Working in the pit lane without earplugs
Excitement best describes my feelings about Formula One racing. Ever since Ayrton Senna battled with Alain Prost in the late 80’s my heart was linked to this circus and more so when Colombian driver Juan Pablo Montoya won a place in the Williams team. He even managed to take the checkered flag in Monaco which was enough to make a whole country crazy.
Those were the days of being a sort of slave inside the dark room, learning and dreaming about having the opportunity to shoot at the side of a track, any track, Interlagos in Sao Paulo was the closest at that time, so it became my objective for years.
Moving to Australia brought my dream one step closer and I went to Albert Park in 2009 for my first ever Grand Prix.
This year, my third, the F1 calendar was modified and Australia became the season opening race. Reuters were responsible for covering the wire agency pool at Albert Park, a chance for me to experience my long held wish and shoot from the heart of this event. To be granted pit lane access for the race.
My colleagues positioned around the track chasing the thrills and spills of the top names and cars while I carried out my assignment in pit lane for the qualifying session and race day. I am sure this is a piece of cake for the F1 photo experts but at my 3rd ever Grand Prix I devoted every ounce of concentration to this mission.
Taking whatever gems of information I could from the experts I ended up dragging a 400 f2.8, 70-200 f2.8, 28-70 f2.8 and 17-35 f2.8 lenses with me along with two Mark IV bodies and a flash because it’s Melbourne and getting cloudy and darker in less than a blink is always a possibility here. I got into the pit, ready, everything seemed to be under control until I realized I had forgotten my earplugs. What a huge mistake, huge! Even though I love the sound of those amazing engines, it took me several laps before I got used to the extremely noisy environment.
It was a terrific but stressful experience as I followed the stories of new Pirelli tires for all teams, Vettel picking up where he left last year, legendary Schumacher leaving the race with a non reliable car, Barrichello getting a new nose, a Russian who managed to get on the podium for the first time in his life, and former World champion Button being penalized. Every situation was very different from each other. Light conditions changed constantly. Different lenses were needed for each situation and with the fastest cars in the world leaving the pit lane at 100km/h there was no time to change them. It was almost a ‘get whatever you can’ experience; running from one garage to another with track marshals keeping an eye on you, not only for you not to come into the garages but also to keep you from being run over by a multi-million dollar car. And the noise, don’t forget the noise.
So as Sebastian Vettel was headed for a 23 second victory my colleagues made their way to the podium. Being in the pit already gave me a premium position for the champagne, one of those situations full of stress but I always shoot it with a smile in my face.
Would I do it again? Definitely! Someday I hope to experience the excitement of other legendary circuits like Monaco, Monza, Silverstone, Suzuka or Spa Francorchamps, with many other drivers and you never know, another Colombian perhaps?
At 32, there are plenty more races for me. The excitement of a sport like this doesn’t wash away quickly, not when your soul and your heart belong to your wife, football, Formula 1 and sports in general, even curling.