From Champagne with Seb to singing with Prince

Mark Sutton is inches away as Sebastian Vettel gets doused in champagne © Sutton Images

What a great way to end the year. Looking back at Sunday it was a rollercoaster of a day followed by a rollercoaster of a night, and I came away with some fantastic photos and a couple of stories I won’t forget anytime soon.

To start with the grid before the race was carnage and way overpopulated. The King of Spain was out in force with about 20 bodyguards, which seemed way over the top and made getting a photo really difficult. In the end I just held the camera above my head and hoped for the best and the resulting photo was actually pretty good. One of the Sheiks of Abu Dhabi, who was instrumental in putting the race on, was there as well with his entourage of guards. In contrast, the Crown Prince of Bahrain was walking around without any security and I went straight up to him and said hello. It was strange that he managed to cope by himself but the others needed a 20-strong entourage.

Right after the race finished I followed Sebastian Vettel from crossing the line, to the podium, to outside the press conference and finally to the wild celebrations in the Red Bull garage. During the podium ceremony I concentrated on getting photos of the team’s reaction as we had another Sutton photographer trained on Sebastian. I also snapped a nice shot of Nicole Scherzinger and Jessica Michibata celebrating their boys Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button on the podium.

There were some real emotions going around, but nowhere more so than at Red Bull where it all went a little bit crazy. When Vettel returned to the garage it simply turned into carnage, as you can imagine. Everybody wanted a bit of him; the team was trying to celebrate with him, we were trying to get the perfect photo of him and the BBC was trying to grab him for an interview.

 

Fernando Alonso and King Carlos of Spain on the grid © Sutton Images

By chance I managed to get in the front row of the photographers’ scrum and got absolutely drenched in champagne. I got one shot where the champagne is running down his face and I was stood just inches away in a similar state. There were really raw emotions and it got to the point where I had to push him back because he was getting too close for the lens to focus. I was literally pushing him around to get him in the right position for a photo, but I don’t think he knew, everybody was pushing everyone else, it was so intense.As soon as Sebastian came back outside the party upped a gear with champagne bottles popping everywhere. They were trying to organise a photo of the team and it was so out of control that I soon realised that we weren’t going to get the shot. So I took it on myself to start organising people and get the photographers back where they should have been. I was shouting, “Get back! Get back!”, but no one was listening and eventually I had to get a barrier to separate the team and the photographers. None of the PR people or official photographers were going to do it, so it needed someone to take charge to get the shot and in the end we did.

 

Sebastian Vettel in the midst of the celebrations © Sutton Images

All the team were wearing these ‘Seb is the 2010 champion’ t-shirts and I thought that they must have printed a batch for Mark Webber as well, just in case. I had a scout around the bins to see if I could find any Webber shirts, because they would be worth quite a lot of money, but unfortunately there was nothing in there.Once the celebrations had died down I left the circuit because everyone was heading off to different after parties. I’d been given three VIP wristbands for the Prince concert, so I thought I may as well use them and I took a couple of friends from British Airways, one’s a pilot and one’s a stewardess.

We eventually found the VIP area and got some beers in, and there was Tonio Liuzzi, Giancarlo Fisichella and Nick Heidfeld as well as loads of other F1 people. I’m not a huge Prince fan but I have to say that he was bloody brilliant, everything was pure live and it was a brilliant atmosphere.

After 20 minutes he left the stage and the VIP area started to empty because everybody thought it was over. But he came back on in a different costume a few moments later and started inviting people to get up there with him. I said to the other two that we should try it and the next thing I know we’re at the front helping people climb over and onto the stage. I tried to get up there after them and a guy said, “No, no, no, you’re not allowed over”, I was gutted but then I flashed my F1 pass and he let me through.

 

Jessica Michibata and Nicole Scherzinger after the race © Sutton Images

I got up there and looked out at a sea of 30,000 people in front of me. That’s when it hit me: I was on stage dancing with Prince and one of the biggest crowds I’ve ever seen was watching. A song or two later, Nicole Scherzinger and Lewis Hamilton came on to do a little set with him and we were up there dancing alongside. I was just thinking what the hell am I doing here and all I could think to do was whip my iPhone out and take a few photos and a bit of video.After that we headed over to the Amber Lounge where a number of drivers were enjoying themselves, but there was nothing really to talk about. Vettel and Red Bull were having their own private party, Virgin was having its own party and I think McLaren was doing its own thing somewhere else.

For me it was a perfect end to a brilliant season of Formula One racing.

Guns, fast cars and beautiful women

The track in Sao Paulo is close to favelas © Sutton Images

Guns, fast cars and beautiful women. They sound like the ingredients for a Hollywood blockbuster but it was all on show in Brazil, for better or worse.

The attempted attack on Jenson Button was quite a surprise. I first saw it on Twitter when I got back to my hotel and then it was all over the papers the next day. The story got bigger and bigger overnight and McLaren decided to call a press conference on Sunday so he could explain first-hand what happened.

It was a bit of a wake-up call for everyone because I think a lot of people had become quite blasé about the dangers in Sao Paulo and forgotten about the degree of poverty in that area. There is a favela right next to the track and the people that live there have no money. For some of them stealing laptops and wallets from wealthy Europeans is an easy way to make a quick buck.

I’ve got a friend who’s a local and he said that when you come up to a red light in a dangerous area you have to cruise up to it and keep an eye out for anything suspicious. If you see somebody approaching you, you make sure you have an exit route and floor it regardless of the light. He also said a lot of the attacks aren’t with real guns but with fake ones that look real – although you don’t want to hang around to find out.

 

The division between rich and poor is obvious in Sao Paulo © Sutton Images

I was having dinner with one local after the qualifying on Saturday night and he’s just bought a brand new Range Rover and had it made fully bullet proof. The glass is 2.5 inches thick and it’s not a fad out there, it’s just what people do – assuming they have the money.Two lenses were stolen from the photographers’ area over the weekend. We were based down in a tent, which was nice enough, but based away from the main paddock and almost in a public area. We think the thieves came in through the toilets, and looking back I do remember seeing two people in the photo area who I didn’t recognise. In the morning we heard that two lenses – a 300mm worth around £6,000 and a 400mm worth £10,000 – had gone missing.

It’s a shame because I don’t want to paint a bad picture of Interlagos; it’s always one of the most vibrant weekends of the year and a great event overall. I think a lot of these problems could be solved if the organisers made it clear what the dangers are before we go out. For example, people should be told not to leave the track wearing team clothing or with the parking passes on the windows of their cars. To any would-be carjackers those are like giant dollar signs.

 

Fans on the terraces © Sutton Images

But once you’re in the circuit there is always a great atmosphere and before the race starts there are always loads of people queuing to get in, which is a bit of a rare sight at a grand prix nowadays. The fans are brilliant and as I was walking from the grid to my position for the start they were jumping up and down and chanting “photo, photo, photo” and having a great time.One of my favourite moments of the weekend was in the pit lane after the race when Red Bull was celebrating its constructors’ title. The BBC was doing its F1 Forum coverage – getting in the way as usual – and decided to set up its presenters right in front of the photo opportunity with the team. We started jeering them out of the way and they eventually moved aside as Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber came in with bottle of champagne to kick off the party.

 

Sebastian Vettel celebrates with Mark Sutton © Sutton Images

The celebrations were pretty wild and various team members were picked up by their colleagues and paraded around, but I felt that I hadn’t got the one picture that really summed up their victory. I was looking for a bit of passion so I followed Sebastian from TV crew-to-TV crew and eventually got in front of him and yelled, “Sebastian, Sebastian! Come on! Come on!” He just looked at me, held his finger up and said, “Calm down, calm down”. The end result is him giving me his trademark celebration right into the camera. It’s a great shot and very much my picture as it was a reaction to me personally and he’s looking right down the lense.Another little exclusive I managed to get was with Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. After the podium I left parc ferme and went back into the paddock. As I passed the McLaren hospitality I just caught a glimpse of Lewis talking to Jenson and I thought I’d be a bit cheeky and go inside. I wondered in without any other photographers following me and there was Lewis and Jenson sat watching the press conference on TV.

 

Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton watch Mark Webber in the press conference © Sutton Images

I don’t usually sneak into hospitality areas but this was a great opportunity and I just shot photos without them batting an eyelid. If they’d turned around and said, “Do you mind?” I would have happily left but instead they just sat there and chatted away.Aside from the on-track action, we also went to the official premiere of the Senna movie. I’d been to a screening in Japan but this was the proper red carpet event. We were probably only two of five or six Europeans invited and we were suited and booted alongside all the Brazilians. It was quite emotional in the room, we were in the same screening as Bruno Senna and some parts of the film were very touching.

I was sat next to Josef Leberer, Ayrton’s personal trainer, who was with him the day he died. I think he’d forgotten parts of it and it brought back memories from the early days at McLaren and the good times as well as the bad times.

So overall it was a good weekend and we now head to Abu Dhabi for what will be a thrilling finale to the season. We’re also looking forward to a more varied diet as plenty of meat is still sitting heavy in our stomachs after several visits to Churrascarias in Sao Paulo.