Sometimes photographs are more than what they seem. A case in point is this one that I took at the British Formula 1 Grand Prix at Silverstone, where I celebrated my 21st birthday in July of 1999.
To the uninitiated, this might look like a Formula 1 car, but this is in fact a member of that year’s Formula 3000 series.
I’ve always liked this picture for two reasons:
One: It was very hard to take! During the 1997 F1 Grand Prix, a crazed fan, wearing a kilt, had run onto the track during the race, prompting Silverstone officials to erect a double barrier of 5 meter high double mesh fencing between spectators and the track. While sitting in the grandstands afforded one an unobstructed view of the track, for the most part, it wasn’t ideal for photography and my desire to get as many different angles of the track as possible.
One of the very few clean vantage points that I was able to find, was at the crest of a pedestrian bridge running over the long “Hangar Straight”. The bridge itself was “blocked off” by 2 meter high barricades on either side, to deter spectators from loitering in the channel to watch the racing. My only option was to either shoot blindly over the barricade (pointless for the vast majority of nearly 300km/h passes! …and expensive too, given that I was still shooting with film.), but fortunately I found a tiny dip in the barrier which allowed me to point my lens down onto the track. Even then, at 1.80 m tall, I was still perched on the tips of my toes like a ballerina while trying to pan the passing missiles in a controlled manner. I probably rattled off 10 or 15 shots of various cars, before the ever present amateur film photographer’s sixth sense of imminent process and printing costs started sounding warning bells. Content that I’d done enough to bag at least one decent shot, I packed up and moved to the next location. As it turned out, the one I settled on was this shot.
My second reason for liking this shot is that while the 1/125th of a second (if I recall correctly) that I snapped it at, might not have rendered a solid image worthy of the pages of F1 Magazine, it did however present something which I felt was a more emotionally and physically accurate portrayal of racing a single-seater car. The colours, the course grain of the ASA 800 film, and linear motion blur depict a fast, vibrant and tough sport, and the huge amounts of controlled kinetic energy involved.
I’d always wondered who the driver was, but I’d never thought to look into it until this morning. After some digging I managed to find out that the car was one of the Team Astromega cars, driven by Justin Wilson of Britain, and the number 8 car pictured above, by 27, year old Gonzalo “Gonchi” Rodríguez of Uruguay – a promising up and coming driver.
No sooner had I found the information I was looking for, and I learned that Rodríguez had been killed in a 140 mph crash in different racing series only 2 months later.
As a fan of all motorsport, although 14 years later, this news comes as a shock to me. I feel even prouder of the picture I took of this rising star, and I hope that he would have liked the picture too, had he ever had the chance to see it.
Rest in Peace, Gonzalo Rodríguez.