F1 Texan Style


A sign outside a local burger restaurant welcoming Formula One © Sutton Images

I travelled down to Austin following the Canadian Grand Prix and I have to say that my first impression of the new Circuit of the Americas was very positive.

After landing the night before, we arrived on site at 10:30am following a 30 minute drive from our hotel in central Austin. The main access is currently just a two-way road but the organisers are looking at turning it into a dual carriageway to cater for more traffic when the race arrives.

At the gates there was strict security so we had to flash our passes to get in to the main site where the organisers currently have air-conditioned offices. We were met by three of the guys working on the track – all with very American names – Butch, JR and Chuck. First on our itinerary was a tour in a four-wheel drive golf buggy with Butch and we immediately set off in the direction of turn one.

The first corner is at the top of a very steep hill and at the moment they have a location set up with a platform overlooking the entire site. You can probably see about 90% of the circuit from the first corner, which is amazing for a race track and they’re planning to build a lot of grandstands around there to make the most of that.


Tilke engineers at the view over the circuit from turn one © Sutton Images

It reminds me of the A1 Ring in Austria (now known as the Red Bull Ring) in that sense, and circuit designers Tilke have actually modelled a lot of the track on other circuits. Two or three years ago the Tilke architects came over and surveyed a lot of the land and specifically picked this patch. They spent about a year trying to find the right bit and the hill at turn one was a key reason why they decided to base it where they did. 

From turn one the circuit goes back down the hill and into a sweeping and slightly banked right hander that then turns into what they call the Beckett turns – based on part of Silverstone’s famous sector one. It’s a fast left, right, left and it should be a really interesting piece of track and a challenge for the drivers. Another area of the circuit that will catch their attention is the blind brow at turn eight that feeds into turn nine and then goes back down hill to turns ten and eleven and the hairpin at the top of the circuit.

At the moment you can see the general layout and they are now preparing the base layers of the track surface. They are preparing specialist materials to lay the track on and the process is being checked every day by Tilke’s employees for quality and consistency – it’s very thorough. The drainage and communication systems are already in so now it’s all about working on the track itself.


The track will measure 3.40 miles © Sutton Images

One feature that I haven’t seen before is that the entrance to many of the corners is going to be wider than the preceding straight. So if the straight is three cars wide then the entrance to the corner at the braking zone will be five cars wide to encourage overtaking and alternative lines. They’ve done that with a number of corners including turn one and turn 12 and I think they’re planning the same into the last corner. 

The sculpting of the landscape is quite remarkable and they have moved thousands of tons of earth in order to lower some areas and build others up. They’re only bringing in outside material for the track and buildings, the rest of the circuit and surrounding area is being built up by simply moving earth. The majority of the spectator areas will be on huge banks beside the track and in that respect it will be a bit like Donington or Silverstone. The only difference is that the Circuit of the Americas has been specifically designed with that in mind so it should offer an even better experience for the spectators.

In terms of the pit and paddock, they are just packing out the foundation material at the moment. There’s something like 300 trucks a day coming in and out – big 18-wheelers piled high with materials. There are a lot of high-skilled workers on the site, working in shifts for 12 hours of the day. If they need to up that to longer shifts they will, but at the moment they are confident they are on schedule.

In the afternoon we took a helicopter ride over the circuit to get photos of the corners as well as an overall picture of the circuit. The site is very close to the airport so our pilot had to keep in touch with air-traffic control to make sure we didn’t fly too high. In the end we managed to get up to 2,300 feet, which gives you a good idea of the land surrounding the circuit from the photos. One thing that is abundantly clear is that there is plenty of room for expansion for racing schools, technology colleges, hotels and whatever else the circuit brings to the local area.


The circuit is 14 miles from Downtown Austin © Sutton Images

Once we’d finished the tour at about 4pm, our guides told us that we had to go to Wild Bubba’s Burgers about a mile away from the circuit itself. It was quite something as they had alligator burgers, ostrich burgers and even an F1 burger! Inside they had walls of the restaurant dedicated to Tilke and the new circuit and they promised they’d dedicate one to Sutton Images if we sent them some of our work. It was a bizarre little place, but a good sign that the local people will embrace the sport when it comes to town. Definitely worth the visit. 

Overall, the city of Austin is a great place to visit with plenty of museums and monuments to visit. The skyline isn’t as built up as some American cities, but it’s an easy place to get around and has more than enough to keep the F1 circus entertained when it turns up next year. Personally, I can’t wait to get back, and judging by what I saw it should be a great success.

Chaos in Canada

F1 photographer Mark Sutton picks his six favourite shots from the Canadian Grand Prix


Button and d’Ambrosio

Camera Model: Canon EOS-1D Mark IV | Lens: 70-200mm F9.0 | Exposure: 1/640 Sec | Aperture: 8.0 © Sutton Images

This was the start of Button’s charge. I thought it was great because you can see the amount of water on the inside of the first corner, and d’Ambrosio’s trying to hold position for what I think was last place. It’s the key part of the race for me because Button’s got to battle past all of those back markers and it’s the bit you don’t see on TV. D’Ambrosio was defending his position so he went in very tight and hit this puddle of water, which created a massive splash and a great shot. With Button going round the outside too it just shows him feeling for grip and trying to find the quickest way of making his way through the field. He’s battling with a Virgin and putting pressure on him, and then later we obviously all saw the result when he did the same to Vettel – he cracked under pressure and showed he’s human! But that seemed a long way off at this point and it’s the moment Button begins to make his move. 


