Mark Sutton Interview

June 28 2019 , 10:50 am

In the right place at the right time

IMf1FAN is delighted to bring you an exclusive interview with the world famous motorsport photographer Mark Sutton.

F1 Test Day Two Abu Dhabi

Mark Sutton took his first motorsport photographs while still in his teens, before setting up his own company Sutton Photographic, to focus on all types of motorsport photography.

Sutton Photographic was founded in 1995. The first event he covered for his new company was the British Formula Three weekend at Silverstone. As it happened he was in the perfect place, before the race had even started, to capture Anthony Reid crash horrifically in the spray and barrel roll off the circuit. Once again his shots were the images of the weekend, Sutton still has the press clippings!
He has had an astonishing career and this season’s race in Australian was his 500th Grand Prix.

We met in West London, eager to find out about his exciting life and career. Considering his world famous contribution to motorsport photography, on meeting, he strikes you as being very modest but clearly a huge enthusiast with a cheerful, engaging personality and a twinkle in his eye. We started by asking him how he got started.

Sutton’s very first assignment was to cover the Marlboro British Formula 3 Championship Race at Thruxton, in October 1983. The Formula 3 championship had a much higher profile in those days and in 1993 included the two big rivals Ayton Senna and Martin Brundle. Right away Sutton showed his natural talent, he was at the right corner to capture Senna “doing his usual lunge” trying to overtake Brundle. They crashed and Senna’s car ended up on top of Brundle.

The race was stopped to recover the cars and you can see Sutton in the BBC footage on You Tube. It was a huge point in a massive battle and it was a huge result for Sutton. His shots instantly went global, published in thousands of titles all around the world.

Alongside his motor-racing photography, in the early days Sutton worked in a variety of photographic jobs, all helping to teach him about his craft and giving him the breadth of understanding and confidence he would need to succeed.

Sutton Photographic was founded in 1995. The first event he covered for his new company was the British Formula Three weekend at Silverstone. As it happened he was in the perfect place, before the race had even started, to capture Anthony Reid crash horrifically in the spray and barrel roll off the circuit. Once again his shots were the images of the weekend, Sutton still has the press clippings!

Does he have a best memory from the early years? There are many, but in particular he recalls the first commercial sponsorship by Sutton Photographic. In 1998 they were asked if they would sponsor a young driver in the UK Karting Championship. He was called Jenson Button. With Sutton Photographic logos on the car, Jenson won his first race before going on to win the Championship. Happy days!

Sutton clearly has a talent for being in the right place at any circuit. Can he give us some tips? “Of course, it very much depends on the track, but the first corner is always a good place, all photographers want to be at the first corner. Height and elevation are also important, that gives you the spatial depth.” As a rule Sutton will follow the position of the TV cameras, but the real trick is to get different angles. “Variety is what everybody wants these days,” says Sutton, “they want as many different angles as possible. For Alonso’s crash at the 2017 Melbourne GP, Sutton was the only one to have it covered from multiple different angles. Have a look at the Nikon blog

We were keen to know what Sutton felt were his three best shots. As big fans F1 we knew his choice would give us the chance to show you some of the most memorable and iconic images we have have savoured and delighted over, from the sport we love. Considering how many times he has pushed the button on the top of his camera in 35 years, we also expected some pause for thought before naming his top three, but no, Sutton with his lovely enthusiasm, was right back at us. And he couldn’t keep it to a top three, “there’s ten there at least,” so we agreed a top four, realising he could and would have given us his top fifty. Eventually we stopped him in at five. So here they are in reverse order…

Number 5 – Leclerc at Spa

Belgium last year, Leclerc and Alonso. Following weeks of detailed investigation into the crash, the FIA concluded the halo saved Charles Leclerc from being hit on the visor by Fernando Alonso’s endplate. Sutton’s stunning shot dramatically captures the fury of the collision. “This is still fresh in my mind,” says Sutton quietly, “the halo has changed everything.”

