For more than two decades Darren Heath has been the go-to photographer for Grands Prix, expertly capturing the thrills, passions and energy of races from Luxembourg to Singapore.
But for all his years of travelling the world and countless iconic photographs, there’s something about Yas Marina Circuit that will always be special to Heath.
The magic of Yas Marina Circuit
“It’s unique. Nowhere else do F1Ò cars race around and underneath a gorgeously designed building that changes colour in the early evening before twinkling spectacularly. Yas Marina Circuit offers the photographer a unique opportunity to shoot the cars. It really is like being on the set of a science-fiction movie,” said Heath.
“During race weekend one can shoot the cars silhouetted against a setting sun. As the sun’s glow fades, the track’s lights sparkle below a sky changing from orange to red, to violet to purple, to a deep dark blue and finally to black.”
Having been behind the camera for all eight Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the 47-year-old has captured some iconic moments on camera, from Sebastian Vettel winning the inaugural Yas Marina Circuit race for Red Bull Racing in 2009 to Lewis Hamilton taking pole position and securing his second drivers’ championship in 2014.
However, when asked to chose his favourite photograph taken at Yas Marina Circuit, Heath’s attentions turn away from the track and to the skies.
“The picture of the 2015 grid fly-past. Positioning myself at the sharp end of the grid I knew the planes were scheduled to fly overhead at 16.45. Choosing a wide lens so as to include the pit buildings and grandstands, I was ready. There’s something about the look and feel of the planes with the UAE’s national colours in smoke trailing behind the Airbus A380 and its Al Fursan fighter jet escort that really appeals.
“I’ve probably had more positive reactions to this picture than any other taken at Yas Marina Circuit.”
Moment of drama
Coming as it does at the end of a long race season, the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix takes on a special significance for the teams, the fans and for Heath, who aims to capture the atmosphere around the Grandstands as well as the action unfolding on the track.
“Like every other Grand Prix I approach Yas Marina Circuit’s event with the desire to come away with the best pictures I possibly can. One is aware of an end-of-term feel but in no way does that diminish one’s effort and approach. Indeed, given that there has been some dramatic championship deciding races at the iconic Circuit one is often more on edge than ever.”
Heath uses his years of experience to find the best locations around Yas Marina Circuit to get the photos he needs. Having so many races under his belt, he has a few favourite spots.
“Regarding favourite places to shoot from, I guess it would be the section of track running from Turn 13 to Turn 20,” he said.
“There’s a plethora of shots on offer, from wheel lifting head-on pictures at 13 to setting sun skies at 14. From the flat-out-in-a-shower-of-sparks double right sweeping turns of 15 and 16 to the tight and twisty underneath and around the Yas Viceroy Hotel section of 17, 18 and 19, and on to the very fast open right-hander of the penultimate corner of the track at Turn 20.”
With so much at stake for the drivers competing in the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the pressure can be on the media to capture that one moment of drama, when a championship is either won or lost.
“Being ready to react to on-track events is of paramount importance. Over many years I’ve developed a pretty good sense of how the race is playing-out. The giant TV screens help but generally I rely on my knowledge and experience to give me a sense of what’s happening and what’s likely to unfold as the race develops.
“I’ve got to be ready for almost anything, especially given the different ways different drivers react under pressure with emotions running at fever pitch levels.”