Last weekend I ticked off another box on my quest to visit all the Formula One circuits around the world before I retire (at 40!): Monza. It was also a perfect excuse for a spot of photography! Here’s a behind the scenes look at how my weekend unfolded… (the best of my F1 pics from the weekend will be online soon!)
Thursday morning. My alarm goes off at 3am and my 20-hour day begins.
Arriving in Milan you’d be hard pressed to find any mention of the Grand Prix on the billboards or street corners, save for a lone poster in the local tourist information centre (which is located underground!). Monza is located about 15km north-east of Milan and is steeped in history. This is Ferrari’s home race and where their passionate supporters, the Tifosi, come out in force to support the home team.
For the trip I brought along two cameras and two lenses: a Canon 40D + 70-200mm f/2.8L IS with 1.4x teleconverter for on-track action and a Canon 5D Mk II + 24-70mm f/2.8L for close-up detail. And an iPhone. With this set-up I had the flexibility to mix-n-match the lenses and camera bodies to get a focal range of 24-448mm (35mm equivalent) with IS. Plus I could shoot HD video with the 5D Mk II if I really wanted to… I wasn’t shooting on spec so didn’t fancy carrying a 600mm lens weighing 5+ kilos around the track every day, although my entire kit did weigh about the same…!
The rest of the day was taken up with visiting all the tourist traps in Milan and planning what and where to shoot for the rest of the weekend. The plan was simple: shoot during free practice on Friday and Saturday, leaving Sunday to enjoy the race. Taking pictures at the fastest track on the F1 calendar, where the cars can reach over 210mph on the straights and average lap speeds of 155mph, meant the best vantage points were the slow corners. Retiffilo and Roggia chicanes (Turns 1-2 and 4-5), along with Ascari (Turns 8 to 10), were my chosen shooting locations.
Friday. Another early start to get to the circuit, scout out the locations I had picked out the night before and bag the best spots before the first practice session started. The Autodromo Nazionale Monza is situated in the middle of Parc di Monza, a leafy royal park twice as big as Central Park in New York. Be warned: there’s a lot of walking involved to get to the circuit! Tip: if travelling by train from Milan, get off at Biassono-Lesmo station, the stop after Monza station. This will save you at least 30-40 mins walking time (not to mention sore feet and all!). Plus you won’t have to endure the free bus transfer journey from Monza station to the drop-off point about a mile south of the circuit entrance…
Unless you’re in possession of a press pass, shooting motorsports in public areas behind chicken wire safety fencing can be a bit of a challenge. With a long telephoto (zoom) lens, you have two options: find some height, say the top of a grandstand, or get as close to the fencing as possible and focus through it at the widest aperture (and longest focal length) possible. Doing panning shots through fencing can be tricky as well, as the camera’s autofocus may lock on to the fence instead of the cars. This can be overcome on pro-camera bodies, like the Canon 1D Mk 3, where you can adjust the autofocus sensitivity. In non-pro bodies, your best bet is to use AI Servo AF. It was extremely sunny over the weekend, so most of my action shots were take at around f/10 @ 1/160sec on ISO 100. Without the fences, I would’ve been able to use slower shutter speeds for a bit of artistic licence. Tip: use the support races in-between the F1 sessions to fine-tune your set-ups.
After a lot of walking on Friday and Saturday and all the shots out of the way, I spent Sunday watching the race alongside the Tifosi by Turn 1 and soaked up the atmosphere. Ferrrari didn’t have the pace to win the race, but the Tifosi went wild when Hamilton spun out on the final lap and Raikkonen took the final podium position! Brawn GP had the better (and faster) race strategy to beat the KERS-powered cars with a crushing 1-2 victory.
At the airport departure lounge waiting for the last flight back to London, I spotted some of the BBC F1 presenters including Jake Humphrey and Jonathan Legard! A few minutes later, some members of the Brawn GP team arrived including Ross Brawn and Nick Fry! Ross was clearly under the influence of alcohol after celebrating his team’s win, but was still pleasant enough to pose for pictures and autographs. There was no sign of the winning constructor’s trophy though…
My girlfriend is now the new proud owner of my copy of F1 Racing magazine autographed by Jake, Ross and Nick!
I finally arrived home at 12:30am on Monday morning after my flight got delayed. After some much-needed sleep, I started work on reviewing and editing the weekend’s shoot (I took around two thousand frames), only to find my 2-months old Macbook Pro decided to die on me… Hope you enjoyed this article!