ever since Christian Horner jumped into the pool there wearing nothing but a Superman cape in 2006. I wasn’t disappointed, and before the drivers arrived there was a whole bunch of people applauding all the team members one by one as they came out on the decking, it was almost like a hall of fame or red carpet event.

So it was building up nicely and it wasn’t long before 60 or 70 people had crowded around the pool, just waiting for the drivers to arrive. But the team must have got impatient with all that hanging around because they started throwing themselves in the pool and pretty soon half of them were soaking wet. When the drivers did arrive Sebastian Vettel was pushed in almost immediately while Mark stood back as if to say “This is my day and I’m going to jump in the pool in my own time”. He took his boots off, which seemed a bit bizarre to me, and then did a perfect backflip into the water to the cheers of everybody watching. Ideally I would have had my underwater camera with me so I could have got a shot of Mark with the trophy from below the surface – that would have been the perfect picture but maybe next time.

The whole weekend belonged to Mark and it was great to share a bit of that. In Parc Ferme he spotted me and gave me the thumbs up and then when he came through the media centre to go to the press conference he gave me a high five with a massive great slap on my hand. It was a great moment and one that I won’t forget for a while.

In the end we got some great celebration shots, which is important in Monaco because the podium is always in the shade and the photos don’t always pop out at you as much as you’d like. The only exciting bit of the ceremony is when they spray the champagne over the mechanics and my brother Keith was there with them to cover the action. So a lot of people got soaked with champagne and a lot of people got soaked in the pool – you could say we still had a wet weekend despite there being no rain.

But Monaco is always special whatever the weather and I think we did a good job at catching the action this weekend. After the race a guy came up to me and asked if I wanted pictures from the crash. My initial reaction was “what crash?” I’d seen the Rubens Barrichello one at Massenet but I had no idea what had happened between Jarno Trulli and Karun Chandhok. Anyway, we ended up bartering with this guy at the bar because Keith had a bit of cash on him and we eventually came to a deal. As a photo agency you feel you should cover every angle and in the end we negotiated a fair price so that he was happy and we were happy – I think Keith’s words to him were “take your girlfriend out for nice dinner on the town”. A lot of the fans that go to the race – that aren’t VIPs or Monegasques – are on a tight budget so I’m sure it helped a bit.

There were a lot of celebrities there over the weekend and as usual I was working on the grid before the race. Monaco is so much more difficult than anywhere else because it’s so packed full of people that you barely have enough space to breathe, let alone take photos. I decided to start at the back of the grid with Hispania and work forward, and as I did I couldn’t help but bump into celebs. Almost immediately I came across Naomi Campbell and then just a little further down there was Michael Douglas with Lewis Hamilton. There was one guy with Lewis who I didn’t recognise but just started snapping anyway – I later found out it was the movie star Chris Tucker. Then there was Mick Jagger, the Sugerbabes and Richard Branson, I just kept bumping into people and they were all willing to pose for photos. But don’t be fooled, it was hard work down there.

Overall it was a great atmosphere and the weekend was only slightly tainted by the news that our flight home had been cancelled (again) due to the ash cloud. So for the second race this season we had to find another route back and in the end we went by car, boat and taxi, making very good time along the way. I just hope talking about cancelled flights doesn’t become a regular feature in this column this season.

R.I.P. La Rascasse

Since we got to Barcelona last week for the Spanish Grand Prix things just haven’t stopped. We’re already in Monaco, scouting the circuit and watching the barriers go up – but more on that later.

Fortunately last Sunday’s race wasn’t as dull as it could’ve been and we saw an exciting battle between Michael Schumacher and Jenson Button over a number of laps. I had a good view because I was shooting down from the top hairpin (turn 5), where you can see the first corner and take photos of both parts of the track. I thought that with the F-duct Button might have the top-speed advantage to get past, but Michael just kept blocking the inside line every lap.

It was great to watch and the crowd were going crazy for it all around me. I love getting near the general admission areas because that is where you find the real fans. Most the people in the grandstands are there as part of corporate hospitality and you don’t get the same atmosphere. When Fernando Alonso moved up to second the crowd went crazy and I stayed up there to get photos of them after the race rather than going back for the podium ceremony. It brought across the real passion for grand prix racing in Europe, something you don’t always find at the fly-away events.

However, the first European paddock of the season felt a little bit subdued. I think it was because we’ve got back-to-back races and a lot of sponsors and celebrities are keener to go to Monaco than Spain, for obvious reasons. King Juan Carlos wasn’t there either because he’d had an operation, so you didn’t have the same buzz around the place that you usually get. There were a couple of Barcelona football players milling around, but nowhere near the celeb count we’ll get in Monte Carlo.

On Thursdays the fans are allowed into the pit lane for the autograph signings, and that was actually one of the most interesting parts of the weekend. Each garage had die-hard fans outside but the biggest crowd, as you would expect, was in front of Ferrari for Alonso. Jenson Button had a small group of British admirers – who called themselves the Barmy Army – and one of the girls had clearly had a few too many drinks and was getting a bit over excited. When Sebastian Vettel came along she started yelling: “I remember you from Silverstone, on the stage, and I was cheering you and you looked at me.” What’s more she put on this German-style hat to try and tempt him over. I’d have understood if Vettel had just ignored her but instead he jumped over the barrier and gave her a kiss, it was very brave.

In that kind of situation, Sebastian is brilliant, so laid back and so chilled out about it all. He’s a real gentleman and he will go and speak to people properly, which is brilliant to see. If he’s egged on he’ll go and do something and the fans love that.

But at the other end of the scale there is Fernando Alonso. Obviously he was in huge demand as it was his home grand prix, but instead of meeting the fans he just gave a cursory wave from his garage at about 6.00 pm and left. Understandably the fans were a bit pissed off because some of them had been waiting there for several hours. A few of them actually put their thumbs down and that’s not good to see.

The only explanation I can think of is that Alonso didn’t come out for safety reasons because it was such a big ans passionate crowd. But even if that was the case, the organisers should have found a way to get around it. Maybe they could have put him on a stage and created a queue to see him, because the way they handled it was really disrespectful to the fans in my opinion.

Meanwhile, you’ve got Sebastian out there doing his bit. I know Alonso has two titles but I think Vettel will always be that way, even after he’s been a bit more successful – it’s just in his nature. I remember when he was in Formula BMW and we were sponsoring him; he would always come up and smile and say hello, that’s just the way he is. He connects with the fans and they love it – Germans, Spaniards, Brits, he’s popular everywhere.

Anyway, now we’re in Monaco and it’s a completely different atmosphere. The motorhomes are going up and we are seeing some of them for the first time this season. Mercedes’ new one looks impressive; it’s a bit of a square block but the finish on it looks incredible. They’ve gone into competition with McLaren a bit, but they’ve found their own design and it looks really smart. Red Bull’s Energy Station is still the biggest in the paddock and I’ve been told it has just been floated in on a big raft from Italy. The construction is so big that it doesn’t fit in the normal paddock and they have to have it sat out in the harbour with all the yachts.

But there’s also a huge disappointment here this year. La Rascasse – my favourite corner to shoot from – has got fencing up on the inside, which means we can’t get photos there anymore – disaster. I can’t understand why they’ve done it because the cars are going away from you when you stand there and it’s really quite a safe part of the track.

That corner has been there in some shape or form since motor racing first started at Monaco and you can see photos from there dating back through the years. But now it’s been fenced off and, unless they cut a gap in it, we’ll lose one of the only chances to get really close to the cars. Monaco is usually so special but it’s becoming more sanitised now and more like the new tracks we go to. With every new fence that goes up we lose a little bit of scope for creativity, it’s a real shame.

On the plus side we’ve found a couple of new angles to shoot from but I can’t tell you where they are because we are keeping them top secret. Keep an eye on the photos coming through over the weekend to see if you can spot them. They should be great.

Keith Sutton – Thirty Years of Covering Grands Prix

Keith Sutton, the founder and Managing Director of Sutton Images, is today celebrating a personal milestone. Keith attended his first Grand Prix as a photographer 30 years ago at the Zolder circuit in Belgium, and he traces the origins of his company directly to that event, won on May 4 1980 by Ligier driver Didier Pironi.

“It all happened because of a National Union of Journalists strike,” Keith recalls. “At the time my good friend Mike Doodson was Sports Editor of Motor magazine, Britain’s top-selling car weekly, and to cover the Grand Prix he would normally have taken a staff photographer with him to Belgium. Fortunately for me, an industrial dispute had been called. The staff man was a union member, but Mike wasn’t, and neither was I, so I got the job. It was a great opportunity and an eye-opening event for me.”

At the age of 20, Keith was working as a photographer’s assistant in a Manchester studio. He had started attending races at Oulton Park, selling black-and-white prints to competitors at 50p each. “One of my shots was of an Alfasud, which had been tipped on to two wheels, driven by Rex Greenslade, who was then the Road Test editor at Motor.

“It was through Rex that I met Mike, who had completed his training as a chartered accountant in Manchester. We had lots of things in common besides our origins in the Northwest, and we have been close friends ever since. Even so, I sometimes wonder how I would have got started as a professional motor racing photographer if it hadn’t been for that union dispute and Mike’s invitation to me all those years ago.

“Turning up in Zolder for my first Grand Prix with an F1 credential was an experience I will never forget. Meeting and talking with the experienced F1 photographers with their IRPA (International Racing Press Association) armbands encouraged me to work hard and fulfill my ambition to become a full-time F1 photographer.”

In the intervening 30 years Keith has covered over 400 Grands Prix. Supported by his brother Mark and all the Sutton Images staff, the company has grown to become the World’s Largest Independent Motorsport Photographic Agency, with an unrivalled reputation within the industry and a globally renowned archive stretching back to the 1960’s. Over 4 million images chart the history of the sport with in excess of 650,000 images now available for download from its pioneering Picture Desk website http://www.sutton-images.com

With the 2010 F1 season now in full swing and continuing its 60th anniversary celebrations Keith Sutton looks forward to further successes for Sutton Images into the 21st century.