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


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