Lights, cameras, action

Singapore is a unique event for photographers © Sutton Images

It was a great weekend but a very long one. I’m sure you’ve read that the F1 paddock stays on European time over the weekend, which is a pretty big challenge in itself, but we went one step further and decided to jump between the two.

I arrived on Wednesday morning and immediately had to acclimatise to +8 GMT as my brother Keith and I were doing a couple of seminars about the agency and its work with Canon. We did countless interviews and it was a bit like being driver, where you have to tell the same story over and over again. So I was knackered even before the action started on Friday and I then had to switch back to European time to fit in with the rest of the paddock.

But because it’s a night race, Singapore is always special and the selection of photos is unique. On Friday you can get some brilliant shots in the first session as the sun goes down but it means you have to be on your game right away. However, my most spectacular shot came at the end of the race when Heikki Kovalainen’s Lotus burst into flames just 50 metres in front of me.

Mark Sutton’s sequence of shots shows the Williams crew getting involved © Sutton Images

I was doing the chequered-flag shot on the outside of the circuit and at the time I was just trying to get my angle lined up to avoid getting blocked by other photographers. You have to get your head through a gap in the fencing, which makes it very difficult to shoot so it’s worth a couple of practice shots. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the flaming Lotus on the big screen and immediately prepared to focus on that.As he came down the pit straight the fire got worse and he eventually stopped across the track from me. It was one of the easiest photos I have taken all season but without doubt one of the most dramatic. It was like a dream come true, I couldn’t have been in a better place.

The fire just got bigger and bigger, which is something we rarely see in Formula One nowadays. We’ve had a few pit fires in recent years, and of course Jos Verstappen’s fireball at Hockenheim in 1994, but I haven’t taken a shot of a car on fire like that since the 1990s, if memory serves. One photo that sticks in the mind was of Gerhard Berger in a Ferrari, again at Hockenheim, when he came down the pit straight with a massive flame coming out the back.

The Lotus fire was reminiscent of Gerhard Berger’s in 1995 © Sutton Images

The Singapore fire certainly matched that and made for a great sequence of photos. But it also brought home how dangerous this sport can be, especially as there was a bit of a misunderstanding among the marshals and they were very slow to act.On the TV it looked like Kovalainen put the flames out himself, but in fact it was a guy from Williams who did most of the hard work with a giant hydrant the team has kept since the refuelling days. It was very brave of Heikki to try and put it out, but the real hero is a chap called Nigel – a huge guy with lots of tattoos who I know from his Super Aguri days. He used to work on the fuel hose during pit stops so he’s no stranger to that kind of action.

It’s lucky that he acted so quickly because there was no way Kovalainen’s extinguisher was going to do the job on its own. In the photo you can see the hose poking through the fence just before it popped and sprayed the car down.

Keith Sutton’s view of the action © Sutton Images

I was talking to one guy from Williams who told me how dangerous some of the materials on an F1 car can be when they catch fire. He said they become very potent the more they burn and certain bits can get so hot that they would burn through your skin and into your bones. There are also gases that are lethal over certain temperatures and Williams takes an antidote to each race just in case someone inhales it. It’s a real eye-opener and something that we need to consider in the future when looking at the quality and availability of fire marshals at certain circuits.I saw Heikki later that evening and told him that I’d got the full sequence of photos. He said he was fine but admitted he was pretty scared at the time. My brother Keith also down there on the pit wall and he managed to get some close up shots through the fence. To be honest he probably got in the way a bit, but he assured me that it was very, very hot down there and he also admitted to being bit scared about it blowing up.

So it was a long race, but the work doesn’t stop for us at the chequered flag. I got a tip from our UK office to go to Parc Ferme and check Mark Webber’s front tyre, which had almost come off the rim. When I got down there I saw the McLaren engineers Jonathan Neale and Phil Prew taking a look at it and checking the legality with the FIA… I suppose the work never stops for them either.

