Photo Roll>>film Speed

Here at SpeedHunters we are in the final stages of Photography Month. There have been many fine posts with great images but it hit me when preparing my previous piece about the Suttons that something was missing. In all the talk of gear and technique, laced with healthy doses of self promotion, the real magic, the real purpose of photography was being ignored. The great Henri Cartier-Bresson expressed this quality in far more eloquent terms that I ever could.

We photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing, and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on earth can make them come back again. We cannot develop and print a memory.”

Photographers are guardians of the present and the past. Through our work, those who come after us can see how we lived, how we thought and what we did. It is, perhaps, the most powerful element of the photographer’s art. Until photography and film making arrived all we had to rely on was the written and spoken word and we all know how that can be manipulated or mistaken with the passage of time.

One of the more canny things that Keith Sutton has done in establishing his photo agency was to acquire the archive of a top 60’s and 70’s photographer, David Phipps. Phipps was one of the masters of his craft, no autofocus, no auto exposure, no auto wind, just film that had to exposed properly, 1/3rd of a stop out would blow most colour slide film out. On top of this the images had to composed as well. I had a good root about in 20 years of archive material available and have come up with this selection that shows how much has changed even in the short span of my lifetime.

The lead shot for this piece is a good example of a moment in time that could not possibly happen today. It was taken some 33 years ago with a haggard looking James Hunt celebrating his penultimate Grand Prix victory with a cigarette and a tinnie. On hand is a winsome Penthouse Pet, the image is pure “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll”, a contemporary tune from Ian Dury & The Blockheads. The whole scene is a million miles from the po-faced podium I witnessed at yesterday’s German Grand Prix, no beer, no tabs, no birds there, precious little sport either. Hunt, World Driver’s Champion in 1976, was a fascinating character, who lived life very much on his own terms and was one of the most popular sportsmen of his day, reflecting the values of the 70’s. It gave us teenagers, something to aspire to. An inspirational image.

While Jackie Stewart had a very fashionable image during his reign at the top of the Grand Prix circus (see here) James Hunt was real rock and roll. Race fan and Beatle, George Harrison, shares some time with James, another image that was snapped in the heat of the moment. Remember, no point and shoot cameras.

The scene at Monaco in 1960, Phil Hill’s Ferrari heads back along the Harbour. Where are the Gin Palaces? Where are the Oligarchs? The Age of Innocence? Perhaps.

The top dog at that time was Stirling Moss, this close up shows his style of driving. No Nomex, no seatbelt, no real crash protection.  I looked at his career earlier here.

It was a time of change, the 1960 French Grand Prix at Reims, shows a gaggle of front engined Ferraris vainly trying to keep pace with the rear engined Cooper Climax of Jack Brabham. The Australian would win the Driver’s Title that year.

The shape of the image suggests that it was shot on a medium format or a twin lens reflex camera, more complexity for an action shot. Nikon had just introduced their 35mm F system that would revolutionise photo-journalism, we all have so easy these days.

The whole environment was completely different back then. Just look at the proximity of the photographer. Though to be fair you can get almost that close even now at the Nordschleife.

Pit wall? What pit wall?

Conditions at the circuits were primitive to say the least, the paaddock at Clermont Ferrand in 1970 was typical.

Even where there was some form of cover the mechanics worked their long hours in what amounted to mechanical dung heaps.

Back in 1964 the first team from Japan to enter Formula One, Honda, discover the delights of the Nurburgring.

BRM use an unconventional way of servicing the car, the results in 1969 reflected this approach.

The boss gets his hands dirty as Bruce McLaren works on his car in 1968. Something you do not see these days.

The spectators were a more assertive bunch back then. No respect shown by the Italians for the iconic Gulf Oil logo.

Hard core hooligans at the infamous Watkins Glen Bog. In 1974 they added a Greyhound Bus to the bonfire of cars they had seized.

I joined the throng of spectators back in 1970. I am somewhere in the background of this photo getting sunburnt.

The winner at Brands Hatch that Saturday, Jochen Rindt, was given a celebratory ride behind a tractor.

The drivers would assemble on the Sunday following the Grand Prix for a charity cricket match.

The drivers socialised with each other, this is a meeting of the Grand Prix Drivers Association. The Kyalami Ranch was a more agreeable place than Silverstone.

As with any paradise, there is always a serpent to be found, a dirty little secret that no one wants to talk about. During the late 60’s it was the terrible toll that the sport extracted on the drivers, with many top men being killed or injured. Brian Redman survived this crash at Spa back in 1968 with a broken arm as the only injury. No flame retardant clothing for the marshals, two of whom are smoking.

Another view of the scene shows that the Cooper had hit parked cars after leaving the track. This could not continue. “There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.”   That was the observation of Ernest Hemingway but such attitudes may have prevailed in the 40’s and 50’s but became increasingly at odds with the public mood.

Nor could racing in conditions such as were experienced at the Nurburgring during the 1968 German Grand Prix, when rain and fog enveloped the circuit. The death of the great champion, Jim Clark was a turning point in the approach to safety amongst the drivers. Chris Amon, Ferrari’s lead driver at the time said. “If it could happen to him, what chance do the rest of us have? I think we all felt that. It seemed like we’d lost our leader.” You can read more about Jim Clark here.

