When F1 first went to Valencia in 2008 I was pretty shocked. I went a day early and I walked the track and just saw concrete walls and fencing, with no opportunities to get some of the port-side background in the photos. Even the camera angles for the TV weren’t very good that first year, but my thoughts were that if you get a high position, you were going to get more of the port and the boats in.
So that first year I managed to get on top of the America’s Cup buildings during practice to get a shot of the cars and the port. The photos were good but soon others were doing it and for the race day I wanted something different. I decided to use a bit of initiative and went knocking on the door of all the apartment buildings on the outside of the first corner. I introduced myself as a Formula One photographer and said I wanted to shoot from their terrace at the start of the race, but immediately got a dozen or so “nos” from different apartment owners.
Eventually I knocked on a door and it was answered by a girl wearing a Red Bull t-shirt. Again she explained to me that it was all corporate entertainment and very busy, but at the time we were working for the Red Bulletin (a paddock newspaper printed by Red Bull Racing), so I took a chance to see if that could get me inside. She introduced me to a guy called David who was running the apartment for Red Bull Spain and he said I was more than welcome to come in, but that the place would be packed full with guests on race day.
Sure enough, when I got inside there were people everywhere, with a bar, a barbeque and a DJ all on the terrace. The bit overlooking the track was three people deep so there was no chance of shooting from there, but next to the people was an empty pool overlooking the circuit. Having got as far as I had, I thought I may as well ask if I could take my shoes and socks off and take photos from in there. David had no problem with it, so off came the shoes and socks and I captured a load of photos of the start that nobody else had. In the pool with me were a load of girls in bikinis, but I wasn’t going to complain about that.
It’s three years on now but I’ve been back every time. Each year it’s the same; I get some of the most amazing photos of the start and I do it in a swimming pool surrounded by gorgeous girls in bikinis. It doesn’t get much better than that for an F1 photographer.
So needless to say we enjoy going back to Valencia each year, even if the racing isn’t quite up to the standards of some of the other tracks. For the last two races we’ve stayed at a hotel on the beach and have taken a tender across the water to get to the paddock – a brilliant way to get to work in the morning. On Thursday evening I was on the same boat back as Bruno Senna and Tonio Liuzzi, two drivers Sutton Images has supported through the ranks, and two great guys. I’ve known Tonio since we sponsored him in karting and he won the world championship after beating Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and even Michael Schumacher, who was back especially that year. I still think he’s one of the most under-rated drivers in F1 and he’s still a brilliant guy to chat to. And Bruno I’ve known since the early 1980s when I was doing Ayrton Senna’s PR and photography. Again, he’s another very talented driver and one of the nicest guys on the grid.
Of course the biggest incident of the weekend was Mark Webber’s crash at turn 17, but amazingly there wasn’t a single stills photographer down there. I’d been watching the GP2 race before when Josef Kral had a very similar shunt and it did dawn on me that it might be worth having somebody on that corner. But, sod’s law, we decided against it in the end. I even asked around after the race to try and buy a picture from somebody, but nobody had one.
It might seem strange to fans that there wasn’t a single photographer there, but the truth is that it’s not a great corner to shoot from. Like I said at the start of this column, a lot of the circuit is just concrete walls and catch fencing and turn 17 is a case in point. You can’t get any nice buildings, the sea or the port in the background, so for the most part you get pretty dreary photos. We had four photographers at the race and we put them in positions where they can get the most interesting shots. Maybe if we’d had a fifth he would have been there, but unfortunately we didn’t.
Next up is the British Grand Prix, which should be good fun, but is always a busy race for us and hard work. Last year we held a bit of a party because it was one of my big birthdays and we thought it was going to be the last race at Silverstone. Of course we’re back again this year and we’ve got a brand new section of track added on.
From a photographer’s point of view, I think we’re going to hear a lot of people moaning. I’ve talked to some people who covered the MotoGP and they said the run-off areas are massive and, again, there is more fencing. A lot of the grandstands have been pushed right back and that means we are further away from the action, which is never good for a photographer. Hopefully the new section will allow for some good angles, but we’ve also lost some of the best ones from just before Bridge Corner. We’ll just have to wait and see but, from what I can gather at the moment, we’ll be quite a long way back. Having said all that, Webber’s shunt in Valencia was a reminder of just how dangerous F1 can be and without the run-off areas and fencing being there God knows where the car would have gone.