Jonathan Neale and Phil Prew take a closer look at the Red Bull © Sutton Images

After that I wondered down to the McLaren garage and saw a number of engineers and mechanics looking at the back of Lewis Hamilton’s car where the suspension had cracked due to the contact with Webber. As a photographer you have to stay on the ball in those situations, and be prepared to capture images right up until the moment you leave the track because they all tell a story.When I was finally off duty I went to the Amber Lounge late in the evening to check out the post-race celebrations. It was a great evening and Fernando Alonso was there celebrating with the Ferrari guys and quite a few other drivers. There was a brilliant moment when they put a special song on and Alonso got on one of the chairs and started spraying champagne around the room. He was on very good form and it was great to see a driver relax a bit. He wasn’t drunk or anything like that, he was just enjoying himself, and who can blame him after a performance like that. Unfortunately I didn’t have a camera in there but it makes for a good story.


A little bit of history repeating

Two shots of Lotuses at the Parabolica taken 47 years apart © Sutton Images

The sense of history at Monza is very special and anybody visiting for the first time will get swept up in the atmosphere and the old banking now lies dormant.

On Friday afternoon I went to Parabolica – a corner virtually unchanged from the original layout – and was hit by a sense of nostalgia and déjà vu. Someone had cut some holes in the catch fencing where I’d never been able to shoot before and instantly the angle reminded me of some pictures we have in our archive from the 1960s. We’ve got an iconic shot of Jim Clark winning back in 1963 and it was shot from that exact point by David Phipps.

So I sat there waiting for a Lotus to come past and tried to recreate the image 47 years later. In my picture there is a grandstand in the background but the corner itself is virtually unchanged. It’s quite amazing. It seemed a bit strange to me because it’s the first time I’ve been able to shoot that angle and I’ve no idea why there was a hole there this time round. To be honest it’s a nothing picture compared to some of the others we take at Monza, but for comparison’s sake it is worth a shot.

Parabolica is such a brilliant and challenging corner, even in modern F1 cars, and the shots from the tower over the apex of the corner have always been a favourite. They’ve actually strengthened that tower recently so hopefully it will have another couple of decades use in it and again we can get the comparison shots down the years.

Standing there you can tell which drivers are pushing and which drivers aren’t, and the lack of downforce on the slower cars is actually visible as they squirm around. It’s slightly banked so the drivers can enter it on opposite lock and get away with it, it’s an amazing corner to stand at and watch. It’s fully recommended.

Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa celebrate with the Tifosi © Sutton Images

On Sunday the Ferrari pole position brought the crowd in, but I was wondering after qualifying whether that would be the case. When you look back over the years the tribunes always used to be packed on a Saturday, but qualifying isn’t full anymore. It seems as though they don’t like to go if there is not going to be a Ferrari win.As things turned out they were treated to a brilliant Ferrari victory and, as always, a fantastic podium celebration. But to let you in on a little secret, getting that big red Ferrari flag on the track is all planned and rehearsed beforehand. They let the people with the flag in the gate early and then they can get on the finish line before anybody else. I think it must be a friend of a friend who lets them in, because they are all waiting at the right gate to get on the track first. But it’s no bad thing as it means that that flag is always on pole!

It makes for good photos but the ultimate vantage point would be on the podium looking down. It’s difficult to show that many people unless you are really high up but you can still convey a sense of the atmosphere. The podium is a real one off; no other track has put the podium over the track like that and it creates a real buzz for both the drivers and the fans.

Mark Sutton’s photo came second in a Bridgestone competition © Sutton Images

I also had a bit of an ego boost over the weekend when I came second in a photo competition run by Bridgestone, who are leaving F1 at the end of the year. They decided to have a competition to celebrate the last 14 years of Formula One and they picked out their top three photos from that period. I submitted a podium shot of Michael Shumacher and Mika Hakkinen with the Bridgestone caps on from 1999, which was just a nice, smiley picture. There were a lot of artistic photos from recent years but I think they wanted something from the archive and something quite simple and straightforward.Another bit of nostalgia came after the race when Fernando Alonso left the media pen, where they do the interviews, and was immediately swarmed by bodyguards. I was hoping to get a photo, but I wasn’t about to get involved in the bun fight with Ferrari guys and police, so I just popped my camera in the scrum and shouted Fernando’s name. He couldn’t see where I was but he still gave the thumbs up and it actually made a perfect picture. Meanwhile all the other snappers were running backwards and falling over themselves, probably with one good shot between the lot of them.

