As an American, I’m pretty used to going to car races and seeing a lot of empty seats. Take IndyCar for example. The grandstands they blast past at two hundred miles per hour are barren at every track except Indianapolis. In NASCAR, it’s not much better. Part of a nearly half-billion dollar renovation of Daytona International Speedway was the replacement of every seat, and it’s no accident that they’re each painted a different color. On TV, it looks like the stands are packed.
So it felt good to tap into the atmosphere in Montreal for the Formula 1 Canadian Grand Prix. Racing is alive and well just a half-day’s drive from New York City. Despite the FIA’s continuing efforts to strangle all of the knife-edged competition the fans love out of F1 racing, the spirit still lives at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve when the lights go off on Sunday.
This was my second time shooting an F1 race, and while I still managed to be a total dumbass (walk a mile when I could have gotten a bus, or maybe accidentally lock my 400mm lens and monopod in my locker all day on Thursday) I certainly felt more comfortable in the paddock than last year in Austin. I even brought proper rain gear this time. Unfortunately it just stayed gloomy and dry, my least favorite conditions. No pretty sunshine, and no fun rain shots either. Oh well. It’s still F1, and there’s always something worth shooting, in any light.
My favorite moment as a photographer was right at the start. Certain news wire photographers camp out by the first complex of turns hours before the start of the race, and if you don’t want to do the same, you’ll be shooting those corners through the fence. The nice thing about my assignment shooting for Road & Track is that I don’t have to “cover” the race the same way; I’m out there to find beautiful shots that convey the drama and speed. I’d much prefer to use those hours shooting around the paddock and opening ceremonies, then high tail it up the hill to shoot the start from a less crowded vantage point.
From where I was, looking down towards Senna turn, I could fill my frame wall-to-wall with the fans sitting in the #12 grandstand; they had a perfect view of the first two corners. I was watching them for the start. The anticipation was building. Cell phones were out. The air crackled with the sound of Formula 1 cars on the rev limiter, waiting for the lights, then rows and rows of people were suddently standing, mouths agape, pointing out of my field of view. The whole grandstand was, for lack of a better term, losing their shit. Then I saw why: Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari flashed past the grandstand in the lead, followed by the two Mercedes Silver Arrows he had just dusted off the line. An amazing start for the Ferrari. The crowd went nuts. It was good race after that, too, although it ended up boiling down yet again to another Lewis Hamilton victory.
I loved being reminded of how fun it is to watch car racing. Let them race, let them pass, let them go fast. The people will come. Hopefully even in America, someday.
Enjoy these shots from the 2016 Canadian Grand Prix.