Vettel in the wall

Camera Model: Canon EOS-1D Mark IV | Lens: 70-200mm F20.0 | Exposure: 1/640 Sec | Aperture: 16 © Sutton Images

I’d literally wandered out of the pit lane; I’d got a bit bored because Montreal doesn’t have a lot of grip, so once the cars leave the pit lane in practice they tend to do loads of laps. So I thought I’d head out to the last corner, because with the Quebec sign and the casino in the background for me that’s a typical image of Montreal. After a while I’d decided to do the rear shot going down the pit lane, but then on my FanVision it said Vettel was in the wall, so I looked up and there he was behind me! So I’d missed it…but I got up and shot him in the wall with no marshalls around him, getting out of the car and looking at the damage. Then Rubio who works with us came over and said “I’ve got the crash”. He’d got the full sequence – not as spectacular as some crashes but it’s the fact that he went in there and we’ve got a shot of every driver who’s been in there. It’s all about having numbers at the track, and this picture went straight up and straight around the world. 


Colin Farrell

Camera Model: Canon EOS-1D Mark III | Lens: 16-35mm F6.3 | Exposure: 1/80 Sec | Aperture: 5.6 © Sutton Images

You may have seen me on TV – it was quite a funny moment. I already had the nod from someone that Colin Farrell was there, so I’d done some shots in the pit lane and he was basically just watching the car doing pit stop practice but then he disappeared out the back so I thought I’d catch him later. I was on the grid and I saw him, and by now he had a Renault jacket on so I thought he was bound to do a setup picture at some point. He spoke to Eric Boullier and Gerard Lopez but I hadn’t got the shot of him looking at the camera and he was about to disappear so I said to him “Colin, any chance we could do a photo?” He said “Ah, I’ve got to go now”, but he put his hand out towards me to shake my hand for some reason, so I thought maybe I should drag him in to position! I asked him again, I was quite aggressive – I felt I had to be because sometimes celebrities just don’t want to comply, but he was there as a guest at the end of the day so I had to ask him a third time and he said “OK, alright, if you insist” and wandered over, posed in front of the car for about five seconds, gave me a smile and a grimace and then was off! I had no idea they were filming it until I tried to leave the grid and was getting messages. I wasn’t playing to the camera I was just trying to get my picture at the end of the day. 


McLaren’s collide

Camera Model: Canon EOS-1D Mark IV | Lens: 70-200mm F5.0 | Exposure: 1/1000 Sec | Aperture: 4.0 | ISO Speed: 400 © Sutton Images

Keith Sutton: I was very fortunate to be able to shoot the start of the race and the pit stops from the roof, and I could see the last corner so I could notice if anyone was close behind exiting the chicane. The only problem with this location was that it has the pit gantry roofs in the way, so half the time you just fire away and see what you get. I saw Hamilton was very close and he went for it on the inside, but Button kept his line and came across on him. I think I got three frames of contact, and then a final one where they’ve just collided and are right underneath their respective pit boards. On the Monday morning I saw Button at the airport and congratulated him and he said “You must have got some good pictures, did you get that shot of me and Lewis?” I said I did and I think I was the only one to get it, because I think they were too far away at the first corner. 


Kobayashi drinking tequila

Camera Model: Canon EOS-1D Mark IV | Lens: 70-200mm F2.8 | Exposure: 1/2000 Sec | Aperture: 2.8 © Sutton Images

I think he does this every race! Obviously Kamui was second at one point and looked like getting a podium, although he slipped back he was up there and battling like he always does. After the race the team was really happy with what they’d seen in the race and the fact that he was pushing, and Peter Sauber was really happy. Kobayashi turned up and all the Mexican guests were still there, and they’ve sort of made it a tradition to have a tray of tequila ready with shots for when he comes back. So it was just a cheers with tequila and down with the shot! I just thought it was a great little moment to capture to see a racing driver having a tequila – it was a little bit bizarre. But he’d done his race, he wasn’t racing any more that evening and wasn’t driving I’m sure, and it was just a great moment because he’s got a great smile on his face and he loves a tequila shot like everyone! Capturing these pictures is part of the job, it’s not all about the obvious – the action on the circuit – it’s about the lifestyle, the atmosphere, it’s all a part of Formula One. 