Security guards protect Fernando Alonso at Monza and Nigel Mansell in Mexico © Sutton Images

Anyway, it reminded me of a photo I took of Nigel Mansell in Mexico in 1992. It was a similar situation, he was surrounded by security and bodyguards linking arms, and I just popped my camera between the bodies and fired away. It’s only when I got that one developed that I saw that one of the guards had his hand on his gun.Next up is Singapore which is a track that we really enjoy. It’s a beautiful circuit with loads of interesting backgrounds and then of course the night factor. It’s nice that some of the practice sessions take place at dusk so we can get some pictures in the daylight as well, with the skyline in the background.

The last two years we’ve had dry weekends – touch wood – but it is the rainy season out there at the moment and it’s only a matter of time until a thunder storm coincides with one of the sessions. Wet weather would present a whole new challenge for both the drivers and us, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens.

But for shooting at night we’ve now got the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV cameras and they will help a lot because they work remarkably well in low-light conditions. We didn’t have them last year and the ability to shoot at higher ISO levels means we can get much brighter photos and you will be able to notice the difference compared to last year.

Mark Sutton is expecting even better photos from Singapore in 2010 © Sutton Images

The other thing we have to do over there is stay on European time, which means we have to stay up late and sleep through the morning. The problem is finding meals and knowing where to go but we’re heading there with a bit more experience this time and we know a few places that will stay open.We’re also working for the organisers and will have a big seminar and exhibition on display so that’s something to look forward to. Add to that the parties and music concerts they have each year and it should be a great weekend. Bring it on.

Keith Sutton On The Images Of Formula One

From the February, 2009 issue of European Car
By Kerry Morse
Keith Sutton Photography Keith Sutton With Camera

Motorsport is all about the image. Whether televised or a still, it’s what we remember, that split second when it all comes together. Formula One offers plenty of drama for a photographer in motorsport. UK-based Sutton Motorsport Images is the largest independent supplier of motorsport shots throughout the world. Keith Sutton is at its center.

ec: What was the first race you attended with a camera? And at which point did you decide to turn pro?

KS: My first event was a small national racing fixture held at my local circuit, Oulton Park, in the northwest of England. I was 17 and legally too young to shoot, but was given the chance by the circuit manager Rex Foster, a good friend of my father, Maurice. At that moment, I knew I wanted to become a professional motorsport photographer and set about writing to all the circuit managers, asking for permission to shoot.

ec: It’s difficult to get any kind of credential from the FIA these days, how did you introduce yourself to the establishment when you started out? What was the scene for a young race photographer back then?

KS: Although it was, to some extent, easier when I started out, it was by no means easy to gain a pass. To get accreditation for national events, you had to work for a publication, which could be your local newspaper. Mine was Cheadle Today. Despite the paper not having a motorsport correspondent before, I was fortunate that the editor was keen to help out a local lad and he wrote a letter, stating me as their official motorsport photographer.

My first proper accreditation came through a chance association with Rex Greenslade, a touring car driver who happened to like some shots I took of him on two wheels through Lodge at Donington Park. He explained that they could be published in his magazine. He was also the sports editor of Motor magazine. This led to work with the publication and I went on to strike a great relationship with his successor, Mike Doodson.

Keith Sutton Photography On Pit Lane

In 1980, Mike produced a covering letter, allowing me access to the national circuits. Back then it was IRPA (International Racing Press Association) and its leader Bernard Cahier who managed the distribution of F1 media passes–not the FIA. With that letter, I was able to cover the Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder. I also covered the British and Dutch GP that year.

In the early ’80s, you had to cover 20 races in three years to get a permanent IRPA armband, which I attained in 1985 after years of covering grand prix where I could fit in between national racing and the European Formula Two Championship. Coincidentally, it was then that IRPA ended and the FIA took over in the distribution of passes.

ec: Did you start out in the junior ranks of UK motorsport, BTCC, Formula Ford, etc? Or did you try and cover everything, including F1?

KS: Yes, I concentrated on European F2, British F3, BTCC, Formula Ford and 2000 and 1600 until 1985, when my brother Mark and I formed Sutton Photographic. In 1986, I attended all the F1 races and the events abroad, and Mark concentrated on national racing. To this day, we still cover a wealth of formulae other than Formula One.

Keith Sutton Photography At Restaurant

ec: Your friendship with Ayrton Senna was well known. How did you become friends and was there something even in FF that made him stand out?

