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Photographer at scene of Zhou crash: You have to suppress your flight instinct

Michael Potts, Formula 1 photographer for RacingNews365.com, witnessed Guanyu Zhou's horror crash up close and has described what went through his mind as the Alfa Romeo driver hurtled towards him, upside down, at high speed.

For the start of the race, I was looking for an icon shot of the cars coming directly towards the camera as they launched off the line. The nature of the Silverstone track means that positions are often sorted out in the first few corners as the cars form into line. The shot from turns two and three is not as clean as the start position in terms of composition. Here you have the new wing pit building which is symbolic of this track. Once I had decided on my shot, and after photographing the grid precession, I went down to the outside of the first corner. I had a few minutes to select my vantage point. There were a number of options. Firstly, there was the grandstand directly in front of the start-finish straight. This shot has a number of advantages: it is high up so it gives you options to shoot the cars as they go into the first corner. There were a number of photographers already there and I wanted to shoot something a bit different.

"He was upside down, with sparks everywhere."

I asked for advice from a marshal about standing at ground level, behind the fence but directly in front of the start. This gives you great symmetry - but you have to shoot through the fence which isn't always great. The fence had one photographer's hole - but this had already been claimed by the time I had arrived. The marshal did advise that this was potentially not a safe place to stand, so I took my position to the side, behind a fence. This view was not directly ahead of the start but gave me a good view of the cars - and it felt a lot safer! Photographing the start can be a little complex. You have to track all 20 cars and pick the shot that tells the story. Usually, it is a battle up front, but sometimes it can be something dramatic in the midfield. You are always trying to be aware of everything that is happening while composing a shot of cars accelerating towards you at 300 kph. It all happens in a fraction of a second. As the lights went out, I focused on Max Verstappen, knowing that he would be very aggressive at the start. He had the inside line and looked to be getting into a strong position to take the lead. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something move unexpectedly. I shifted my view to the pack in time to see Guanyu Zhou's car lift into the air. I was able to focus on him as he landed upside down, with sparks spraying everywhere. I had already pre-selected a very fast shutter speed so I knew I was capturing them clearly.

"You have to calm yourself, suppressing the natural flight instinct."

Attempting to photograph crashes can be hard, the cars are moving in directions you don't expect and you have to calm yourself, suppressing the natural flight instinct and bursts of adrenaline. You then need to identify the subject, focus cleanly, hold down the trigger, don't let go, and hope for the best... Zhou was travelling at some speed in our direction; my camera was locked on him as he pirouetted in a shower of sparks. I was aware of George Russell out to the right of the shot, and a dark car moving erratically in the background behind a cloud of smoke, sparks and carbon fibre. Once he was out of shot, I was able to focus on George as his mangled car came to stop in front of us.

"...only six seconds had passed."

Everything happens so fast that you don't appreciate the potential danger you are in. From behind the camera, you can have a feeling of separation from reality that gives you a false sense of being safe. It wasn't until someone yelled "DUCK" did I think of the risks. I then heard the thud of Zhou hitting the fence. I turned around and scrambled to see if everyone was ok. There is a moment of dumbfounded hesitation as you take in the scene of carnage: mangled fence, damaged tyres - but more distressing - the car was behind the tyre barrier. I followed other photographers as we ran to see if there was something we could do - anything. The marshals were there quicker, and after very careful work they extracted him from the vehicle. From the first puff of smoke to the thud only six seconds had passed . In that time I shot 30 images.

RESULTS 2024 F1 pre-season testing - Day 2