The winning kiss

Camera Model: Canon EOS-1D Mark III | Lens: 16-35mm F6.3 | Exposure: 1/80 Sec | Aperture: 5.6 © Sutton Images

Jessica and Jenson always create great pictures. There’s a lot of love there between the two of them, they always came in in the mornings over the pontoon to the track holding hands, laughing and joking with arms round each other, and they’re like that all through the paddock. Obviously after the race when Jenson won he went over to hug and kiss her but he still had his helmet on, so it didn’t really work as a picture. I was back at McLaren after the podium because they always do a team photo – it’s a real team effort – and he came back and the next minute there’s a massive thunderstorm, so I was back at McLaren with Jessica. I know her quite well and we have a bit of a rapport, and then Jenson came back when the rain stopped, and I moved this desk out the way just in time for him to run towards her and plant this kiss. It was the first reaction between the two of them, and it’s a great shot. It’s nice to see a bit of love in the paddock between people, it can be very tense but after winning on the last lap it was such a great atmosphere down there. What’s so good about this shot is it’s natural, it’s not set up, that’s an emotional reaction there and that’s the best part of it.

Magical Monaco

F1 photographer Mark Sutton picks his six favourite shots from the Monaco Grand Prix


Red Bull pool party

Camera Model: Canon EOS-1D Mark IV | Lens: 70-200mm F2.8 | Exposure: 1/640 Sec | Aperture: 8.0 © Sutton Images

Red Bull has been having pool-side celebrations at Monaco ever since David Coulthard finished on the podium in 2006 and Christian Horner lived up to his pre-race promise by jumping in wearing nothing more than a Superman cape. It’s a great place to celebrate success and the last two years it’s been the place to be after the race. I was actually stood side-on to the pool, knowing from past experience that they tend to jump at you and therefore you’re cameras get soaked! The last thing that happened before everybody left was Sebastian Vettel doing this huge swallow dive off the edge and it reminded me of the statue by the Swimming Pool Chicane which was very appropriate for Monaco. He’s bloody high in this photo and it would have been lovely to catch it from low down but I probably would have been too close for the lens I was using.



Geri Halliwell

Camera Model: Canon EOS-1D Mark IV | Lens: 300 mm F2.8 with 1.4x converter giving 420mm | Exposure: 1/320 Sec | Aperture: 4.5 © Sutton Images

This was a funny sequence. I was on the pit wall during the race getting the pit stops and shooting down at the Swimming Pool Chicane. Geri Halliwell was at the Red Bull end and I took a couple of shots of her and her boyfriend, but at one point they all got out a can of Red Bull – whether this was set up I don’t know. They were looking at the can like they’d never drunk the stuff before and then tasted it like they’d never tasted it before, and all this time I was reeling off a sequence of shots, almost paparazzi-style. Then all of a sudden she saw me on the pit wall taking photos and she just started killing herself laughing. So I don’t know if it was a set up because it was a great sequence of photos for Red Bull’s promotion and it’s great for me because I got some interesting expressions from them. She’s a fun person to photograph and she’s certainly not shy of the camera.



Typically Monaco

Camera Model: Canon EOS-1D Mark IV | Lens: 300mm F2.8 | Exposure: 1/1000 Sec | Aperture: 5.0 © Sutton Images

This is a typical Monaco photo taken in the reflection of one of the fire marshal’s helmets. Michael Schumacher wasn’t actually moving at the time, which helped a lot because this is a very difficult shot to get when the cars are at high speed. Here the Red Bull and the Ferrari have come into the pits and the Mercedes is waiting for them to be pushed out of the way. You only get these mirrored helmets in France as far as I can tell so you immediately know it must be Monaco and it’s something a bit different.



Bernie with his daughters

Camera Model: Canon EOS-1D Mark IV | Lens: 16-35mm F2.8 | Exposure: 1/250 Sec | Aperture: 18.0 | ISO Speed: © Sutton Images

It was nice to see Bernie Ecclestone and his two daughters there as a family. The girls are still quite passionate about motorsport and they love having their pictures taken. They both look like models, very pretty girls, and Bernie is always happy to oblige to photos. You can also see that they’ve all got permanent passes – the girls and their boyfriends – and those things are like gold dust. It’s not the cleanest picture in the world with the paddock swipe gate in the background but it’s just a nice shot.



Vettel at speed

Camera Model: Canon EOS-1D Mark IV | Lens: 70-200mm F2.8 | Exposure: 1/30 Sec | Aperture: 25.0 © Sutton Images

This is a race shot taken through the boats in the harbour and with the K grandstand behind. It’s actually taken between Tabac and the entrance to the Swimming Pool complex on a short burst of acceleration. To capture the speed I took this at quite a slow shutter speed, just 1/30 second to give a blurred effect. It shows several sides to Monaco, the boats, the people and of course the car and it makes for a classic shot that’s instantly recognisable.



Grandstand finish

Camera Model: Canon EOS-1D Mark IV | Lens: 70-200mm F2.8 | Exposure: 1/640 Sec | Aperture: 8.0 © Sutton Images

This was GP Week’s cover shot this week and was taken from the pit lane looking back down over the Swimming Pool section, just one or two laps before the crash. It was such an amazing atmosphere with so much buzz from the people as they were springing out of their seats to see if there would be a change of position. It reminded me of my first full year in Formula One in 1992 when Ayrton Senna held off Nigel Mansell in a brilliant battle through to the final laps. This year we lost out on what could have been an incredible finish as they were allowed to switch tyres under the red flag stoppage, which I think is a pathetic rule. Fernando Alonso even said in the press conference afterwards that he would have tried a move and that would have made for a thrilling finale to a brilliant race.