Being a motorsport photographer and travelling to various circuits is certainly a dream come true (you get to capture the spirit of Bahrain for example) and a curse in equal measure. You get the chance to practice an art you love, shooting the most amazing pieces of automotive engineering and meeting some incredible people, but…
No matter where you go in the world the circuits and pit garages look similar, the cars in the series are the same from race to race and by and large the team members are the same. So how do you differentiate between Silverstone and Bahrain, Paul Ricard and the Nürburgring, or Spa and Le Mans? It’s the elusive spirit I have been searching for, like the spirit of Le Mans or the spirit of Bahrain. But I resigned myself to the fact that the majority of my images will be solid stock images, and only a few will capture the spirit of the venue or the emotion of the particular race.
Bahrain is the first fly away race which is a challenge with limited baggage allowance. What do I take and what do I leave behind? I won’t have the benefit of a car boot full of ‘maybes’ and ‘just in case goodies’.
Every trip to a WEC race, apart from my home race at Silverstone, is an ‘oh my goodness how early’ start! And the journey to Heathrow is no exception. A finely tuned timetable is buzzing round in my head. Yes, we have flights to catch, hotels to find and the circuit to find. But the most important appointment is with Jeff Carter, FIA Media Delegate, for the photographers briefing at 14:30 on Wednesday. Without that it’s game over before it even begins.
The journey to Heathrow was eventful with traffic delays resulting in a very nice lady from BA checking our bags in with just a couple of minutes to spare! The flight though was very pleasant, the plane containing many familiar faces, drivers and media alike.
Arriving at Bahrain International Airport was just like any other airport, and the transit from the plane to the hire car was remarkably fast and efficient. Then the trouble started! Armed with copious notes and a Nissan Sunny we set off for the hotel some 10-15 minutes away. Two and a half hours later we finally arrived at the hotel. It’s still a mystery how we managed get so lost!
The following morning, after a leisurely breakfast, we made our way to the circuit through Bahrain in the light. All we had to do was to drive the 45-minute route within a generous three-hour window, what could go wrong? You guessed it, we got lost again. When we sighted the Saudi Arabian border post we knew we were going in the wrong direction. And so we arrived 45 minutes late for the photographers briefing!
Bahrain International Circuit is an amazing place, a jewel of motor sport in the desert. The facilities are spectacular, everyone you meet is polite and friendly, and nothing appears too much trouble. The media centre is spacious with all the things we need, including an amazing buffet throughout our stay. It was by far the best catering of the season, perhaps second only to the Nürburgring.
When you step out trackside, you are under no illusion that you are in a desert. However, the heat isn’t as oppressive as some of the other circuits we have visited. The big difference though is the view, the backdrop of the desert landscape and architecture. From the vast majority of the shots we amassed, it’s not difficult to tell that you are at Bahrain International Circuit. And even when the sun falls, it can only be Bahrain. The lighting is out of this world, the pits are as bright as day. The circuit is lit to a level that makes photography relatively straight forward, unlike Le Mans which can be tricky with intermittent areas of light and dark.
I don’t know if it is the end of term relaxation, or Brits abroad sticking together, but everyone I met seemed really chilled. I spent an amazing amount of time in conversation with Anthony Davidson, Ollie Jarvis and Nick Tandy at various times throughout the weekend. And I look forward to pulling an article together about what 2015 has been like for them and their plans for the future. Such is the family feel of the FIA/WEC, that a humble tog bumbling along can have access to a World Champion, a Le Mans winner and works driver on the cusp of greatness (and capture the spirit of Bahrain).
Did I find the spirit of Bahrain? On a very superficial level I did. I certainly experienced the warmth, friendliness and hospitality of the Bahraini’s photographically. You, the reader, decide and then drop us a line. We would love to hear from you.
Written by: John Mountney (with captions by Glen Smale)