I arrived in Baku, Azerbaijan from New York on Tuesday morning and walked the track in the afternoon and again on Wednesday, so technically this day 1 post incorporates 2 and a half days.
There was plenty of activity all around the track with workers feverishly preparing for the weekend; the finish line was being painted, teams were marking their pit stop spots, walls were being sprayed with sponsor logos and so on. What did catch my eye was the number of security personnel with dogs. I gather the canines were sniffer dogs and I spotted at least a dozen of them.The city of Baku is a blend of elegant old, and shiny new, architecture in close proximity which will make for some nice photographs once the cars hit the track on Friday. Above you can see the ornate and perfectly presented government house standing alongside the glossy Baku Hilton which is right in the middle of the track and plays host to our media centre, the only media centre thus far to feature chandeliers; that’s because we’re holed up in the hotel’s ballroom.
I did spot a gathering of Valtteri Bottas crash helmets in a window above the Ferrari hospitality suite.Azerbaijan was until 26 or so years ago, part of the USSR, however, since gaining independence in 1991, the country of some 10 million people has flourished with oil bringing in plenty of riches and the city skyline certainly looks impressive with evidence of the oil money on show.
On Wednesday morning I walked the track with experienced photographers Mark Sutton and Manuel Goria (below). We were identifying places from which to shoot and areas where photography holes might need to be cut. We went up in one of the grandstands to work out exactly where we need to be to get the fence running right down the middle of this shot. This provides an image where one car is going away from you on the right while another comes towards you on the left.Not far along the walk, we spotted these two joggers on the track. From a distance Mark thought the runner on the right was Stoffel Vandoorne, however as they neared, we realised it was instead Valtteri Bottas running with a Mercedes team member. I like coming across these tiny cameras which are positioned in spots where the cars coming very close to them, and then watching the broadcast and seeing the resultant shot.Sebastian Vettel went out for a track walk before lunch on Wednesday. He often does and is always accompanied by Ferrari crew. What I am keen to shoot this race is the old part of the city which butts up against the track and this castle is something special. Here are a few angles that should produce some fine images. Of course there was the regular Thursday press conference with two groups of drivers. Kimi Raikonnen was his usual calm self, I’m not sure I’ve seen him laugh. He was joined by Daniil Kvyatt and a sleepy Stoffel Vandoorne. Next up it was Estaban Ocon, Valtteri Bottas and Romain Grosjean.
Late in the afternoon a number of teams were practicing their pit stops and I was able to shoot from both ground level and overhead. As I was heading off about 6.30pm I discovered the Mercedes drivers doing an interview in the paddock and stopped to snap some shots.Following that I’d had enough and headed out of the circuit but quickly realised I’d left my wallet behind. This required a lengthy walk back to the Media Centre through the paddock where I came across half a dozen photographers seated on the ground waiting for the Mercedes drivers to come down the stairs from their paddock headquarters.
I decided I’d join the throng and 15 minutes later Valtteri Bottas descended allowing me to snare this shadow shot. After an hour waiting for Lewis I gave up and was about to leave when Carlos Sainz was convinced by my colleagues waiting for Lewis on the ground, to pose in the late afternoon golden light. After that it was up to the top of the Hilton Hotel for a media function and what a view it was. Tomorrow sees the cars on the track for the first time in FP1 at 1pm.
Cheers from Baku.