Well that was an action-packed race and I was happy to photograph it on a warm and sunny Suzuka Sunday.
Once again Lewis Hamilton was the first to make it to the finish line and has virtually assured himself of the title of world champ with 4 races to go.Unfortunately for Sebastian Vettel, his car suffered power problems and in the first lap, a number of cars passed him , including Max Verstappen at the hairpin where I started the race.When I came into the track around 9am, I came across this guy lugging a tyre round the spectator area, god knows why. After setting up for the day in the media centre I went out to the Paddock to see who was about and found the two Mercedes Benz maestros heading from their hospitality suite to the garage. Niki Lauda (on the left) always wears a jumper and that red hat. It has to be the hottest of days before Niki will take off that jumper and I’ve only ever seen him without the hat once and that for was only for a brief moment when he gave the Singapore GP winner, Lewis Hamilton, a hug in the media pen. The grid girls were dressed very simply here and looked great as they were marched through the Paddock in double file. Their shoes were impressive and added a few centimetres to their height.In the media centre, we had both Canon and Nikon Professional Services on hand to look after our kit. This is the home of both major companies and this Canon gentleman was a delight to work with. He would even walk around the centre asking Canon shooters if they wanted their cameras clean. On the Saturday I was talking with one of the Getty photographers who told me he had set up an “emergency button” on his 1DX Mk2. If he was shooting at say 1/30th of a second and something dramatic happened, instead of having to dial in different settings and losing a second or two (often the difference between getting and missing a shot), he just hits a button and the camera goes to a pre-programmed “safe” setting that might not get you an arty shot, but it will capture the action.
I spent a few minutes with the Canon pros and set up my emergency settings on both cameras and will one day, be glad I invested that time.
Over in the Fanzone, the crowd had gathered to hear the Sauber drivers talk (in English with a translator) about the impending race. When the host asked the large crowd to wave to the drivers, they complied en masse; it was impressive. Before the drivers’ parade, a photo shoot on the podium was lined up. It was to feature 7 past world champions. Six of the drivers were positioned on time, but one (the likely 2017 World Champ) did a no-show. I was walking up the Paddock with him and Niki Lauda when I heard an organiser say, “You’re late, the other drivers are already there.” Alas, Lewis didn’t make it and the photo went ahead with only 6 world champs.
The drivers’ parade offered plenty of shot options. Here I caught Daniel having a laugh,Lewis protecting his sensitive skin from the sunlight,a grid girl with a nice smile in front of Jolyon Palmer being interviewed (it was his final race for Renault)and shots of the cars returning with the ferris wheel behind. I used a polarizer to accentuate the sky. Starting the race at the hairpin offered me a nice shot with a wide lens. The light on the right hand section of the track is reflecting the sun into the lens while the left hand section appears much darker as there is no reflection. I tried a few tight shots of backlit cars and liked this one.It was also possible to get trackside to shoot the entry and exit of that corner. To get to and from the hairpin I walked. It’s a 15-minute journey that involves navigation of Spider Alley, a narrow passage between the Armco fence on the outside of a fast corner and a wire fence.It is muddy under foot and frightfully narrow. I had to do it with two cameras on straps, a 500mm lens on a monopod and a backpack which gets caught on the mesh fence every 5 metres or so. When the cars are on track, should one spear off and end up in the barrier at the same time one of us is traversing the pass, there is nowhere for us to go. It will result in tears.
I shot under the overpass (the only 2017 F1 track to have one) for 9 minutes as it offers a different type of photo. To be fair, seasoned pros will often spend a session there to get the photos they envisage but I didn’t have that luxury so made do with a couple of reasonably interesting shots. The chicane offered better photos of the ferris wheel as the sun was out and I spent 10 minutes there.Then I shot low across the grass so the track was not visible. I liked the shot below in particular as the engine heat haze is visible and there is no armco or mesh in sight.The cars pass the other direction a few metres to my right so I got them coming towards me and incorporated the wheel and a little further along the track you can get the crowds in the main grandstand behind the cars. After many hundreds of shots, I walked briskly back to the media centre, swapped lenses and traversed the paddock to queue for parc ferme. With 10 minutes still to go in the race, the teams had already started packing up with forklifts moving huge packing containers around.Cut to parc ferme (the fenced area where the cars come in) and I managed to get a front row spot following the 200m sprint up pit lane. Here we await the top 3 cars and I will admit, it’s pretty special being so close to the action and knowing that tens of millions are watching this on TV.Once parked, Lewis took a little while to get out of his car and then proceeded to give it a pat, adopt his trademark pose on top of it and then do this which I presume is some sort of praying ritual or a show for the world’s media.
The drivers then walk upstairs to the waiting room where they hydrate, towel down, don their sponsor caps and watches and await the podium presentation. When Daniel was announced, he came out and respectfully bowed to the crowd; a nice touch that would have sat well with the locals.There were only a few photographers below the podium resulting in us having free reign to wander about to position the respective flags behind the drivers.One of Lewis’ team mates had thrown him his phone from below and while he was being interviewed, Daniel (seen below) grabbed Lewis’ phone and took a number of goofy selfies.Lewis posted them later. The champagne spraying wasn’t great and there was no opportunity to put the gorgeous blue sky behind the action, but as always, the first sprays from Daniel’s bottle (he bangs it on the podium a few times to get it extra bubbly) looked interesting.He then gave the Paddock Club guests a taste of the good stuff as the podium butts right up against their balcony. Next was the press conference and as Daniel was in it, there were some shenanigans at the start with him tossing his towel at Max while he was doing his Dutch language bit for the cameras. We are not allowed to photograph during this section of the press conference. I’m unsure why, but that is the deal.I love Japan, the culture is so different from the rest of the world and their love of anime, manga and cuteness is fascinating. The people are so polite, honourable and honest and their customs are intriguing but it was the passion for F1 that the local fans showed that stood out for me this past 4 days. It is a stark contrast to say, China, where there are fewer spectators and hardly any real fans. All Suzuka needs now is some classy, non-smoking hotels.
I’m now looking forward to going to Perth for 8 days before I head to Austin, Texas for what my learned photography colleagues tell me is the best race of the year.
Domo arigato and sayonara Japan.