The final minutes
“Nico, Nico, a word for Sky? Nico, just one word…”
Sky TV’s Martin Brundle, erstwhile F1 driver, now celebrated television pundit, is working the sharp end of the 2012 Chinese Grand Prix grid. Trouble for him and the HD channel’s million or so viewers is, Nico Rosberg ain’t playing ball.
All around the pole-sitting German is fuss and hullabaloo; TV crews jostling with photographers, journalists and hangers-on. In stark contrast the driver of the leading silver arrow is calmness personified; quietly downloading information from his engineer, physio and crew.
A Formula 1 grid is a special place in so many ways: chock-full of men (and a few women) and the air of anticipation of what is to come can be electric. It’s fascinating to watch the intensity and focus of those with a job to do as others flitter about; an A-lister here, a President there, and of course the diminutive silver-haired ringmaster, Bernie Ecclestone, always making sure all is just so.
At the centre of this seething cauldron of fuss are the 24 young – and not-so young – men who will soon race hard. For close on two hours they’ll fight each other for the enjoyment of the hundreds of millions tuning in worldwide. The way each of them deal with the pressure exerted on the grid can be very revealing.
In the cool, unflustered and easy-going gang (with Rosberg of course) we have Ferrari’s main man, Fernando Alonso – all matador-esque, dark shades and Spanish TV-savvy. At McLaren Jenson Button is always a good bet for both television crews and photographers alike, as is Red Bull’s Mark Webber, appearing as easy going as ever. Seemingly devoid of either a lofty or pretentious mindset, he’s a shoo-in for good media material. Sergio ‘Checo’ Perez is a welcome addition to this exclusive club. Go – almost – as close as one dare with a lens/camera combo and F1’s coming man hardly appears to notice.
Easy to shoot but just not quite so cool are Perez’s Japanese team-mate Kamui Kobayashi, the Williams duo of Pastor Maldonado and Bruno Senna, Ferrari’s forgotten man Felipe Massa and McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton. All of them try hard but just somehow miss the mark. It’s tricky to fathom why; Kamui’s bouncy demeanour, Maldonado’s seemingly embarrassed grin, Bruno’s ‘normalness’, Massa’s sadness and Lewis’s aloofness mean they might sometimes make for a good picture but – one is always aware – there are better bets elsewhere.
Tetchy, nervous and often difficult to be around, Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen are in the least desirable gang of them all.
Veteran Michael has always been a challenge to photograph. Get too close to Schumacher’s personal comfort zone (both in his pomp and now) and a swift rebuke will come your way. Back in the day at Ferrari the red-suited German would sometimes patrol his scarlet car’s perimeter lest an unwelcome media man stray into the forbidden zone. Now approaching his mid-forties, he appears to have changed little.
Self proclaimed Finnish ‘Iceman’ Kimi Raikkonen is undoubtably a cool guy. Nonchalant, talented and as fast as they come, he ought to be unflustered by the media’s interest. Wrong. Raikkonen hates the close attention of the press. Rewind a few years to the 2008 British Grand Prix and I had a ringside view of the two-handed shove that sent a French photographer into a crumpled heap on the Silverstone grid-side grass.
Four years on and two years away from the sport appear to have done little to soften the Lotus driver’s ire. Mindful of this attitude, one is perhaps more wary when working close to Kimi than any other driver in the sport. Never mind – a good picture is nigh-on impossible to achieve thanks to his constantly in place, oh-so-yesterday Oakley shades.
In an exclusive club of one – formerly chipper, now seemingly losing his cool – is reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel. The German wünderkind was (up until Sao Paolo 2011) a dream to work around. 100 per cent at ease with a veritable swarm of media, Sebastian would remain focused however many lenses and microphones were thrust his way. It’s not quite like that now and only time will tell if Vettel is to mature, whether his ride is good, bad or indifferent.
So next time you take a stroll up or down this short but priceless stretch of Sunday afternoon Tarmac take a look, a long hard look at the superstars on centre stage. Their moods, their mindset, their mien.
One can learn a lot…