KS: I first met Ayrton at Brands Hatch in March 1981. I had taken lots of photos of him at the opening Formula Ford race at Thruxton, as I was working for a Brazilian magazine that wanted images of Brazilian drivers racing in England. I was shy back then, so never introduced myself. But at Brands Hatch, Ayrton approached me and enquired if I was a professional photographer. When I said I was, he said he needed photos of him racing sent to Brazil on a regular basis. On that day, he won his first race and I got some great photos of him celebrating on the podium late in the evening. From then on, I continued working with him, taking photographs, writing his press releases, answering his fan mail and handling his PR work for three years.

Keith Sutton Photography Close Up 1 Senna

In the early days, we had both a professional relationship and a personal friendship. I would often stay at the house he shared with fellow Brazilian driver Mauricio Gugelmin and talk about music, movies, cars, women and Brazil. In return, he would stay at my house when he raced at Oulton Park. I celebrated with him when he won his junior formulae championships and he invited me to Brazil for his first F1 race, paying for the airfare and the hotel.

He was very professional and focused from the outset, and knew exactly what he had to do to make it into F1. Fundamentally though, it was his undoubted talent that made him stand out. He was on the pace instantly in pretty much anything he sat in.

ec: Senna seemed ahead of the game early on, how did those early press releases start up? It was rare to see one about a driver at the top, let alone the first step of the ladder.

Keith Sutton Photography Champions Champagne Popping Senna

KS: Ayrton was acutely aware of the importance of self-promotion. He was keen to have his PR in English, as he figured that to gain the attention of those that count–the F1 team owners and managers–the majority would be English-speaking. He asked me to write them.

We would send these releases to all the F1 team managers and 30 international motorsport magazines to keep them informed of how Senna was performing. He also had them translated and sent to Brazil, as it was important for his Brazilian sponsors and their media to be aware of his rising fortunes.

It was from these releases that I began receiving phone calls from Bernie Ecclestone, Peter Warr and Frank Williams enquiring about this young Brazilian. To be honest, I was too young and inexperienced to know how to handle them, so I passed them onto Ayrton. But it was clear the releases had achieved the desired result.

ec: F1 used to move along at slow pace where even a two- or three-year-old car could still win races. When did you see the pace develop and who would you credit?

KS: I disagree. Certainly there have been cars like the Lotus 72 or the McLaren M23 in the ’70s that raced with great success for many seasons. But it’s wrong to think the cars remained unchanged from season to season, or even race to race. Formula One has always been about relentless development–the drive to provide the most powerful engine or the most efficient aerodynamic package. The McLaren M23 Denny Hulme debuted in 1973 was a very different beast under the skin from the one Hunt and Mass drove in 1977. Going back through our archive from the late David Phipps, it’s clear that developments in the 1960s and 1970s were brought on-stream with as much, if not more, regularity than now. Look at Lotus’ four-wheel-drive car of the late ’60s or their turbine car of 1971, Tyrrell’s six-wheeled car from 1976, the tall wings from the late ’60s developed almost from session to session, experiments with brakes, suspensions, fuel tanks and so on. There was greater freedom within the rules then to be radical, so new ideas were tried more frequently, something I think is sadly missing in F1 now.

ec: How did you view the turbo era of F1? Which team and driver made the most impression on you?

Keith Sutton Photography Hitching A Ride

KS: The turbo era coincided with my burgeoning exploits in becoming a professional photographer, so I look back at that era with fond memories. Personally, it was a tale of working hard to establish myself in the F1 paddock, making personal and financial sacrifices to work my way up the ladder. For instance, I remember hitching a ride in the back of a McLaren truck from England to Monza for the Italian GP, as air travel was still expensive, especially for a young lad from Manchester.

I also see the turbo era as a time of great fun. The paddock was a more relaxed place and the things we used to get up to with fellow photographers, journalists, team members and drivers–most of it is unrepeatable. There were fewer demands on us then. I used to joke that, at some races, I was on the beach within 30 minutes of qualifying ending.

We were also lucky to have a group of truly exceptional drivers–Senna, Prost, Mansell, Piquet, Rosberg, and so on–who were using their talents to drive increasingly powerful cars, far more so than we have now and likely to ever have again. It made for great racing and great opportunities for photography.

ec: The F1 establishment seemed to change in the mid ’90s, with a more managed and staged event. F1 has drowned out many other championships with its self-importance and coverage is difficult to come by. Do you see this continuing? Can sports cars make a return to the front page–other than Le Mans?

Keith Sutton Photography Cool Shot

KS: Our company will always be indebted to sports car racing, thanks to an introduction by John Brooks to Castrol in 1989, which led to us working for Jaguar, Toyota and Dunlop in the World Sports Car Championship through to its demise in 1991. The relationship with Castrol we forged in those years led to us securing our first F1 team contract with Castrol and Lotus in 1992.

Le Mans is a wonderful event, with an atmosphere unique in motorsport, but it remains the only sports car event familiar to the general public. But this `problem’ is true in many other sports. Take cycling. Ask the general public to name a cycling race and they’ll nearly all say the Tour de France, and struggle to name another, despite great races throughout the year. It’s the same with sports car racing. It has many great events, a great championship and a legion of dedicated followers, but it suffers, and is always likely to, from the `one great event’ syndrome.

With the internet and multi-channel TV, sports car racing has the chance to offer its product to a far wider audience than it ever could in its `glory’ days of the ’60s through to the ’80s. And while I don’t think it could ever compete with F1, it has the opportunity to claim the prize of the second most followed motorsport.

ec: Many ex-F1 people have lamented changes in the circuits. Although these have been done in the name of safety, they must have an effect on how you cover a race. How have you dealt with this?

KS: It’s true that the freedom to shoot from anywhere on the circuit was diminishing in my time compared to the ’60s and ’70s, and has continued. Our biggest problem now is that the newer circuits have run-off areas so vast that even with our biggest lenses we’re struggling to capture a full-in-the-frame image. We’re also more restricted with the number of red zones (forbidden areas) increasing year on year. Long gone are the days of standing on the outside of Tarzan on the first lap and crossing over to the inside for lap two. Because fences effectively line the circuits, we are restricted to shooting in designated areas where holes have been cut for us. That’s a massive restriction in opportunities to be creative and shoot something different from our competitors.

We have to accept some shots are not possible because we cannot stand in the `dangerous’ positions we once could. On the other hand, advances in cameras and lens technology mean we can zoom in further, closer, and shoot cars at a higher speed than was possible 20 to 30 years ago. It’s a case of doing the best you can with what is available.

We still have circuits, like Monaco, that retain most of the wonderful chances to shoot as close up as we used to. This year, we’re visiting the street circuits of Valencia and the night race in Singapore, which will hopefully provide some pleasing photo opportunities as opposed to many of the bland modern circuit constructions.

One of my biggest laments is shooting in the pit lane. When I started, we had near-free access and for every car there would be only a handful of mechanics around it. The driver would often be out in the pit lane, sitting on the car, chatting in full view of a handful of photographers around him. Now we have 50 to 60 photographers clamoring behind a barrier in front of a garage to shoot a driver who is hidden at the back. Frankly, it doesn’t make for inspiring photography.

ec: How many photographers do you have at any given F1 race ?

KS: Typically we will use four to five photographers and a technician, whose job it is to select and edit digital images. At any session other than the race itself, we will have two photographers in the pits and the rest out on the circuit. We plan our positions before the event to ensure that all angles are covered over the weekend.

ec: No doubt many of our readers will want to know what gear you use.

KS: The company has traditionally used Canon. We currently have a mixture of Canon 1D Mk IIIs, 1D Mk IIs and Mk IINs. We were one of the first to embrace digital technology and stopped shooting on film in 2005. Naturally, we have a full complement of pro lenses, from wide angles to 600mm.

ec: As a pro, your own feelings of film versus digital?

KS: We’ve seen overwhelming benefits of the digital format in terms of cost, flexibility, distribution and immediacy. The first incarnation of our website dates back as far as 1996 and it was this early pioneering of hosting an archive of images that has enabled us to have over 480,000 of our 4,000,000 images fully searchable on-line.

However, as a photographer who has used film for the vast majority of his professional career, there is one aspect of the medium I preferred–the thrill of developing your own film and eagerly awaiting the results. We used to develop our own images, either in our makeshift darkroom at our small house near Silverstone, or our state-of-the-art E6 processor that filled an entire room at company headquarters.

Whereas an image can now be seen instantly, our first opportunity to see the fruits of our labor when shooting film would come after a weekend of shooting, when we would rush back from whatever country the race was held, on the first available flight, back to our office. While I don’t miss those mornings after the race where we would often stay up all night processing, ready for selection and dispatch to our clients the following day, there was always a sense of trepidation to see how well shots had come out, especially if there was a `special’ shot among them. With the immediacy of digital, that trepidation is all but lost now.

Keith Sutton Photography Ralf Schumacher 1997 Crash

I remember on a few occasions the shot was so potentially impressive that I couldn’t wait until we traveled home and would have it developed at the circuit in one of the special dark rooms they had back then. I remember my shot of Ralf Schumacher crashing into the barrier at the Canadian GP in 1997. I was shooting on a long exposure time when the crash happened. I knew I shot a sequence of the crash, but wasn’t sure if I caught the impact. I had to have the film developed there and then. Seeing him hit the barrier in perfect clarity was immensely satisfying.

ec: How about your own top three of F1 races you’ve witnessed?

KS: I’ll pick a race from each of the three decades I’ve covered F1. I have many other favorites, but if I can only choose three, I offer these:

Keith Sutton Photography Nigel Tire Blowout

1. Australian GP. 1986. It was the decider to end all deciders, with four drivers battling for the title–Senna, Prost, Mansell and Piquet. I love Adelaide, it’s been my favorite venue and is much missed. The race is best remembered for the sensational tire blowout for Nigel, one of the most memorable images in sport. I was the only freelance photographer to capture that moment. It was a dramatic end to my first full season in F1 and crowned one of the best years of my life, living the dream of traveling the world doing something I loved and getting paid to do it.

Keith Sutton Photography Champion With Trophy

2. British GP, 1995. I’m a good friend of Johnny Herbert. He was a guest at my wedding just weeks before the British GP and his support and strength helped me come to terms with losing good friends Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna at Imola the previous year. He was halfway though his big break season with Benetton, and when his teammate Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill knocked each other out of the race, it was clear he’d never have a better chance of winning a GP. Johnny kept his cool and won. I could hardly contain my emotion when shooting the podium. There can’t have been a nicer, more genuine guy to have graced the F1 paddock who deserved a home victory as much as Johnny.

I had to wait hours after the race to grab a moment with him. He had countless interviews with the media. I wanted to take him back to the podium, take a shot of him wrapped in the Union Jack. To our delight and surprise, as we both climbed on the podium, there were thousand of fans who had stayed long after the finish to continue celebrating Johnny’s win. It was a wonderful moment.

3. Japanese GP 2007. Japan is a favorite country. The fans are so enthusiastic and passionate that they make each visit something to savor. The tumultuous title battle was heading to a conclusion in the closing rounds, with animosity between McLaren and Ferrari, Hamilton and Alonso. The notorious Fuji weather played its role over the weekend. We faced the prospect of seeing the race first not take place at all, then the duration of it behind the safety car as conditions proved impossible.

Keith Sutton Photography Champions Champagne Squirt

When the drivers were set free to race, we saw F1 at its chaotic and unpredictable best–Hamilton winning under immense pressure, but with an element of controversy. Alonso crashing out dramatically, Kimi battling fearlessly for every point he could grab, Massa and Kubica fighting it out in the closing laps just like Villeneuve and Jabouille back at Dijon in ’79, and the heartbreak of Mark Webber losing out on a potential first win thanks to the `kid’ Vettel.

Not every race can be as exciting as that. In recent years we,’ve had too many monotonous races. But when F1 has a good race, or a great one, there is still no other sport on earth that can touch it.

ec: How do you answer that age-old question: “How do I get to be a race snapper?”

KS: Practice, practice, practice. Use national races to build up a portfolio. Don,’t be afraid to send your portfolio to many different people, but be prepared for rejection. Also, don,’t expect to leap straight into F1. Like most other professions, it,’s nearly always a case of starting at the bottom and working your way up. And the bottom rung may not even be working as a photographer. Be prepared to bide your time and learn the industry before progressing.

ec: Do you still attend most rounds of the F1 circus, or is it more rewarding handling business affairs?

KS: I still like to attend as many races as possible, as my passion for the sport is undiminished. I don’t shoot as much as I used to. The running of the company means that role is better left to my staff. My work in the paddock is securing the contacts and the business that keeps the company running. Most of our business is still done in the paddock.

