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The stories behind amazing pictures, Part 1

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The stories behind amazing pictures, Part 1
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May 12, 2020, 6:29 PM

The Motorsport Images team has taken some great photographs across the decades, so we decided to ask one of their leading lights to pick out his favourites.

Steven Tee

For more than 30 years, Steven has been one of Formula 1’s leading photographers. In that time, the MD and chief photographer of LAT, now part of Motorsport Images, has witnessed plenty of great moments firsthand.

Now seemed like a good time to ask him to select some of the images that mean the most to him – and tell us why they are so special. So, here are his 15 selected photographs and the stories behind them.

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1. Grosjean flies, 2012 Belgian Grand Prix start

Romain Grosjean, Lotus E20 Renault, Sergio Perez, Sauber C31 Ferrari, Fernando Alonso, Ferrari F2012, and Lewis Hamilton, McLaren MP4-27 Mercedes crashed at the start

Romain Grosjean, Lotus E20 Renault, Sergio Perez, Sauber C31 Ferrari, Fernando Alonso, Ferrari F2012, and Lewis Hamilton, McLaren MP4-27 Mercedes crashed at the start

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

I am a creature of habits, some good and some bad! For more years than I care to remember I have shot the start of the Belgian Grand Prix from the inside of La Source. It is unique, being a hairpin 300 metres after the startline, and is accessible to those photographers happy to stay there for the race duration.

The 2012 race stands out as I was able to capture an alternative angle of Romain Grosjean’s huge accident. This shot is taken on a 14mm super wide-angle lens, and I was standing no more than four feet away from him as he flew over the top of Fernando Alonso.

I was in a small group of photographers, and once I finished shooting the accident I turned and found all but one had disappeared, which makes me either dedicated or stupid! Probably a little of both, but I do have the photo to now share.

2. The focus of Lewis Hamilton, 2010 Japanese GP

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren MP4-25 Mercedes

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren MP4-25 Mercedes

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

This shot of Lewis Hamilton was taken inside the McLaren garage during qualifying for the 2010 Japanese GP.

Heavy rain arrived just before the cars were due out, and everyone spent the next hour waiting for a big enough break to come in the weather, to be able to run, which never came, meaning qualifying was moved to a sunny Sunday morning.

Lewis sat patiently in his car and, although he eventually removed his helmet, he kept an aura of total concentration throughout. He famously doesn’t like photos of himself wearing the balaclava, but I have since shown this to him, looking almost zen-like, and he was happy with it!

3. Jenson Button’s wet-weather mastery, 2011 Canadian GP

Jenson Button, McLaren MP4-26 Mercedes

Jenson Button, McLaren MP4-26 Mercedes

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

I think the two times I have been most wet doing my job were at the 1984 Monaco GP and here in Canada, 2011.

Keeping your equipment dry and functioning is paramount when the weather is as bad as it was on race day, as you obviously need to be able to keep shooting. I carry two cameras, but when it’s raining keep one safe and dry in my camera bag as a backup. Chamois leathers are a brilliant way to wipe spray from lenses, stopping them misting up, and I always carry one.

Jenson Button came from the back of the field to famously win, mainly by his brilliance in the horrendous conditions, and it is the photographer’s job to illustrate that, which I hope this photo does.

It was shot at the last corner when the track was at its wettest, and after Jenson passed me, race director Charlie Whiting temporarily stopped the race. By using as high a shutter speed as the light allowed, it was possible to freeze the rain hitting the track and car, highlighting the conditions.

4. Fernando Alonso’s first Ferrari win, 2010 Bahrain GP

Race winner Fernando Alonso, Ferrari F10

Race winner Fernando Alonso, Ferrari F10

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

I first met Fernando when he was a young test driver for the Renault F1 team. We were in Flavio Briatore’s fabulous home in Malindi in Kenya for a week’s pre-Christmas training camp in December 2001, and over supper one evening I was moaning about the lack of celebration and emotion some of the current drivers – in particular Juan Pablo Montoya and Ralf Schumacher – showed after winning races.

Fernando promised if he won a race he would definitely celebrate big style, and he never let the photographers down, coming up with creative ways to demonstrate his sheer joy of winning in both parc ferme and on the podium.

I was lucky enough to be on a roof directly above where he stopped following his first Ferrari win in Bahrain in 2010. I love the shape and clean lines of this shot, Fernando looks like he is emulating the Christ the Redeemer statue that sits above Rio de Janeiro.

This photo adorns a wall in his amazing museum in Oviedo, so circle squared!

