Photographing the Monaco Grand Prix
- 23 May 2014
- From the section In Pictures
On the eve of the Monaco Grand Prix, photographer David Davies reveals what it is like to cover the prestigious motor race.
As a photographer for the Press Association (PA) I have covered all sorts of events, but the Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix is without doubt my favourite. Other events do not even touch the noise, smells and atmosphere of a couple of hours in May, when the streets of Monaco are lit up by the blur of F1 cars blasting round the principality.
Nowhere else on the Formula 1 calendar can you get so close to the action. Nowhere else can you work from your widest-angled lens through to your longest telephoto lens in a matter of yards and get such a variety of pictures.
The best shots I take this weekend will be edited onsite and sent to the PA office in London, where many are uploaded to the news wire and some will be picked up by media outlets around the world.
Monaco was always the race I looked forward to as a kid, so to go and work there now is a bit like getting the keys to the sweet shop. It always leaves me wanting more. Here are some of my favourites from past years.
This was taken from a helipad above a health club in 2008. Photos have been taken from this particular angle for the past 10 years but it doesn't always work. The sunbathers need to be positioned in just the right place to capture them alongside the passing F1 car.
But for the crash barrier on our right (out of shot) the photographers would be in the middle of the corner for this shot. The Nouvelle chicane, added comparatively recently, gives us this angle as the cars enter the harbour from the tunnel rundown. Here I combined the apartments and yachts together in one frame. It makes a grand scene as they prepare to blast down to Tabac corner.
This is also taken from the helipad in 2008. The high vantage point over the track is pretty much unique to Monaco, especially looking over the harbour. The extension of the chicane as it enters the harbour allows for just enough track to subtly place the car among the yachts.
Pictures like this often provoke comment as some critics view them as too abstract. Shot in 2010 at 1/15th of a second in the tunnel, where the cars reach 180mph, it shows Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel and gives a feel for the noise and atmosphere at the fastest section of the circuit. I am one of the privileged few to be able to watch these powerful F1 cars through the tunnel, where the scream of the engines almost shakes your earplugs out of your ears.
Nowhere else can you get so close to the drivers as they celebrate their victory. In 2008 I found myself surrounded by the McLaren mechanics and ended up in a minor scuffle to get the picture. The front of the lens had been covered in champagne sprayed over me by Lewis Hamilton but, with a bit of luck, his face is just far enough between the champagne drops for the image to work. The wide angle takes in the street around the podium and gives an almost timeless feel of atmosphere. You could almost replace Lewis with Graham Hill and the surroundings would have not changed.
Another classic Monaco angle. We are able to stand on the wall - that is the apex of Loews Hairpin - where you can almost reach out and touch the drivers. Here in 2010, Michael Schumacher enters the tightest corner on the F1 calendar with the rear of the casino making for an impressive backdrop.
One of sport's most famous venues, Casino Square. Positioned on the grandstand to provide extra height, this spot allows me to shoot The Hotel de Paris on the right and the casino directly in front, giving a classic vista of this famous arena.
Each year Red Bull float their Energy Station pontoon into the Monaco harbour. In effect, it is their motorhome for the week but it has a generous hospitality area for guests, where you can enjoy a beer or swim in the upper deck pool. After every race, the winning driver and his team do a group picture to mark the victory. That year, Red Bull's team photo was planned next to the pontoon's pool and 2010 race winner Mark Webber obliged us all by jumping in the pool and celebrating with the winner's trophy. After a long hot afternoon chasing around the track, there were a couple of us that felt like joining him.
It was Saturday morning in 2010 and Alonso shunted his Ferrari going through Massenet. I was shooting around the next corner in Casino Square but I still heard the squeal of the tyres and the crash of carbon fibre on the barriers. Although I was there within seconds of the car coming to rest, Alonso was already out of the cockpit. While a colleague was shooting all this on a long lens, I only had a mid-length zoom and felt my pictures were too loose until the Ferrari was hoisted up in the air, giving me the rather bizarre sight of a Ferrari in a palm tree outside the casino.
As the cars drive over the crest of the hill after the circuit's first corner, the hectic background of the sprawling apartments can be seen. This is a good example of how a picture can work one year but not the next. This shot had all but disappeared 12 months ago thanks to a large advertisement positioned above the track, obscuring some of the buildings.