The week that Formula 1 rolls into Melbourne is a very hectic one for anyone who has anything to do with the event, in particular a photographer.

Both the on and off track action requires photographic coverage to complement the stories journalists write to put together a complete picture of the exciting, fast paced and highly emotional sport we all love.

For the second year running I have had the privilege of photographing the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix exclusively for MotorsportM8 who put in many many hours to provide the quality content you read on a daily basis.

George Hitchens

Our Australian Grand Prix lens man: George Hitchens

This is my review of the 2016 Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix from a photographic perspective and I hope it provides you with an insight into my decision-making process when, not only shooting but selecting images to be published.

The fundamental component to a successful Grand Prix week for me is preparation.

I must ensure my lenses are clean, batteries are charged and I have packed everything I think I’ll need to cover the full week of events that usually start on Monday or Tuesday of race week.

Open media calls scheduled with teams and drivers are emailed through and a decision is made on which ones provide the best photographic opportunity and story for the site. Thankfully this year there were no clashing events so the MM8 team managed to get to every single one!

The driver/team media events generally run to a particular format which allows the photographers opportunities to capture the drivers in both candid and staged shots. One quickly learns that positioning yourself within the media scrum is crucial to getting the best clear shots of the drivers without microphones, cameras or journalists in the way.

Arriving sometimes up to an hour before the event kicks off allows me to survey the location for available light, possible staged shots and be prepared for any last-minute changes to the schedule. At times it’s almost comical watching the photographers all ducking and weaving among each other trying to get ‘that shot’; God forbid you accidentally knock one of the international camera operators – it’s a mistake you only make once!

My main objective during these events is to watch the driver very closely during the interview segments and capture the essence of their personality that will convey story and theme of the interview, unless the driver is of course Kimi Räikkönen…

I also look to capture poignant moments in the driver’s faces in attempt for you the readers to imagine their thoughts.

Media Collage

The open media calls are busy affairs in the lead-up to every Grand Prix (click to enlarge)

At the track the interaction between the fans and drivers/team principals is always entertaining to photograph and witness. There really is a sense of hysteria that goes on around the fan stage and Melbourne Walk area as the drivers make their way towards the ever exclusive Paddock Club.

I really enjoy photographing these moments where members of the general public have various items autographed and also request the obligatory ‘selfie’ with their heroes. This is also the closest I’ll get to the drivers in order to really immerse the reader into the world of an F1 driver, swarms of people all wanting a piece of you.

Melbourne Walk Collage

The ‘Melbourne Walk’, located right at the paddock entry, is a chance for the fans to get up close and personal with their heroes (click to enlarge)

Finally the media conferences and build-up is over, time to hit the track. The 5.3-kilometre Albert Park circuit circuit has 44 dedicated photographic positions set up both on the inside and outside of the track layout which in some cases allows a photographer to be within half a metre of an F1 car doing upwards of 300km/h. Believe me, you know you’re alive when this happens!

Again I prepare by studying the location map to ensure I try out a few different locations around the track for every session. My reason for doing this is to give a different view of the cars and circuit for every session. The available natural light is also a very important factor as it’s one of the key ingredients to making the magic happen.

During the race itself this year I managed to shoot from nine different locations around the circuit. In case you’re wondering, that’s a whole lot of walking for a race that lasts just two hours!

This was the first year I had access to shoot the F1 cars within the barriers and I can honestly say it was the most satisfying and thrilling three days of my photographic life. To truly get a sense of the speed and grip these phenomenally engineered cars have took my breath away.

The final corner (Turn 16) is one of my favourites as I watched the cars skating across the ripple strips, desperately trying to keep traction and burn down the main straight to a top speed around 320km/h.

Of the thousands of photos I took during the week, I was asked by the editor to pick my top-ten pictures and give a little bit of information about each. This was a tough call, but here’s my shortlist:

Mark Winterbottom, 2016 Australian Grand Prix

10. Mark Winterbottom (The Bottle-O Racing Team – V8 Supercars)

Taken using a Canon 5D MkIII with a Canon 200-400mm lens at f/9.0 @ 1/250 sec shutter speed

The Australian Grand Prix is packed with a host of support category races to keep the fans entertained over the event, and the V8 Supercars Championship acts as the headline bill.

Here’s reigning V8 Supercars champion Mark ‘Frosty’ Winterbottom smashing through the mid-corner tyres. You generally have to be pretty quick to capture the car with a few wheels off the ground. With dust kicking up from the impact you get a real sense of the forces on these two-tonne cars.