5. Hamilton instead of Alonso, 2016 Abu Dhabi GP

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W09 EQ Power+, 1st position, celebrates with donuts after the race

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W09 EQ Power+, 1st position, celebrates with donuts after the race

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

Abu Dhabi has become ‘the donut race’, started by Nico Rosberg winning the championship there in 2016. I work closely with both McLaren and Alonso, so when F1 Racing asked me if I would shoot a feature of Fernando’s last race, I was very happy to accept.

I heard that he would do donuts on the start/finish line after crossing the line, and found the perfect spot to capture that, in the starting tower half way down the straight. Photographers are allowed onto the pitwall one lap from the end, and I ran from the McLaren garage to the tower, popped on my 70/200 mm zoom lens and waited for Alonso.

Hamilton crossed the line and won the race, drove slowly down the track, stopped right below me, lit up his tyres and proceeded to spin. I can’t imagine being as well-placed again to record the art of the donut, and love this shot, but by the time Fernando arrived and started his performance he was both too far from me, and engulfed in Lewis’s smoke.

Bittersweet, but luckily my colleague Sam Bloxham was on the pit roof, and got Fernando perfectly! LAT images’ teamwork at its best, and the feature looked great.

6. Three-wide at the 2019 Spanish GP

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W10, Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes AMG W10 and Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF90 on a run to the first corner at the start of the race

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W10, Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes AMG W10 and Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF90 on a run to the first corner at the start of the race

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

The perceived best spot for a GP start is the outside of turn 1, shooting head on, using a long lens, and I have been there hundreds of times.

However, it is nice to try different things when circumstances allow, and this start shot from last year’s Spanish GP start is a good example of that. The cars are very closely matched at Barcelona due to all the winter testing miles, and there is a long downhill run to Turn 1. This combination often allows the opportunity to get the cars three abreast.

This shot has just that, and is captured shortly before the braking point using a short 85mm lens and a small aperture and fast shutter speed. It epitomises Barcelona, and trust me standing so close to 20 cars flat out and centimetres apart is a very exciting place to shoot!

7. Capturing F1’s next generation

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, Lando Norris, McLaren, George Russell, Williams Racing, Alexander Albon, Toro Rosso, and Charles Leclerc, Ferrari

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, Lando Norris, McLaren, George Russell, Williams Racing, Alexander Albon, Toro Rosso, and Charles Leclerc, Ferrari

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

I have covered over 650 F1 races, starting in 1984, and seen some of the greatest drivers and rivalries during that time. I know people say that F1 isn’t what it was, but to be honest they were saying that back in 1984.

The truth is, F1 has never been stronger, and the current crop of young guns is going to make sure F1 continues to be watched and talked about for years to come. I was really lucky to be in the right place at the right time, and get this behind-the-scenes shot of the best of them chilling out and chatting before the drivers’ parade.

Usually they spend the time in the holding area signing autographs for all the grid kids who make up the pre-start show but, unluckily for the kids and luckily for me, their bus was stuck in traffic and they missed the appointment.

Max Verstappen, Lando Norris, George Russell, Alex Albon and Charles Leclerc have been racing each other in the lower formulas and karting since they were little kids, and will continue that in F1. The future is certainly bright.

8. Leclerc and Verstappen, 2019 Austrian GP

Pole sitter Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, talks with Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing

Pole sitter Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, talks with Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

Another shot of the young guns. This is post-qualifying at the Red Bull Ring, and Charles has just clinched pole, with Max third. While second-placed Hamilton is being interviewed, they chat animatedly on the start/finish line. The photo is made by Leclerc’s gunfighter pose!

This photo took on way more significance the next day after the two of them went wheel-to-wheel, with Verstappen muscling past for the win in front of 30,000 adoring Dutch fans, giving Honda its first F1 win since 2006.

9. Ayrton Senna at Silverstone

Ayrton Senna, McLaren MP4-8 Ford

Ayrton Senna, McLaren MP4-8 Ford

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

Silverstone has always been a tricky track to shoot F1 cars, thanks to flat light, messy backgrounds, over-zealous spectator marshals and the huge distance between us and the cars.

There was one mega spot though, sadly long gone, on the old track configuration where the cars came over a crest at the Bridge corner. You had to lie on your tummy, 500mm lens resting on the sleepers pre-focused on the exact piece of Tarmac where the car was at the top of the crest, and the background completely free of the Silverstone detritus.

The cars here were flat on the throttle and to get a sharp shot on the helmet you had to anticipate when to push the shutter button. This 1993 session took place under grey skies, and the rain clouds were building behind, over Club corner, when the sun came out and moments later Ayrton Senna popped over the crest.

It was shot on film – not a digital camera – so it wasn’t until first thing Monday morning I could see that I had nailed it, sharp, correctly framed with the car in the sun and moody sky.