That said, I still get the same buzz on race day. I miss morning warm-up–the light was invariably perfect–but the rest of the day remains the same. The paddock atmosphere building in intensity as the race start approaches, the grid with the palpable tension among the teams and drivers, the ferocious energy of the start and the thrill of capturing any incidents that may come your way during the race, the finish and the podium celebrations,–they’re all just as thrilling and inspiring as I approach my 400th GP.

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Suttons & Formula One

Those of you who follow motor sport and Grand Prix in particular will be only too aware of the high level of talent and commitment that runs throughout the whole paddock. Hard work and brains are the basic qualifications. From the Gladiators who wrap themselves in Nomex and steer the beasts, to those who perform mental gymnastics to create and run the machines, all are at the top of their professions. So too are the hardy band of photographers who, since F1 started the modern era back in 1950, have contributed so many fantastic and iconic images that have helped this sport, that is also a business, to achieve a global reach like no other. The roll of honour from the 50’s trips off the tongue, Klementaski, Alexander, Cahier (father & son), Goddard, Cooper, Mase, Asset, etc. etc. These days the work tends to be dominated by the agencies, LAT, DPPI and of course, Sutton Motorsport Images.

I first met Keith Sutton back in 1982 when he was a young man in a hurry to get to the top. I was able to assist him in a small way from the sidelines, then his brother Mark joined him and since then they have built a very successful agency, specialising in Formula One. Many of the images that the pair have produced are rightly famous. So here in SpeedHunters’ Photo Month I thought it appropriate to have a look at some magic from the Sutton Archive.

Just because something is a cliche does not make it less true, so the photo was naturally entitled “Flying Finn”. Mika Hakkinen launched his McLaren over the kerbs in Australia back in 1993. Mark Sutton was on alert and captured this fantastic shot.

Not one to be outdone, Keith Sutton was also on form in Australia back in 1986. Nigel Mansell was on course to win the World Driver’s Championship in his Williams Honda but was pitched out of the race and lost the title as a result of this puncture. Keith was the only one to get the shot, making a tidy sum for the agency.

The right place at the right time is certainly a prerequiste but as the golfer Gary Player once noted “The more I practice, the luckier I get”. To get this shot of Jenson Button celebrating winning the Championship in 2009 took anticipation plus perfect execution, no second chance.

There would be no possibility of anticipating this image, Ralf Schumacher taking out his frustrations on his Toyota. Those of you who read the Sniff Petrol website would find this scene only too familiar. Life imitates art?

Ayrton seeks inspiration.

Ayrton celebrates.  The great Champion, Ayrton Senna, played a central part in the development of Keith Sutton’s business. You can see some of the early material here.

Right up to the end of his life at Imola in 1994, Senna was often the subject of the agency’s best work.

To say that the Brazilian was controversial would be an understatement but that is where the drama and the news would be found. At Suzuka in 1989 the rivalry with Alain Prost boiled over.

A year later, still at Suzuka, now in rival camps, the same result. Both chasing the title, Senna forced Prost’s Ferrari off the road, this time ending up as Champion.

When not in conflict with his great French rival, Ayrton fought with Nigel Mansell…………200 mph and two inches apart…………

The point of all of this is to show that the vital moment is captured and not just once but consistantly, the mark of a great craftsman.

Photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on earth which can make them come back again.” Or so Henri Cartier-Bresson expressed it.

Schumacher in excelsis.

He could walk on water. But it takes real talent and application to convert the moment into an Image.

Sometimes the image is contemplative.

Sometimes not.

Intelligent guesses can be made as to where the action may occur.

And sometimes the action comes to you. Massa being released back into the race while still attached to his fuel rig appeared to be the big story in Singapore back in 2008.

In fact the Big Picture that day would prove to be the seemingly innocuous crash that Nelson Piquet Jnr. had all on his own, that had been suggested to him as a means for his team mate to make a miracle pit stop. Of course that would not be revealed for another half season.

Perhaps this small selection from the thousands and thousands of shots in the Sutton Archive reveals that great photography comes primarily from hard work and a deep understanding of the subject. The rest, such as technique and now application of software can be taught. Talent and graft cannot.

And for those of you who think that racing is all sunshine and grid girls, here is the Renault team in the snows of Silverstone. The glamour, the glamour.

I have been proud to be associated with the Sutton brothers for nearly 30 years, long may it continue.

