Sutton Images Belgian Grand Prix 2010

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‘I was preparing myself to see a big shunt’

Mark Sutton in the Hungaroring paddock © Sutton Images
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We’ve just had back-to-back grands prix and for me the stand-out moments of both were in the press conferences. In Germany we had the Ferrari drivers grilled over team orders and in Hungary there was a real insight into the psychology of the Red Bull pair.

I always find the press conferences fascinating and this week the contrast between the post-qualifying and post-race sessions was remarkable. On Saturday Mark Webber had been comprehensively beaten by team-mate Sebastian Vettel and he was clearly downhearted and had his mind elsewhere.

He kept knocking his nose against the microphone and twiddling his thumbs, he wasn’t his usual self. The stress must have been getting to him because he had been beaten by 0.4 seconds and Hungary was always going to be a vital battle between Vettel and Webber. Just like I said in my column last week, it would have been a psychologist’s dream.

Of course on Sunday Vettel lost out to Webber and his body language was far more exaggerated. He was clearly miserable and at one point sat there with his head in his hands. He was really wearing his heart on his sleeve and it made for great photos. It was also intensely hot in there, uncomfortably so, and that just seemed to heighten his irritation.

Sebastian Vettel puts his head in his hands © Sutton Images
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As Webber was talking about how happy he was with the way the race had panned out, Vettel was squirming in his seat and clearly didn’t want to be there. When the questions came to him he was gesticulating with his hands, trying to make his point, which is something he doesn’t usually feel the need to do. At the time he hadn’t even talked through the incident with his team, and I’m not sure he understood the exact reason for the penalty – he was totally devastated by what had happened over the past two hours.On the podium he just picked up the trophy, held it aloft for a second and then put it back down, all the while with a frown across his face. It was as if third place simply didn’t mean anything to him. He was really throwing his toys out of the pram.

After the press conference, Red Bull delayed its paddock celebration shot by about 20 minutes while the drivers had a debrief. So there was obviously plenty of stuff for them to talk about after the race and maybe a bit of explaining to do to Vettel. When they did come out Vettel took a back seat in all the champagne spraying and was right at the edge of the team photo. But, of course, it was Mark’s day.

Mark Sutton’s sequence of photos at the Hungarian Grand Prix © Sutton Images
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The other major talking point after the race was Michael Schumacher pushing Rubens Barrichello right up against the pit wall. I was down at the first corner for the entire race and decided to stay there because I saw a number of battles developing between Tonio Liuzzi and Sebastien Buemi, Vettel and Fernando Alonso and Schumacher and Barrichello. I thought that one of them was bound to kick off, but I also had to keep an eye on how many laps of the race were left as I was due to take some photos of the podium afterwards. It was with about six to go that Barrichello started to put the pressure on and I decided I had to stay put.Five laps from the end I could see on the big screen that he was preparing to make his move. As they came into view I started firing off the shots and was preparing myself for a big shunt. It’s amazing how close he got to the wall and you can probably get a better idea of the distance from my photos than on TV, because I was positioned head-on.

It was a great sequence of shots and as far as I know nobody else got them. Afterwards someone wrote on my Facebook page that I should have gone to see if there were any tyre marks on the wall but it took so long to run to the podium and then to the press conference that I didn’t have time.

The man in blue © Sutton Images
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So it was more exciting than some of the races we have seen at the Hungaroring in the past, and the on-track action was matched by a good crowd. You get lots of different nationalities there, with people coming from Poland, Scandinavia and a fair few from Britain. We do photos for a Polish Porsche Supercup team and they were getting huge cheers from their fans when they were on the grid. You don’t usually get that for the support races and that goes to show how enthusiastic the people are.I went out into the crowd for some atmosphere shots and it was a real party out there, with goulash and all sorts being sold up on the hill. The grandstands are still quite expensive so a lot of people opt for general admission and sit on the banks around the circuit. Probably the weirdest thing I saw all weekend was a guy in a blue all-in-one Spiderman suit.

It’s a great photo because the rest of the crowd is just looking at him like he’s a nutter and I guess he must have just slipped it out of his bag and put it on over his clothes. There’s things like that going on all the time and it really adds to the atmosphere. It was certainly a big improvement on Germany a week before.

‘I wouldn’t have missed it for the world’

There was only one story in Germany, and photographing the reactions of Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso after the grand prix was priceless.

I shot the start from turn one and then moved over to the final corner half way through the race. I was taking lots of wide-angle shots with the stadium in the background – typical Hockenheim stuff – but then on lap 49 I changed my lens, only to look up and see that they had swapped positions.

I watched the replay on the big screen and saw that the overtaking manoeuvre looked pretty suspect, but because I hadn’t heard the radio transmissions I didn’t know whether he had a reliability problem or if it was something more sinister.

