What a great first day it was at Suzuka.
It was so nice to have a mild day without high humidity like Singapore and Malaysia. And the Japanese fans? Well, they were super. Enthusiastic, crazily dressed and supremely polite. Already I’m rating this event as one of the top 3 I’ve done this year and the best parts are still to come.
I took the bullet train from Tokyo to Nagoya this morning with my youngest son Jayce. It was then a switch to a local train to Shiroko and a short car ride to the track.
First up I headed out to see the fans who’d rolled up for the pit walk and straight away I knew these people were committed. I found this Renault fan (again) in the crowd. I’ve photographed her at the last 3 grands prix and this time I focused on her finger nails.Here she is below last weekend in Malaysia.And a fortnight prior in Singapore (she’s actually Japanese).There were plenty of others who stood out in the large crowd too. There were a few thousand school kids in the grand stand today, all separated into blocks of seating. Jodie and Vicky from Red Bull were tickled pink to get given these Red Bull kiminos but weren’t sure how to tie the thick belt-like sash that goes around the waist but a woman in the crowd offered to do Vicky’s and they posed for this pic.But the thing that blew me away was the life size anime cutouts. I love the anime culture and to see such amazing artwork up close and on a large scale was a mind bender. This chap produced a great Lance Stroll.But my favourites were the pieces by Akio Kouketsu. He presented these two pieces to the Red Bull girls. If you study the prints (they are different) and compare the outifts to Jodie’s (right), you can see they are almost perfect, even down to the logo positions/sizes. Akio was disappointed though when he saw the red zips on the girls’ skirts, a detail he missed. His Ferrari design is also impressive. The four women below were proud to let everyone know who they were supporting this weekend.And all the time this was going on, the local police and security people were on the ball but always polite, so very much the opposite of your typical security people.And in the pits, Renault had a very Japanesey mascot at the back of their garage.After an hour out in the pits and paddock it was off for a track walk where I came across all of the usual suspects,and one very special creature.This praying mantas was very much alive but more than comfortable with my wide angle lens right in his inquisitive face. I hope he’s not there tomorrow when the cars take to the track because I fear he won’t last long.
I hear a lot about the legendary Japanese attention to detail but quite frankly I think that’s a load of bullshit as the pic below shows.An out of place dot of red paint! What are they playing at?
The 3pm press conference featured two good mates in Felipe Massa and Daniel Ricciardo (they live in the same apartment building in Monaco) clowning around while Lance Stroll played the straight man. There was no clowning around in the second one. There was an autograph session scheduled for 4pm and a large crowd had gathered for it. It started off calmly enough with a few of the drivers causing little hysteria by sitting quietly at their allotted tables and signing autographs for the orderly fans Kimi emerged from the pits.Lewis made the day for a number of young fansand then he decided to go up into the grand stand. Well, that set off a media and crowd frenzy.Shortly after he left, Sebastian Vettel went up but had to warn the fans to keep their cool otherwise he was going to go back down. They didn’t listen and he didn’t go back down, indeed the photographers and cameramen were arguably worse behaved than the fans. And then it was Alonso’s turn and after he’d whipped the punters into a frenzy, he headed down the stairs but as he passed in front of me, he shouted to the security guy behind me, “Hey give me that please. Yes I need that.”He then took the megaphone and used to amplify his “Arigato” (Japanese for thank you) to the joyous crowd. It was a lovely touch and I was happy to be one of only a couple of photographers standing in front of him. I wasn’t using a flash but another photographer to my left was, which resulted in him being nicely lit in this frame. Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo joined the crowd, proudly displaying his Japanese fan.I was shooting with a 70-200mm lens and a wide angled, 16-35mm when the head Getty photographer Mark Thompson (below) asked if he could borrow my wide angle for a shot. I swapped it for a 50mm, f/1.2 fixed lens and took some shots I wouldn’t have been able to shoot with the wide angle, like this shallow depth of field image of Max Verstappen where I have deliberately focused on the number 33 on his cap.I also witnessed Lewis Hamilton stop and have a quick chat with a young fan, sign something for him and shake his hand as he left the signing session. From the interaction I got the impression the two had maybe crossed paths some time prior. But the reaction after Lewis left was gold, with the couple nearly in tears over the encounter. They’d been touched by F1 royalty.And all the while this was going on, the local track team were painting over the unwanted markings on the start/finish straight oblivious to the craziness.Japan is a marvelous destination and when you add F1 racing to the mix, the appeal is enormous. More tomorrow with pics of cars going fast, that’s if it doesn’t bucket down which may well be the case.