Heppenheim, southwestern Germany
By Kai Pfaffenbach
To watch a car race on television from a comfortable couch is fun, but to cover a Formula One Grand Prix as a photographer at the track is always thrilling. It is fast, exiting and produces nice pictures (most of the time). As I have covered quite a lot F1 races across Europe over the past 17 years with Reuters, I would never have imagined that my most exciting experience as a photographer in connection with F1 would be the public viewing of the last race of this season.
Germany’s Sebastian Vettel was leading the driver’s ranking 13 points ahead of his Spanish rival Fernando Alonso when the starting lights went green on the Interlagos circuit for the Grand Prix of Brazil in Sao Paulo. More than 2000 people were waiting for that moment in Heppenheim, the hometown of Red Bull driver Vettel, who has won the last two driver championships. The inhabitants of Heppenheim, also fondly known as Vettelheim, were in an easy mood when Vettel got ready in the fourth position on the starting grid, while Alonso started in eighth. Just a few seconds later emotions were turned upside down.
The German got off to a poor start and to make matters worse was in a collision with Brazilian Bruno Senna’s Williams that left him facing the wrong way with a damaged car. The cheering turned into praying…
Even the greatest optimists started to loose confidence. Everybody had simply expected just a big party to celebrate Vettel’s third consecutive Championship. As Red Bull team principal Christian Horner informed Sebastian via their radio that “There is visible damage, it is not the front wing, we cannot fix it,” some of the Vettel fans almost fainted!
Members of Vettel’s supporter’s club were holding hands, others closed their eyes – it seemed that his car would last only a few more rounds. Yet four laps later after being assured by the Red Bull technical head the data looked good, he drove faster and faster. Confidence gained. The public viewing room swelled with expectation and relief and the cheering went up again.