I’ve said in the past that Istanbul Park is one of my least favourite circuits because it lacks atmosphere and good places to take photos, but this year was an absolute cracker.
One of the main problems has always been the attendance, but this weekend was definitely better. On race day there were about 41,800 people there, which is nearly 6,000 up on last year and it made a big difference. Most the fans were in the cheaper general admission areas on the back straight – which is probably one of the worst places to watch – but they were still having a fantastic time. The grandstands are still a bit too expensive for the locals, but I heard this year they dropped them from €600 to €200. For the most part the crowd was made up of a lot of Russians, some Germans and also some Brits on holiday, it was a good mix overall.
I hope we don’t lose it from the calendar because the drivers love it and it’s quite a flowing track. For them it’s close to the four tracks they like best – Spa Francorchamps, Suzuka, Silverstone and Monza. Turn eight is right up there with Maggots, Becketts and Chapel at Silverstone as a top quality corner sequence, and it really challenges the cars and drivers. It’s an interesting place to watch because you can automatically tell who’s quick and who isn’t by the revs of the engines. One of the new cars will come along and have to drop a gear quite early in the corner, while a Red Bull will go through it with the throttle pinned wide open. With a long lens you can really see the forces working on the cars – it’s just mind blowing.
I spent the whole race at the first corner and was kept very busy with the two Red Bulls and two McLarens battling for position. It was a bit like being a photographer at a cricket match, where you have to follow every ball very closely and if you make a mistake you could miss a crucial moment. I had to be really focused and prepared every time they came towards me, because at one stage it seemed as though a move could happen on every lap. Normally the cars spread out a bit and you don’t have to worry about it so much, but in Turkey it was so close at the front that I had to be ready to shoot all the time.
When the Red Bull drivers went off the whole crowd behind me erupted with noise and the atmosphere went up a couple of notches. A few photographers left the corner to go elsewhere but I decided to stay because I could see that the McLarens were still close and I could tell it wasn’t over yet. Then it happened, they came over the brow of the hill side-by-side and I just started shooting a sequence from the moment they emerged to when Hamilton muscled his way ahead coming out of the corner. I looked around and there was only one other photographer at the corner and I’m not even sure if he got the photos. That’s always good news for a snapper, because it means you’re shots are that little bit more exclusive.
Aside from shooting the action, I was also doing a bit of charity work for The Great Ormand Street Hospital over the weekend. My task was to get a T-shirt and some photos signed by all the drivers so that they can be auctioned off ahead of the British Grand Prix. But a driver’s time is very strictly regimented at a grand prix, and getting simple signature can be quite difficult between all their briefings, press conferences and driving duties.
But with the help of the press officers and by being time in the right place at the right time I managed to get all of them. The only ones I needed a bit of extra help with were the two Ferrari drivers and Michael Schumacher. Ferrari’s photographer Ercole Colombo helped me out with Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, I just told him what I wanted and he took the shirt straight into one of their briefings and came back with two signatures – you can’t ask for any more than that.
As for Michael, I’d given the shirt to him on Thursday morning but he had so many meetings he didn’t have time to sign it. Eventually his trainer got him to do it for me, so by the end of Friday I had all the signatures in place, which was a relief because it meant I could focus on my day job again.
We didn’t have many VIPs in the paddock in Turkey, but one person who did make an appearance was the world’s tallest man. He’s 8 foot 1 inch and we wanted to get a picture of him alongside Bernie Ecclestone – just for comparison’s sake – but unfortunately it didn’t happen. My kids collect the Guinness Book of Records and he’s been in there for some time, so it was a strange experience seeing him in real life. But he was really good and posed for photos with Red Bull and a few of us photographers as well.
We’re heading off to Montreal next, which makes a very welcome return to the calendar after a year out. I’ve heard it’s already sold out, which is great news as the whole town gets behind the event and you get a real carnival atmosphere. As a photographer it’s a fairly good venue because you’ve got plenty of trees to use as a backdrop and even a bit wildlife, with the occasional groundhog going on a suicide mission across the track. It’s fenced off all the way around which doesn’t help, but because we’ve been going there for such a long time we know where to get the best shots. It’s a lovely part of the world and I’m already looking forward to the great seafood, wine and people we meet there every time we go.