Race Day. Finally here. A day I have waited most of my adult life to see. My first live Grand Prix. I had a good plan together to make sure I could see the start at turn one, and finish my day at the podium ceremony. In between I would hustle down the hill at the exit of turn one, all the way around to the exit of turn ten, then catch a shuttle back to the media center where I would walk over to turn 19 and then up from there through 18 and 17 and then, with just ten laps or so to go, I’d run back over to the media center to drop the 400mm and then get a position in line at the gate to pit lane for the podium ceremony.
Before any of that, however, I had the whole morning to work through. Drivers would be arriving and walking through the paddock area and I would be there to meet them. Like the much maligned paparazzi, I would stalk the rich, famous and beautiful people that attend these races and get as many shots of them as I could before they were shuffled off to their quiet places of pre-race reflection. I wouldn’t have any luck bumping into the famous, but I did manage to run into a few of my favorite drivers as the morning wore on.
More opportunities would be had during pre-pre-grid. That’s the time when we are allowed to be on the grid before the cars made their way down for actual pre-grid and pre-race ceremonies. It took a credential that was way more exclusive than the one I was wearing to attend that gala. Someday, maybe…I hope. Someday.
The morning also afforded me some time to get into the crowd areas during the support races. I went up to the stadium section to check out the view from the grand stands, as well as have a chat with our good friend, and awesome racing driver, Robb Holland. It was a good visit, and I was excited to hear his plans for the 2015 BTCC season (He’s the first American in nearly half a century to have a full time ride in the BTCC), but was certainly disappointed to hear that he and Rotek Racing would not be returning to the 25hrs of Thunderhill to defend their title. Hopefully they’ll be back next year.
A good plan for the day was in place, sure, but I had concerns. My feet had begun to come apart, as they often do at the end of a long race weekend. Blisters has grown and popped, and new blisters developed in my old ones. Not a pretty sight, I assure you. But there was no way I was going to abandon my plan because my well worn feet were deciding to protest.
The start, from high above turn one in the photographers perch, was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had to date. Standing with fifty other photographers and one network cameraman, the three story tall scaffolding was at full sway in the stiff breeze that had come up earlier that afternoon. Leaning up against the rails helped keep me on my feet while I was shooting with my 70-200. Shooting with the 400 from up there was a different story. I did my best to lean on it a bit while wedging my foot in the deck/rail pocket. The wind would catch the 400 and sway me around a bit, on top of the sway the entire structure was encountering. It was quite a ride.
After the lengthy yellow flag, which flew on the very first lap, I hustled my way down, per plan to the hill on exit of turn one. There. I grabbed one of my favorite action shots from the entire trip. As the cars peeked over the hill exiting the turn, they appeared for a quick second right on the crest with the crowd, expansive and colorful, filling the frame behind the car. For the sixty or so tries, I only managed two usable frames. Just slightly soft, but captured the moment the way I wanted. I moved quickly down through two before catching a ride all the way up to the hill leading up to turn nine. I really wanted that going away shot as the cars crested the hill, and I was pleasantly rewarded with the shot of the cars hitting, and peeling up, the carpet just outside the rumble strips. I think the photo captures the moment pretty well, but seeing it in person was amazing. The way the cars actually get sideways through the corner is pretty impressive.
A quick walk over the crest and down the hill to the exit of turn ten. the iconic COTA shot with the tower in the background. I was alone, of course, because it was late in afternoon and most of the press photographers wont shoot facing into the sun. It’s totally against the ‘rules’, But I like this shot. Silhouette shots are some of my favorite, and I like the way this one turned out. A little different.
I grabbed the next shuttle that came by and got myself back to the media center at the half way point in the race. I was missing a ton of the action by actually covering the race, so I was glad to get a text from my beautiful wife that she had remembered to set the DVR not only for the race, but for all the practice sessions, and qualifying, as well. I am well loved and I know it. From the media center, I walked over to turn 19 and worked my way back from there to turn 17, anxiously waiting for that ten laps to go mark. I was following the lap count and getting my updates from my F1 app on my phone, and it was right on the money. As soon as I saw we had ten to go, I hustled back over to the media center to drop the big 400mm lens and got myself into the already long line of photogs waiting for pit lane to open up for the podium ceremony.
The race was over and the gate to pt lane opened. A mad rush of journalists, photographers and camera crews ran over to parc ferme, where the top three cars would pull in and the celebration would begin. I got a spot on the gates right behind my good friend Alex Wong from Emotive Image. It was quickly becoming a mosh pit as shooters and teams packed in. Another shooter was doing his best to move me from my (very desirable) position on the gate. A quick jab to his ribs and a death stare had him changing his mind. There was no way I was giving up my position. And it paid off. Lewis Hamiltons team was positioned right next to me, so when he got out of the car he came right over to hug the team, and I was right there. Pretty incredible. A moment I had seen on TV so many times was now playing out right in front of me. I might as well have been in the group hug the team gave to Lewis. An amazing almost surreal moment. I know for many of the people who cover these events, it’s not something they love. They don’t love cars, or racing. But they definitely enjoy what they do. For me it’s a bit different. I LOVE racing. I love the sportsmanship of it, the teams, the hard work, the spectacle of the race itself. Everything. So being a racer, a fan, and a journalist in this moment was a pretty darn special thing.
My first Grand Prix week was over. It was everything I had hoped for. Hard work, lots of walking, more live posts than I had ever done before from an event. It was incredible. Every moment. It was a feeling I wish I could have every week of the year. Some might argue that if you get to experience this every week it might get old. But I know me. I know how much I love this environment and I know that this would be a dream job. Following the pinnacle of motorsport all over the world? What could be better? Yeah, well…I already have it pretty darn good, though, don’t I? I have a very diverse shooting schedule and I really do love it all. Formula Drift, Indy Car, TUDOR, GRC, World Challenge, and now the top of the heap, F1. While a weekend at the track isn’t exactly leisure time, I completely understand how lucky I am. To be able to do something I absolutely have a passion for from the very best seat in the house…incredible. It’s a feeling I wish for all of you.
Here are the rest of my favorite shots from Race Day at Formula 1.