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GP Week : Issue 187
5 MINUTES since Paul Allen’s accident at the German Grand Prix in early July, the FIA and FOM have been working together to restrict pit lane access for safety reasons while finding an equitable solution that doesn’t prevent paddock personnel from doing their jobs. Photographers – who rely on pit lane access to generate much of their income – are some of the most affected. GP WeeK editor KATe WALKeR talks to Mark sutton about life in the new – improved? – F1 pit lane. GPWeeK: so how have you found this first weekend of restricted pit lane access? MARK SUTTON: We turned up here and I thought everything was going to be okay – that there wouldn’t be any issues. I’d spoken to the FIA, and as far as I was concerned there were no issues. But there were some things going on in the background that we didn’t know about, so there were stories going around the pit lane on Thursday – ‘there are going to be six tabards’, ‘there are going to be no tabards’, and various other stories. What was interesting was that we looked at the stats from our own point of view, and found out that we shoot 25 percent of our job in the pits – about a thousand pictures. And is most of that in FP1? No, in all three sessions. I think FP1 is the big one, because having done it for so many years we know that drivers go out and do one lap, a systems check, come back They then physically get out of the car while it’s being checked over, so we can get pictures of the drivers out of the car, no helmet on. Plus you’ve got the new kit, new wings... Exactly. We can get some detail pictures as well – they’re trying all the new aero bits, aero paint. And although the pits look exactly the same every race, every race is different. For us it is, anyway. Which is why we used to have two people in the pits at every session. And how about this weekend – have you secured one of the precious pit tabards? We’ve been able to get a tabard, so we’ve split it between our photographers so we’ve had someone in the pits when we wanted them to be there, especially in FP1, when it was needed. We’ve found it’s not really affected our job, thank goodness. Hopefully it will carry on in other races. I don’t know how the other photographers feel, or the journalists. Obviously from your point of view you had the freedom to go in there whenever you wanted, and now you don’t. Unless you put your name on the list. I think what’s come about is that maybe the journalists don’t need to be in there, but the ones who do... There’s a small group of technical specialists who need to be in there, but most of us are better off watching the lap times, sector times, and run lengths from the press room. Has there been a noticeable reduction in the number of people in the pit lane this weekend? Yes. There’s only 25 [FIA accredited photographers and journalists] allowed now. There’s still quite a few [FOM accredited] TV crews, but they’ve also got restricted numbers. There are fewer people over all – the photographers who are in are generally permanents, although there might be a couple of local photographers too. There have been FOM people on the pit wall – the same security guys that normally check your passes when you go on the grid – and they’re now positioned every three or four garages. Making sure everyone’s got the right tabard, that you’re allowed access? Exactly. Everyone who’s media is now wearing a tabard, even the FOM TV crews. Even if they’re permanently on the pit wall, they’re wearing the tabards. Security are watching what people are up to – at one point I was outside the Mercedes garage, and they’ve got their own photographer who’s working within the guidelines inside the garage. He stepped over the pit lane line, and the next minute the FOM guy had jumped off the pit wall to tell him he’d gone over the line. He’d forgotten. Well, you do it one way for your entire career, and then it changes in a single day. easily done. It’s a trial and error thing. We’re all learning a lot from this race, and possibly things might change at future races. No fewer people in the pit lane, I hope, as we couldn’t cope with it! But in FP2 I think there were only 18 photographers who requested pit lane access. One of the things that has impressed me this weekend has been the way the FIA have gone out of their way to keep us all informed. We had the press conference on Thursday, and while it’s not an ideal situation they are keeping us posted and listening to our feedback. Ideally we would have had some sort of idea of the plans earlier in the week, because it’s not nice to find out when you get here – when you’ve brought all of your photographers out, brought all of your kit – that you might not be allowed in the pit lane. If that had happened, we would have had to think about cutting back on the photographers – you’re losing staff, and it’s deterring people from coming to the races. And no matter how safe you are, accidents can happen anywhere. Accidents happen. People make mistakes. We’re not all perfect robots – even computers fail. But safety-wise, things have improved dramatically over the years. Not just on the cars, but for everybody involved in the sport. The pit lane was left to its own devices, I suppose, and they’ve decided to clamp down. A balance is what we need. But we’re reasonably happy with what we’ve got this weekend – we’ve managed to do our job. And there is a positive – the restricted numbers means you’re not fighting within the garages for the shots. Instead of 15 or 20 photographers all shooting [Sebastian] Vettel, they’re spread along the pit lane. A hidden bonus! It is! I suppose it’s helping our job, in one sense. 5 MINUTES WITH MARK SUTTON 22 GPWEEK.com // 22 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: