Barbeques, scarecrows and love hotels



Fernando Alonso celebrates victory in Korea © Sutton Images

After all the scare stories before the race, the Korean Grand Prix turned out to be a huge success. We had a couple of issues along the way but overall it was a really fun weekend.

Mokpo was definitely the place to be and not the backwater town we were led to believe beforehand. It was a huge place and it’s the biggest ship-building port in the world.

There was plenty going on every night and some brilliant restaurants. Our agent took us to a traditional Korean barbeque on Saturday night where we met Christian Horner, Adrian Newey and Helmut Marko of Red Bull, who turned up and booked into a private room. There was all this talk of accidentally eating dog, but it was absolute rubbish. It’s a speciality out there and you’ll only get it if you order it, and if you do it’ll cost you more than pork and beef.

I think a lot of journalists were out to wind people up and I heard that one of them got a bollocking from Bernie Ecclestone for writing a negative piece in a newspaper. In the end there were 80,000 people there on race day, which is a pretty good statistic for a brand new circuit. I think some of the Koreans have got a bit to learn about the sport – some were getting up and leaving before Q3 on Saturday and before the end of the race on Sunday, but I suppose they may have been trying to catch a train back to Seoul.


The town of Mokpo © Sutton Images

We thought the accommodation – albeit in ‘love hotels’ – was fine, but then we’re happy in two or three star places anyway. The only people I did feel sorry for were some of the members of the Toro Rosso team, who booked a hotel that turned out to be right next to a rave on Saturday night. There was also a car drifting competition right outside, with cars sliding past late into the night – I think they might choose a different one next year. The best nightspot we found was the Wa Bar that was serving very cheap beer at about £1.50 a pint and attracted a lot of the F1 paddock over the weekend.There’s still a lot of work to do on the track itself, but I think the layout is actually very good. There’s a marina due to go in and a lot of skyscrapers and business parks as well. They are taking the opposite approach to Singapore and Monaco by building the city around the circuit rather than the circuit around the city.

The local government are certainly behind it and they aren’t going to let it sit there like a lame duck. So every year that we go back it should have progressed a little bit more and become more interesting for photos and the TV.


The bridge over the pit straight © Sutton Images

As an example of just how quickly they can get things done out there, the pagoda bridge over the pit straight was put up in just four days. They built the main part of it somewhere else and then craned it in and bolted it all together in just 96 hours. When we got there on Thursday the concrete on the stairs was still wet and it wasn’t until Friday that you were allowed to use it.It was great to get up there for the sessions because it offered a high vantage point for photos and you could shoot through the turret tops like a marksman or an archer. It made for a good photo looking down onto the final corner, which proved to be a pretty popular one to cut on Friday and we got some good action shots.

So a lot of the weekend was about finding new angles and different compositions. Around the back of the circuit it was quite difficult but we found one with the big shipping cranes in the background, which was soon copied and became one of the iconic photos of the weekend. We took that shot on the Friday and everybody went out on Saturday to get the same photo. There was a lot of that going on, with people looking at rival agency’s websites, but there’s nothing you can do about that.


Scarecrows at the circuit entrance © Sutton Images

The organisers were great and we kept asking for access to certain areas and they kept obliging. On Friday we got in a few grandstands, by Saturday they opened a few more and by Sunday we were allowed to go in any one we liked as long as we didn’t take someone’s seat.The only place the organisers weren’t keen for us to take photos was outside the circuit where they had a load of scarecrows on the hillside. Apparently they were there to scare off demons because it used to be a paddy field and now it has been converted to another use. My brother Keith and I were thinking of taking some cardboard cut outs of the drivers and putting them among the scarecrows, but we thought better of it.

Compared to most of the tracks it was pretty much open access. I went up on the roof of the pit building for qualifying, but that was probably a mistake as everybody saw me up there and then I was joined by several other snappers for the podium shots after the race on Sunday.


Mark Sutton snaps a photo of Fernando Alonso on the podium © Sutton Images

We got some good shots from up there because the podium ceremony took place in the dark and you could get some great lighting effects with black backgrounds, almost like shooting in a studio. As Fernando Alonso was leaving the podium with the winner’s trophy the three of us still up there shouted Fernando! Fernando! And he looked up and gave us a brilliant photo that has been used quite widely.Next up is Brazil and we should be set for another great race. It’s always wet there; somebody was just asking me for some paddock photos and every year of the archive that I looked through we seemed to have at least one rainy day. The circuit is great and it’s been the scene of same great showdowns over the years with the last five titles being decided there. You can get some of the best photos of the season due to the track’s undulations and the favelas in the background. There is nowhere else in the world where you have multi-million pound F1 cars flashing in front of a favelas, it’s unreal.


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