Sebastian Vettel (pictured below in his garage) was the fastest man around the Baku track today and earned the right to start at the front of the field for tomorrow’s F1 GP. Lewis Hamilton will start in 2nd position and Valtteri Bottas in third. Speaking of Lewis, he arrived on his scooter and zoomed down the paddock thereby avoiding autograph hunters and selfie chasers. Daniel Ricciardo spotted him (he is just behind Lewis but obscured) and remarked, “I need to get one of those”.
While waiting for Lewis to come in this morning I came across this proud pair of local lads who were willing models for this shot. On the subject of models, I had seen 28-year old Russian journalist Natalya Panteleeva at a couple of past grands prix and today she was happy to pose for me on the painted markings on the inside of turn 1. For this shot I seconded another photographer to help by holding a flash just above and out of shot. I spent an hour or so wandering the paddock before the final practice session and after catching a nice shot on Friday of Sebastian Vettel and Pierre Gasly shaking hands I thought I might get a similar shot when I saw Fernando Alonso heading towards Seb. But there was no greeting or even acknowledgement. Just two ships passing in the night.There was the obligatory pit stop practice.And an hour or so later it was into the pits for me to observe the final practice session.
Here’s what Sauber driver Charles Leclerc was wearing on his feet. Brendan Hartley was in good spirits although that would change in qualifying after he very nearly caused a massive accident with his team mate through some bad luck. At the exit end of pit lane you can take this shot with no fence to interrupt your view. What do you reckon that Street Fighters poster on the Marriott would have cost?There were a plethora of close up shots of drivers’ eyes and noses as they sat in their motor vehicles awaiting their turn to head out.And shots of cars nearly running over our feet as they leave their garages. The afternoon saw qualifying and I had intended to head to the castle to shoot from the inside of the track, however, I missed the bus and that left me with a dilemma; where the hell do I go as everything worthwhile is so far away. My learned colleague Mark Thompson from Getty Images suggested I head to the second last corner, at the top of the hill in the pic below. This is accessed via a 3km ride in a golf cart and a 600m walk up the hill. The golf cart had to have been modified; we did 62kms/hr at one point, along a path through a gorgeous park running alongside the Caspian Sea. I ended up being glad I went there as 3 cars overshot the corner and ended up in the slip road. Below is Pierre Gasly after he nearly cleaned up the slow moving car of his Toro Rosso team mate Brendon Hartley. Brendan was trying to get out of Pierre’s way as the Frenchman bored down on him doing 300kms/hr. It took him Pierre some time to get the car turned around. Below Estaban Ocon had to do a U turn at the same spot. And Lance Stroll decided to reverse onto the track. God knows how difficult that must be with only very small mirrors and cars coming at him at a couple of hundred kms/hr. The shot that this corner is known for is the one below with the nice house on the inside. I wanted to shoot the cars coming towards me at the corner so moved over to the fence on the very right hand side of the pic above to shoot these images. Using a 6oomm lens, which is a monstrously large bit of kit, I was able to get in super tight on the drivers turning left at that corner and these were shot through the wire mesh fence which is invisible when the lens is placed close to it.For the final 12 minutes of qualifying I shot from the grandstand at the final corner. It is rare we are allowed to shoot from the grandstands but Baku are fine with it.In the post-qualifying press conference Lewis Hamilton managed a wry a smile,and Sebastian’s bottom lipped looked like it might need some medical attention. As we near the end of today’s blog here are four shots of Williams’ driver Sergey Sirotkin’s head protector. Thanks for getting to the end; let’s do this all again tomorrow huh?