Race day started with a drive from Spa to the circuit, normally 16 minutes; race day, an hour. Other photographers who drove from just over the German border, saw their 40 minute drive take an extra 2 hours and heading out after the race, some of my colleagues claimed they moved just 12 metres in 70 minutes, it was gridlock city.
Once at the track though, it was down to business with Lewis Hamilton arriving wearing overalls. Overalls! And only doing up one of the braces; what is that about?Shades of Super Mario. Then there was Mick Schumacher, son of racing great Michael who arrived in the paddock to prepare for his demonstration lap in his father’s old Benetton F1 car. He did the lap a little later than planned after a massive shunt in the Porsche Cup event delayed track events but I was at the bottom of Eau Rouge to photograph the 18-year old driver fly past at speed. After that, the drivers paraded around the track in some fine vintage vehicles and as I was at the top of Eau Rouge and there was a huge distance between the track and the crash barriers, I headed out with the marshals to stand on the kerbing to get a better shot. Valtteri Bottas and Carlos Sainz sat on the back of their respective vehicles which provided good photos while 2/3rds of the drivers sat in the passenger seat, making them hard to see or totally obscured.
Thirty minutes later the F1 cars came out of the pits and formed up on the grid but that was some way away from me on the other side of the long grey building at the top of the shot above so I stayed put. When they eventually set off for their warm up lap, I shot using my tilt shift lens. This is not a lens I use often but I look for an opportunity to use it at every event if I can get some height.You can select the focus plane on this lens, so I set it up to have everything from the bottom left hand corner up the straight, in focus. Everything left and right gets progressively out of focus providing an interesting effect.
For the opening lap I changed back to my 100-400mm lens and shot the field at their most condensed. For this shot, it is important for everything to be in focus so I shot at a fast 1/1,600th of a second at F/8 and just kept my finger on the shutter for the time it took the field to pass. Note the white smoke around the rear of the Force India cars. You can clearly see 19 of the 20 cars in the field, the 20th is obscured by the Fly Emirates sign.
I stayed in this spot for 6 laps, standing on the concrete barrier to allow me to shoot over the Emirates core-flute signage in front of me. Thanks to canny Scot Phil Smart for this mobile phone pic taken from the nearby spectator area. I moved down the hill and shot some different angles, all the time hoping for some close racing, an overtake or an impact shot. Once again I ended up at the bottom of the Eau Rouge rise stationed a few metres from cars doing 250km/hr+ and as I stated in Friday’s blog, it is both exhilarating and terrifying. No matter how often I told myself not be shocked by the noise, speed and air gusts from the cars thundering past, it got me every time while I was standing for shots like the one below.
When I got down low behind the armco, it was much more comfortable and mentally I felt safe but still the air that is blasted through the armco is tremendous. God knows how Mickey the TV cameraman just out of frame on the right of this shot can stand it all day. At about the 18-lap mark of the 44 lap race, I had to climb over a 7 foot high locked gate, with all my gear (thank you to the spectators in the public area for assisting me) and hike a few hundred metres uphill to get this shot which incorporates the crowd, using a 500MM lens.I then added a 1.4xs extender to allow me to shoot the cars heading away from me and towards to Les Combes. The furthest car in the shot below is probably 800 metres away but using the best Canon kit ensures I get the best possible definition. With the race 23 laps old, I went back to the media centre to download my images and get 20 of the better ones on line. This gobbled up 10 laps and meant my next move was down to the pit gate to wait for the parc ferme shot with the other photographers. Once the gates were flung open, there was a sprint around to the pit lane where I shot the top 3 cars coming back to parc ferme in the opposite direction to which the cars normally drive along pit lane. It was here I was thankful for the burly security guard who firmly ushered me off the pit lane after the third car turned into parc ferme as the remainder of the field drove past me to the far end of the pit straight. The thing is, you don’t have any peripheral vision when you’re looking through the viewfinder particularly if you’re using a zoom lens. Race winner Lewis Hamilton brought his vehicle to a stop, climbed out and jumped down towards the photographers in view here. Second placed Sebastian Vettel was much more visible as he went to his crew on both sides of me and apparently I am clearly visible on the TV coverage, no doubt with a camera over my face.
In all the excitement of the first two embracing their crew, I only scored a couple of shots of third placed Daniel Ricciardo.With the celebrations over at ground level, the world’s media switched their attention to the podium which was about 30 metres away. An exuberant Lewis Hamilton bounded out to the delight of the crowd. F1.com used this pic as their banner shot for his win. All three drivers then stood hatless for the national anthem (one of the only times you see their hair) and given I was shooting from directly below, I could position myself so that their respective flags were directly behind them.I also moved about to get the F1 logo behind Lewis as he moved to the front of the podium. While he was being interviewed on the podium, Daniel was busy geeing up the crowd to do the Mexican wave, much like a disruptive schoolboy. He just loves the whole experience and doesn’t hold back.And then there were the champagne shots.The post-race press conference is always good for a laugh when Daniel’s involved and today he was on fire. When asked if he was more gentle with his car as opposed to Max who keeps having technical issues, he replied jovially, “I do a lot of things with my driving style which is very nice to the car. I actually talk to it a lot during the race. I massage it. I wouldn’t call it foreplay but it’s something like that and Max is young, he’s aggressive, he goes straight in!”
This brought the house down of course.After the press conference and driver TV interviews, Mercedes did their winning team photo in front of their garage. It’s a tradition for them and also for Red Bull. Ferrari don’t do one when they win a race, saving it for when they win a championship and as for the other teams, I can’t tell you what they do as I have not been around long enough to see another team win. There were about 35 photographers there for this group shot and straight after, Lewis was up quick smart, avoiding another dousing of champagne. He headed straight to the pit lane fence to appease his patient fans which is the norm for him after a win. If you ever go to a race and Lewis wins, it’s worth hanging around for an hour or so after the race if you want to see, meet or solicit an autograph from the great man. I am nowhere near agile enough to scale the fence with 2 cameras like some of the photographers in the pic above so I stayed low and shot him against the sky. And that brings my Belgian Grand Prix to an end. A reminder to order a canvas or photo print of any pic on this page by clicking here – https://www.kymillman.com/product/fine-art-prints/
Today, it’s off to Italy for this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix. Ciao.