Number 4 – The bellyflop, Monaco 2018

Daniel Ricciardo celebrates his win at Monaco 2018. “The number one driver for me,” Ricciardo is one of his favourite subjects, no need to explain why and Sutton is in pole position for this shot. “I normally don’t do these sorts of shots,” he says “but this year I felt it might be something special.” Talk about timing. Sutton captures the split-second that Ricciardo hits the water. “It was just one frame, but Danny appears to be floating on the water, with all the key Red Bull people in the background.” In fact, Danny asked Sutton for a copy and Sutton asked Danny for a signed copy. Danny wrote “To Mark, Bellyfloooooop!”

Number 3– Lewis in Montreal, the story picture

You and I immediately think this is a neon lit trophy, but no! Sutton says, “we had taken shots of the pit lane, the podium and after the champagne, but I wasn’t that happy with what I had. The other photographers all disappeared, but I noticed I could get up a bit higher, so I climbed to this vantage point, Lewis came round the corner and I just started shooting.” It was only later that he realised he had captured the sun hitting the trophy at the perfect angle. “This is the story picture” says Sutton. The image is extraordinary. Angels and blessed, are words that spring to mind. Lewis signed prints for Sutton that he donated to a number of charities.

Number 2 (A & B) – The wild eyes! Winning the world championship with Brawn

Brilliant timing! Again, knowing Sutton sponsored Jenson in the early days, it’s easy to understand why he loves this shot. “A relationship with a driver really does help,” he says. Having got out of the car and pulled off his helmet, this was the moment Jenson turned, in wild delight, to find Sutton standing just behind him. When Sutton asked Jenson to sign some copies, on seeing the shots, Jenson retorted, “I’m not signing these, I look crazy!” The images, once again, demonstrate the excellence of Sutton’s timing; the photograph on the right is taken only seconds later, but Jenson has already recovered slightly and the wild ecstasy is gone.

Number 1 – The flying Finn!

This is the one, from the thousands and thousands of shots taken. This is Mark Sutton’s all-time favourite photograph and also his most famous. It is arguably the best shot ever taken of a Formula 1 car. The photograph gave rise to Mika’s nickname, “which is a tremendous accolade” says Sutton modestly. He had only started covering F1 races full time in 1992, “which was Mansell’s year, so that was a great start.” In his second full year of F1, towards the end of 1993 in Adelaide, at the right place at the right time, Sutton got three frames off as Mika Hakkinen took off over a kerb. Sutton says, “There were ten of us (photographers) there, standing behind a concrete barrier and I heard a screech, I looked up, pressed the button and the car was gone. It was literally, an absolute split-second. I turned to the others and said did you get that? And some of them said “Get what?” Those that had managed to shoot were only at 1/60th exposure which was too slow and I was using 1/125th but I didn’t share that with them!” Sutton didn’t know what he had until the film had been processed the next morning. Standing over the light box, he saw three frames, the middle one pin sharp. “There was some swearing going on!” he says. “TV didn’t get it, we immediately did twenty prints and I rushed round to see Mika. He didn’t want to know, it looked like a mistake! But as soon as the engineers saw it, they laughed. There had been an unexplained blip on the telemetry and slight damage to the front and now they could see why!”

It was sold all over the world, McLaren immediately ordered two hundred prints, every sponsor, Marlboro, Goodyear, Shell, asked for copies, and the following year Rothmans used it to show their photographers exactly what they wanted. A print hangs on the wall in Mika’s office today. “We made a lot of money from the shot, you’re talking tens of thousands and that was in ’93…” A large print hangs on the wall in Sutton’s office too. It is signed “Mika Hakkinen, the flying Finn.”

Reflecting on his career Sutton says, “for me it is still a passion and a real pleasure to go and cover the races, even after this long time, I still love it. I want people to contact me and say, I’ve seen that picture, I love it, I want it.” His images are for sale at, search Mark Sutton.

We’ve got time for one last question… so who’s his money on for 2019? Sutton chuckles, “Well there’s the obvious choice, but I’m going for Leclerc!”

It takes a lot of skill to be in the right place at the right time. For the brilliant way he has captured so many iconic moments from our favourite sport, because he has been in the right place at the right time and for his skill and instinct, us fans can only be profoundly grateful.

You can follow Mark and see his latest work on Instagram and Twitter @F1sutton.

Words: Fred Rutter

All images © Sutton Images and reproduced with kind permission


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