John Brooks

Barrichello’s bash at a wet weekend in Spa

Mark Sutton was hoping for more rain in Spa to spice things up © Sutton Images

It was a wet and wild weekend in Spa Francorchamps with good racing and plenty of drama. As a photographer for over 20 years I’ve learned to cope with the worst possible conditions, and at Spa I always come prepared with my waterproofs, covers for the lenses and chamois leathers. In fact I was hoping for more rain in the race, I wanted it to absolutely tip it down because I was at the first corner and I knew there was the potential for lots of action if it got slippery.

It’s always a bit of a gamble to stick with one corner for the whole race and at La Source maybe it didn’t quite pay off this weekend. But in Hungary (with Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello shots) and Turkey (with images of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button) it has worked out very well so you win some and you lose some.

It’s important not just to follow the herd and to try to get something different. It also meant I was in the right place to get photos of the cars coming back to the pits and I got a nice shot of Hamilton with his arm out the cockpit and Mark Webber and Robert Kubica in the background. That’s probably a better shot than one of him just crossing the line with the chequered flag and it made it onto the cover of GP Week.

Unfortunately we missed the Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button clash, but you can’t have photographers on every corner. We were in the process of trying to buy one from a Dutch photographer but he wanted thousands for it, and a day or two after the incident it’s just not worth that kind of money.

The famous example of a deal like that was someone who paid $100 for a roll of film with Diego Maradonna’s hand of God goal. It was taken by a punter in the crowds and was one of only two photos of the moment caught by camera. In the end the guy who bought it made an absolute killing on it, but in those days it was just on film and he had no guarantee it was a good shot. If you’re buying something like that it always has to be an image worth paying for and because we saw that other agencies had the Vettel/Button clash we didn’t think it was worth the money.

Rubens Barrichello gets emotional at his 300th GP celebration © Sutton Images

Away from the track, one of the biggest stories in the paddock was Rubens Barrichello celebrating his 300th race. He held a party in the paddock and all the drivers came along with the exception of one: Michael Schumacher. The day before he’d apologised by text message for the Hungary incident, which I thought was a bit out of order. You’d think he’d have the balls to go up to him and say sorry face-to-face or arrange to meet him somewhere away from the press.But the party was a great occasion. A lot of the paddock has worked with Rubens at some point in their careers and there were people from Force India, which used to be Jordan, and few Red Bull faces from the Stewart days.

As I walked in they were showing a video of his career and he was stood right next to me crying with the emotion of it all. Having all those drivers turn up for him and his kids appear on the video saying “Well done Daddy” was obviously very moving for him. It’s nice to see a driver who wears his heart on his sleeve.

Mark Sutton has been taking photos of Rubens Barrichello for nearly 20 years © Sutton Images

He got a range of gifts from different corners of the paddock, the most impressive of which was a bike from Cosworth with some sort of KERS unit on it. The rear wheel is powered by recovered energy and apparently it is capable of some pretty impressive speeds. Bernie Ecclestone gave him a medal, which might not be the best gift in the world, but was in good spirits.He also managed to get the Brazil flag on the Williams car this weekend to match his special one-off overalls and helmet. You know you’re special if you can get Williams to break from its blue and white corporate colours and get a bit of colour on the car. In my opinion it was an improvement.

Personally I’ve followed Rubens since 1991 and his Formula 3 days. I asked him for an autograph and said to him that our careers had run side by side for nearly 20 years, he replied: “Yes, we’ve been together for a long time, probably longer than I’ve been with my wife!”

He’s always been a great ambassador for Formula One and has never had a bad word to say about anyone. I always see him as the Gary Lineker or Ryan Giggs of F1, someone who’s clean cut and avoids controversy. Rubens is a real team player and has always done what he’s been told … of course that was to his detriment at Ferrari but I think people sympathise with that.

Mark Webber celebrates his brithday in the Red Bull garage © Sutton Images

The other party on Friday was down at Red Bull where Mark Webber was celebrating his 34th birthday. I wasn’t there but one of our other photographers sneaked into the garage and managed to get a great shot of him holding a sparkler in his mouth like a cigarette. It was something a bit off-beat and that’s perfect for a Friday.It was a great weekend overall but next up is Monza and that’s a circuit we always look forward to because of the history and the atmosphere. There should be better weather too!