Jenson Button hits Manchester / by Neil Alexander

Jenson Button's Vodafone McLaren Mercedes in Manchester (Click for larger)

 On bank holiday Monday, the Vodafone McLaren team along with Formula 1 2009 World Champion Jenson Button paid a visit to Manchester and just happened to bring along their 2008 mp4-23 car with them. Several of the main roads in the city centre were closed for Jenson to take his wee motor for a little spin and to show off a little to his adoring fans, of which there were many. In fact there were thousands and thousands of people there. I arrived half an hour or so before the fun was scheduled to start and headed up to Castlefield / G-Mex Metrolink station where I knew there was a bridge that ran over the bottom end of Deansgate and would give me a good view of the route and the crowds. What I hadn't factored in though was just how many people there would be. In order to get the bottom image I had to stand very precariously on a wet and slippery fence railing in a very awkward position, avoiding falling backwards onto the crowds and railway line behind me and hold that position for about 20 minutes until the car started it's runs up and down Deansgate. The bottom image was shot using the 18-200mm (I wanted to travel light) racked all the way out at 200mm with a shutter speed of 1/2000 second - I had been holding the same precarious stance for such a long time that I was starting to shake so cranked up my shutter speed as far as I could do avoid any camera shake.

After several runs up and down, and quite a few doughnuts in between, Jenson brought the car back to the makeshift garage outside the Hilton hotel (just off camera bottom right) and the crowds began to disperse a little assuming it was all over. So I began to head back to the car, only to hear over the tannoy system that he would be making another run or two in half an hour or so. I figured I try heading down to street level and see what I could get there. I dilly dallied a little and then regretted it - I walked the length of the route all the way up Deansgate and into Albert Square and back again desperately trying to find even the smallest gap in the crowds into which to insert my lens, but it was 2 or 3 deep all the way along the route. Eventually I found a spot half way down Deansgate where the crowd was only 1 deep. I waited, and waited. Eventually I heard the McLaren fire into life again and weighed up my shooting options. Standing there was no way I was going to shoot anything other than heads and elbows. Every other available platform, window ledges, bins, cafe chairs that would have given me a little lift had been taken. So I decided to kneel and insert my lens between a gap between a couple of people's thighs and shoot through a gap in the fence. I figured that this would give me quite a dramatic image if I could capture the car. I had to shoot straight ahead - I had no other option. Couldn't pan. Couldn't even look down the street to seem him coming. I knew Jenson would be giving it some welly as he would have covered a good few hundred yards from the start by this point, and it had gotten dark and started raining. Ideal shooting conditions........

I clamped on the grip onto the bottom of my D300 to boost my frame rate, set my mode to Shutter Priority and set my shutter speed to 1/1000 second. I couldn't see the car coming, but by crikey could I hear it! I knew these F1 cars were loud, but until you actually hear them for yourself you just can't quite appreciate how bloody loud they are. As I heard him approaching I started shooting, praying that I hadn't started to early and wouldn't have filled the buffer by the time he passed. He must have made 3 or 4 runs up and down so I got a few attempts to get the shot. I have lots of frames of just an empty track. A few of the nose only and several of just the rear wing. I only got one shot where the car fills the entire frame, and even at 1/1000 second there is quite a lot of motion blur (see top image). I could BS you and say that this was planned and it was the effect I was looking for. It wasn't. But in hindsight I actually quite like the outcome. The contrast between the motionless crowd and the blur of the car I feel makes quite an impact, enhanced by the spray from the front wheels. I've toned this quite heavily in Lightroom to add emphasis to the car, darkening the top half and some selective highlighting on the car itself.

View down Deansgate for the Vodafone VIP event with McLaren Mercedes and Jenson Button

All in all it was quite an experience, and amazing to see a real Formula 1 car performing doughnuts at 17,000 rpm in the middle of what is normally a slow and congested main road. Next time though, I'll arrive much earlier, and if I can't, I'll take some step ladders.

Have a great weekend.

N