10. Verstappen’s famous fire, 1994 German GP

Fire during pit stop of Jos Verstappen, Benetton B194 Ford

Fire during pit stop of Jos Verstappen, Benetton B194 Ford

Photo by: Motorsport Images

I wasn’t sure whether to include this shot as I worry it has been seen too much since I took it in 1994, but it is the shot I am most famous for, so it’s in.

I was shooting the race from the infield area at Hockenheim and it had settled down, so I decided to pop to the pits and shoot the pitstops from in front of the Benetton team garage. As I got to the pitlane the mechanics were already out, ready for one of their cars, and I realised I had a 70/200 zoom on my camera and there was no time to change it for something wider. Jos Verstappen stopped moments later and I started shooting from the side when all hell broke loose.

One moment I could see the car, the next a wall of flame! I continued to shoot, but had no idea what I had captured as it was shot on film, so it wasn’t until I got back to London and got the films back from the lab that I saw the results.

There were four frames of the conflagration, two out of focus, one average, and this one, which is so sharp it looks almost set up.

11. Senna searching for the edge?

Ayrton Senna, McLaren

Ayrton Senna, McLaren

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

Ayrton Senna really pushed the envelope in everything he did, and was one of the first to understand how the data could help him find an advantage.

In Europe this all took place at the backs of the garages, well away from all but the team. But at the flyaway races, especially the street ones, the garages were too small to accommodate all the teams’ kit, and in Montreal they had tents erected behind the main garage areas.

I was in the paddock walking past McLaren, when a gust of wind blew the side of their tent, momentarily revealing Ayrton all alone studying his data. I popped my lens through the small opening and got this shot.

I think it epitomises him alone in his own world, totally concentrating on the numbers on screen, and it works photographically as he is naturally vignetted in the centre of the frame.

12. Calm before the storm, Senna at Estoril

Ayrton Senna, Lotus 97T waits to be collected after breaking down in practice

Ayrton Senna, Lotus 97T waits to be collected after breaking down in practice

Photo by: Motorsport Images

The 1985 campaign was my first full F1 season. I’d started the year before, as had Ayrton, whom I had followed in his British F3 championship-winning year. He was therefore the only driver I knew.

Senna had moved from Toleman to Lotus, a team LAT worked for, and expectations were high.

During morning warm-up for the second race in Estoril, Portugal, Ayrton had a technical problem, and stopped on track where I was shooting from a cluster of rocks. He climbed up and joined me, and said good morning before concentrating on watching the other drivers’ lines.

Once the 30-minute session had finished the marshals pushed his car back onto the track and Ayrton went and sat patiently behind it waiting for the tow truck. He famously went on to take his first win later in the day in the pouring rain, and this photo was overtaken by those events, but I have always loved it as I think it really shows who he was.

13. Michael at Mirabeau in Monte Carlo

Michael Schumacher, Benetton B195

Michael Schumacher, Benetton B195

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

This shot from Sunday morning warm-up at the 1995 Monaco GP is one of my favourites. It was shot at the Mirabeau corner, and required the stars to align to capture it: the early morning light coming through the trees in the Casino gardens, a driver pushing deep into the  corner where the camber would lift the inside front wheel; and be shot on Fuji Velvia film, which gives it the overblown colour and contrast. Tick, tick, tick.

Michael Schumacher’s Benetton went on to win later that day, which gives the photo an extra tick!

14. Alonso contemplates his second world crown

Fernando Alonso, Renault R26

Fernando Alonso, Renault R26

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

We were working for Renault in 2006, and Alonso went to the final round in Brazil in with a very good chance of emulating his drivers’ title from the previous season.

The pits and paddock are very basic in Sao Paulo, and I had noticed that the drivers’ rooms were nothing more than painted breeze block huts, with a clothes rack and camp bed. I thought it would make a great contrast to the perceived glamorous view of F1, and asked Fernando if he was happy for me to shoot him in there.

This was taken before he headed out on race day to clinch his second world championship, and shows him in deep concentration.

I have been privileged to work closely with many great drivers, and the thing they share is the ability to close out the things around them, like annoying photographers, and this then makes for great natural images.

15. Reward for chasing Ferrari

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari 248 F1, pitstop

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari 248 F1, pitstop

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

I love this pitstop shot of Michael Schumacher taken during the 2006 Spanish GP because it took a lot of negotiating to achieve, and proves if you don’t ask, you won’t get!

It was shot using a remote fired camera, which was mounted on a bar that Ferrari had running between the two overhead gantries that carry the airgun lines. It is on a 14mm wide-angle lens and looks like it is taken standing among the pitcrew.

A big thank you to crew chief Nigel Stepney, who allowed me to do it, and who is sadly no longer with us.

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Series Formula 1
Author Steven Tee / Motorsport Images