I then headed over to the podium celebrations but didn’t really see anything to give away exactly what had happened. I got back to the press centre and Matthew our technician said it was all kicking off and that Eddie Jordan was going mad on the BBC.

Fernando Alonso feels the strain © Sutton Images

So I went straight over to the press conference, but instead of going in the room I waited outside for the van that transports the drivers from the podium to the media centre. It turned out to be a good idea as it stopped right outside the photographers’ room but remarkably there were no other snappers around. Alonso came out the van first holding his back and said to me, “Oh, god I’m getting old,” which, given the circumstances, seemed like a bizarre comment. But I looked back through my photos in parc ferme and saw that he was also holding his back in those photos too, so he must have been having problems with his seat.

Anyway, Massa and Sebastian Vettel got out the van talking to each other and I followed them into the press room. That’s when it really kicked off – in all my time as a photographer I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

The British journalists led the interrogation and really went for it, presumably because Ferrari has been given so much leniency in the past. They were really shoving the knife in and twisting it hard while they had the chance. Normally the British journalists don’t say much in the press conference because anything they get in there won’t be exclusive, but on this occasion it didn’t matter.

They really had the bit between their teeth and Ian Gordon from the News of the World was trying to bang the drivers to rights. His first question was: “Fernando, you said after Valencia that the race had been manipulated in favour of Lewis. Those words seem a bit hollow now. Where will this victory rank in your career, is it up there with Singapore 2008?” It was really intense stuff.

Sebastian Vettel asks if he can leave the press conference © Sutton Images

You could see Ian was fired up and maybe a bit nervous because his voice was quivering slightly, a little bit like when you talk in front of huge crowd and you can’t quite catch your breath. But I think he just wanted to get the question out, get the anger out of his system, which has probably built up over the years. This was the perfect moment to let loose and all the other journos joined in. It was one after another; Byron Young from the Mirror, Alan Baldwin from Reuters, they were all laying into them. You could just see the headlines running through their minds as they asked the questions.

But it was all so focused on the Ferrari drivers that Vettel eventually leaned over to Alonso’s mike and asked if he could leave. I think he got one question asked to him and then they went back to the other pair. It was very funny to watch.

Alonso was very cool with his answers, I have to admit, but you could see he was also uncomfortable because he kept shifting around in his chair and moving back a bit. It was a psychologist’s dream, if you had one there they would have been able to pick the whole situation apart and probably tell if they were lying about certain things or not. It’s like when a girl flicks her hair, it means she’s either nervous or she likes somebody; there were so many involuntary mannerisms from the two of them and there was a lot you could read into. It’s one of the best press conferences I’ve been to, certainly since the Ayrton Senna days, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Jenson Button wears a T-shirt printed for him by Rubens Barrichello © Sutton Images

But it was also a privilege to be taking photos at something so important. In the Hockenheim press room you can take photos side on, which you can’t do at most circuits because they are in very small rooms, and you get some great shots with very dramatic dark backgrounds. So we had two photographers in there covering it from every angle and we came out with a brilliant sequence.

When it finished we followed them into the paddock – remember at this point they still haven’t had a proper chat with the team or PR people – and they got another grilling from the TV crews. I’m sure they were just asking the same questions and hoping for a different reply or a slip up, it just never stopped. So we were taking photos right up until we had to leave to catch the plane, it was absolutely manic.

The last photo I took was one of my favourites of the weekend and had nothing to do with the Ferrari story. It was a picture of Jenson Button leaving the paddock wearing an “I didn’t beat the Stig” T-shirt that Rubens Barrichello had printed for him. Of course Rubens Barrichello recently set the fastest lap in the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car segment of Top Gear and had all these T-shirts printed for the other drivers who have featured in the show. He also had two for his kids saying: “My Dad beat the Stig”.

The only other thing worth talking about, although it’s a little bit sad, is that Hockenheim has lost its atmosphere recently. I don’t know exactly why, the crowd was still pretty big on race day, but it’s really lost its edge compared to the 1990s and early 2000s when Michael Schumacher was at the peak of his career.

Hockenheim’s atmosphere isn’t what it used to be © Sutton Images

It used to be sensational, with rockets going off and flares going off and of course all the flags for Michael. But it just wasn’t the same last weekend, despite his return. Lots of people still camp there but I suppose it’s a different generation now and the older fans either haven’t come back or have just grown up and stopped drinking so much.

As if to prove the point, nobody ran onto the track immediately after the race like they used to. They’re still allowed to get on the track, it’s a tradition, and they did eventually, but in the 1990s they used to break onto the track on the slowing down lap. I suppose times change.