Capturing China

Mark Sutton

April 21, 2011

F1 photographer Mark Sutton picks his favourite shots from the Chinese Grand Prix weekend

Schumacher’s fans

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There are some true racing fans in China, but there’s not many of them and I don’t know why there’s not many of them. But there are some die-hard fans who are almost like fanatical fans, and you can see it here with Michael Schumacher waving. It was bizarre because I saw him leaving after qualifying on Saturday and I got some nice shots of him leaving with the sun on him. Then I saw these girls over the other side of the fence, which is almost Japan-esque how they hang around, and then all of a sudden these girls came over and started waving at him. You can see him waving back, and he’s actually driving as well! It’s a limo service but he’s driving, and the guy in the passenger seat is the limo driver. There’s a couple of McLaren guys in the background laughing too, which just shows how bizarre it all was.

Inspecting Pirelli tyres

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This shot was after qualifying, with a lovely light going down. And Fernando Alonso’s engineer was looking at these tyres, looking how round they were, thinking ‘what the hell is this little mark?’ They mark them, and it was like a little hole, but he was looking at how round they were too. It was just a lovely light, so I captured it using a 600mm fixed telephoto lens. It was interesting to see the engineers out in the open just looking at these tyres, because obviously they are quite important because these tyres will run in the race and their condition depicts the strategy.

McLaren’s scramble on the grid

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I found this shot of Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren being worked on on the grid really interesting, because it arrived with bits missing and they started tightening it all up. He was lucky to get out in time, and then obviously he won the race, so it was an important moment. This one I just held the camera up quite high to get over the top using a 16-35mm wide-angle zoom lens, but it’s interesting to see all the mechanics working on the car. You’ve got the chief engineer Phil Prew to the right on the radio to the pit wall, so it was very tense, and this shows just how much work was going on.

The queue in qualifying

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I took this shot out of the Force India garage on a 70-200mm zoom lens. I was in there for qualifying, because Paul [Di Resta] was doing really well, so I hung around for each session. On this instance, because the red flag came out on the last run of the second session, they were waiting in the pits and they all came out like in the old days and all lined up. Basically if you weren’t out in the first three cars you weren’t going to get a lap in, so it was just nice to see them all lined up again. On this shot you can see how close they are, the red light is flashing at the end, and everyone’s looking over the barrier; it’s all quite tense. All the teams are looking over at all the other cars. It’s nice when it’s a race battle in qualifying to get in to the last ten.

Paul Di Resta’s birthday

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It was Paul Di Resta’s birthday on the Saturday and I think Force India just wanted to give him a breather after qualifying, and not put too much pressure on about doing anything extravagant and splattering cake everywhere. It was nice to see his team cheering him, and it was also one of his mechanics birthday’s on the same day so it was a nice atmosphere after qualifying where he had taken eighth on the grid. We were going to shoot it outside but it was all nice and relaxed inside so we just stayed in the hospitality area. Paul’s very easy to photograph, he’s very calm and collected and got a very old head on young shoulders.

Lewis Hamilton

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I like this shot because in some cases it’s the desperation of trying to get a picture, and on the other side of me it’s just a bank of photographers. It was actually quite calm to be honest, it’s usually more a scrum, but even with 15-20 photographers on the other side it was calm. There’s TV cameras there too, all trying to get a view of him. All you can do is shout, Lewis knows me quite well and if you give him a good shout he’ll look round, and that one’s right in the lens, which was a 16-35mm wide-angle zoom. It was just a nice way to round out the weekend.


Feeling the heat

Sauber mechanic


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This photo is so typical of Malaysia. I always go on the grid before the race to take pictures of the grid girls and capture everything else that’s going on. On Sunday I saw this Sauber mechanic and it just looked like it had been a hell of a week for him after the team lost all its points in Australia. He’s got his head in his hands, but it’s understandable as the heat takes a lot out of people, especially the hard-working guys in the garage. I just thought it summed up that moment of the weekend so well for the mechanics and I captured it with a 70-200mm lens.

Kamui Kobayahsi and girlfriend Yu Abiru


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I love this shot of Kamui Kobayashi and his girlfriend, Yu Abiru, on Saturday evening. In Australia I saw her sat next to Kobayashi after the race having a beer, but I just took a shot and didn’t think anything of it. Our guys captioned her as his friend, but I thought they seemed to be quite close and when I searched on Google I found a story that said she was his girlfriend and a famous model and actress. In Malaysia I saw her sat on his knee which made for a really good photo and I shot it first of all with my 600mm lens through the trees from a distance. But she soon saw me and started waving at me and laughing, which was a really nice reaction. So I went over with a smaller lens because lots of other photographers were also taking pictures and the two of them were acting really naturally, which was great to see in the paddock. I didn’t know he had a girlfriend to be honest, but it’s good to see and I think the girlfriends add to the glamour of the sport.

Anthony and Lewis Hamilton


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On Saturday evening I saw Lewis and his dad talking in the paddock and jumped at the opportunity to get some photos as they had their bags with them and looked as if they were about to leave. I took a few shots and the next minute they were off, although I noticed they’d left the bags so I knew they weren’t going back to the hotel. I went into the pit lane and the next minute I saw them on the grid so I ran over to take some photos. But the rest of the guys in the photographers’ room must have realised what was going on because the next thing I knew I had nearly 20 photographers behind me. At one point when they were walking back to the paddock Anthony turned around to us and said: “Come on boys, give us a bit of space. We’re trying to talk here”. I think the reason they were on the grid was because there had been a crash in a GT support race and it had spread a lot of oil on the second-place grid slot. You can see him testing the track with his foot and it just made a really nice photo. It was almost like it was rehearsed if I’m honest and it reminded me of 2007 when Fernando Alonso and Ron Dennis sat down on a bench in the Bahrain paddock to talk, which was totally set up for the media and cameras.

Felipe Massa


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I don’t often do blurry, slow-shutter speed shots but I really like this one of Felipe Massa going in to the last corner. I took it hand held with a 500mm lens and at 1/15 of a second, which is a really slow shutter speed. I’d noticed that a lot of cars were locking up into that corner and I was just looking for something different. As you can see it was quite dull because the sun was behind the clouds at that point and that allowed me to drop it down to a slow shutter speed. It’s also quite an interesting picture because you can see that he has his hand nearly vertically up as he turns into the corner, even though he’s locked up.

McLaren floors


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On Saturday I came out of the photographers’ area and saw these two long, flat packages on the ground. I walked a little closer and realised they were floors for a car but there was nobody around. The next minute these McLaren mechanics turned up and picked them up. I didn’t shoot them straight away but waited for them to go through the swipe gate because it made for a more interesting picture. Adrian Newey was in the paddock having his supper and he looked up and couldn’t quite believe his eyes – it’s very rare that you see that kind of thing out in the open.

Sebastian Vettel


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I’d been up on the pit building roof during the race shooting pit stops and I wondered if the FIA and Allsport management would let us do the podium from up there – I’d done it in the past but you’re never too sure if they are going to let you or not. I went to get in to position but we were told we’d have to wait until the King had left. I thought it was still important to get the podium so the minute they let us in I was up there. Seb came out and jumped on to the first step and I started shouting “Seb, Seb, Seb!” and he turned and looked me right in the eye like he always does, which made a really nice picture shot on a 70-200mm lens. So often the drivers are looking at the team from the podium, so to get a reaction from a driver is lovely and it just summed up his brilliant race.