Shane van Gisbergen, 2016 Australian Grand Prix

9. Shane Van Gisbergen (Red Bull Racing Australia – V8 Supercars)

Taken using a Canon 5D MkIII with a Canon 16-35mm lens at f/11.0 @ 1/80 sec shutter speed

I used a ‘steady pan’ technique for this photo, which basically means to move the camera in the direction same direction the target travels. This keeps the target in perfect focus, while giving the illusion that the background is moving. You need extremely steady hands and millisecond-perfect timing to get the shot right, and I love the way his Red Bull-liveried Holden bursts out with brilliant colours.

Kevin Magnussen, 2016 Australian Grand Prix

8. Kevin Magnussen (Renault Sport F1 Team)

Taken using a Canon 5D MkIII with a Canon 70-200mm lens at f/5.6 @ 1/200 sec shutter speed

The beautifully presented Renault was a great looking car on track. In this shot Kevin glides through Turn 2 with the colourful crowd in the background eagerly watching.

Max Verstappen & Carlos Sainz Jr, 2016 Australian Grand Prix

7. Max Verstappen (Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 Team)

Taken using a Canon 1DX with a Canon 400mm lens at f/3.2 @ 1/5000 sec shutter speed

This image was taken during the intense chase by Max on his teammate Carlos Sainz Jr during the race. I tracked Max through Turn 10 and wanted to catch Carlos in the foreground to show just how close they were.

Sebastian Vettel, 2016 Australian Grand Prix

6. Sebastian Vettel (Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team)

Taken using a Canon 1DX with a Canon 16-35mm lens at f/22 @ 1/125 sec shutter speed

I captured this photo just past the start/finish line on the main straight. You really get a sense of the velocity of the cars here, and with the increased noise from the power units it’s a spine-tingling moment.

Daniel Ricciardo, 2016 Australian Grand Prix

5. Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull Racing F1 Team)

Taken using a Canon 1DX with a Canon 400mm lens at f/2.8 @ 1/5000 sec shutter speed

A very fast shutter speed was required to catch the sparks from the titanium skid plates, and with the RB12 running on such an acute rake, they were sparking more than any of the other cars in the field. I’ve always wanted to capture an image like this as everyone loves to see sparks fly in F1!

Rio Haryanto, Manor Racing Mercerdes MRF5

4. Rio Haryanto (Manor F1 Team)

Taken using a Canon 5D MkIII with a Canon 800mm lens at f/7.1 @ 1/500 sec shutter speed

Friday Practice offered a unique chance to shoot the cars in wet conditions. In this shot I love the sprays of water streaming upwards as the tyres do their best work to keep Rio firmly planted on the track.

Daniel Ricciardo, 2016 Australian Grand Prix

3. Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull Racing F1 Team)

Taken using a Canon 1DX with a Canon 400mm lens at f/3.2 @ 1/3200 sec shutter speed

This is a sentimental favourite as ‘Dan The Man’ cruises past the crowd after finishing in fourth place, thanking the thousands of fan who cheered louder than the hybrid engines at full throttle. I have no doubt he will become a World Champion in F1.

Kimi Raikkonen & Sebastian Vettel, 2016 Australian Grand Prix

2. Kimi Räikkönen and Sebastian Vettel (Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team)

Taken using a Canon 1DX with a Canon 200-400mm lens at f/6.3 @ 1/640 sec shutter speed

Both Kimi and Sebastian in frame coming out of Turn 10 during Saturday’s FP3 session. It’s one of my favourites due to the Ferraris’ beautiful red colours popping out at me. I like the composition of this shot as it’s a reminder you don’t always have to have the subject in the middle of the frame to make it work!

Romain Grosjean, Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-16 - 2016 Australian Grand Prix

1. Romain Grosjean (Haas F1 Team)

Taken using a Canon 1DX with a Canon 400mm lens at f/3.5 @ 1/4000 sec shutter speed

Grosjean was clear standout as the driver of the day and when combined with my favourite corner and photographic viewpoint it makes this one a no-brainer for my number one photo of the Australian Grand Prix.

Watching the cars hurtle through the last turn trying desperately to keep traction is amazing. Being able to see the haze of heat from the exhaust just adds the icing to the cake. A conscious decision to convert this to black and white provides more of a classic feel and further enhances the light and shadow falling on both car and track at this point of the race.

Well that’s that for the 2016 Australian Grand Prix. I hope you’ve enjoyed the coverage and can’t wait until next year!

Images via George Hitchens Photography and XPB Images

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