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.