So safety standards were raised, tracks and cars were improved to give the driver a chance of survival in the event of an accident. This was not achieved without a struggle. In the end it was the moral courage of the likes of Jackie Stewart combined with the increasing outside commercial interests that drove the movement along. Drivers being killed was bad for business and Formula One was in the 70’s in the process of transformation from a disorganised blood sport to the multi-million business it is today.

Business, ah yes. There had always been outside interest in the sport but it was generally confined in Europe to tyre and fuel companies plus, of course, other welcome sources.

The first major sponsor in Formula One was John Player & Sons who did a deal with Lotus to run a colour scheme promoting their Gold Leaf cigarette brand.

The increased budgets available as a result of sponsorship meant that the pace of technological developments was greatly increased. With the corresponding Space Race bringing new developments in materials and aerodynamics into play, innovators such as Lotus chief, Colin Chapman pushed the boundaries as far as he dared, and sometimes beyond. The rear wing collapsed on Jochen Rindt’s Lotus 49 at Spain, and the ensuing accident nearly killed him. The wings were banned as a result. More on Colin Chapman here.

Sponsorship of Formula One became the template for many other sports, the liveries themselves acquiring iconic status. Product ranges like John Player Special were developed around the sponsorship. Photography was a key element of that process.

All of which comes back full circle. Photography shaping events or events shaping photography? Both, perhaps, is the answer. David Phipps was a fine chronicler of his times, powerful action images backed up with a keen observation of the human side. Looking through these images should make all of us think how we can emulate this feat, develop our own style so that when time has passed us by, others will look and get a sense who we were and what we did.

All images Phipps/Sutton and courtesy of and copyright Sutton Motorsport Images.

John Brooks



Comments are closed.


by Oldest
by Best by Newest by Oldest

Hello everyone, thanks for share this racing passion with all of us car-crazy people. Thanks to this website I have learned many things about racing photography, this is more than just looking at a beautiful picture.

Greetings from Santiago, Chile.


Brilliant post, John. You've hit the nail on the head with this one and I know I'll certainly take your message to heart with my own photography.


Amazing stuff! Love the first one with Jame Hunt!


Great post Brooksie. Can you imagine Bernie andAllsport organising a tractor to take the druivers around Yas Marina???? :)

Apparently as a six year old, I wouldnt go out of the house unless I had my Marlboro Texaco jacket on.....a sign of things to come me thinks.

A great tribute to Hunt the Shunt by the BBC, is on You Tube in two parts

A real character


amazing amazing stuff. No cheating for these guys.


Wow i would love to see Gilles Villeneuve taking part in D1.....


Fantastic! Something i wish i had experienced, when real drivers, drove real cars.

Boy they seemed like the days


Truly awesome footage. A Great piece of history just been uploaded.


I've been fortunate to have dear Brooksie let me follow him around -- like a lost child at the market -- from Le Mans to Road Atlanta and it's amazing how a few tips like "Move five-feet back and you'll get a much better perspective" or "Everybody thinks you have to shoot this at 1/250th; try 1/20th instead" has done to transform my shots. Call him the Yoda of motor racing photography, albeit with a much deeper voice and the slight scent of elderberries when the humidity gets out of sorts..


Fantastic!! Different times...


John you've really provided some great stories with an even greater insight to the stories behind the images this month. Thank you!

Do you know if Sutton have any plans (or if they have already) of releasing a book documenting the history of F1 from their archives ?


This is making my eyes wet!! More historic posts Mr. Brooks, please!.. Fog at the Nurburgring is a Epic shot!


james hunt was gangsta.


Amazing post, really well written and amazing choice of shots!


Amazing! This is speedhunters gold


great story. the last photo is perfect.


so interesting!


One of the stories I had originally planned to do for Photography Month was to shoot a local Classic


Really liked this post. :)


james hunt sold me on a goodyear hat wicked steez




love these grassroots articles with vintage pictures


stuff like this, what make awesome!!!


This is such a fantastic post. More of the same, please. Perhaps some profiles on more drivers?


Wow this is a great post!


More posts like this please!


i've been a reader since the first days of speedhunters and imo this is one of the top3 articles so far, love these historic articles. the first shot and the drivers association meeting shot definately speak more than a thousand words...good times.


There ain't half been some clever bastards...


fantastic john ! Knew lot of the pictures but the story as a whole does it extremely well. A "must read" for every car and race fan.


Please please please make the Jim Clark fog scene a wallpaper


3rd image: Monaco before the Monte Carlo Grand Hotel/Lowes was built. You don' t see that one very often. Monaco just wasn't quite complete till they build that tunnel.


please can we get pic 20 as a desktop....


Stunning! I dont photography nowadays could ever have to the tone and feel as they did back then. We could probably say the same thing in 20 years about our photos now, but damn they were epic back then.

Thanks John and Sutton Images.


i love the photo of james hunt - cigarette, can of lager & an attractive woman. charisma? oh yes. bags of the stuff.

what a shame the current breed of f1 drivers dont have the same outlook. in fact it's a chame that the 'soprt' has lost most of its charisma.