Darren Heath is one of the most respected names in Formula One photography, a regular face in the paddock since first starting out in the late 1980s. We caught up with him on the eve of another F1 season.
The Official Ferrari Magazine: Where did your love of photography and motorsports come from?
Darren Heath: My grandad on my father’s side was a grass track racer at Brands Hatch in the 1950s, before it was tarmacked. Together with my father he used to take me to Brands Hatch when I was a very little boy and that’s where my passion for it comes from, I guess. I got my first camera in my early teens and would badger my father to take me to small formula races. I was about 14 at this time, the early 1980s. That was when I really began to think about doing something like this as a career.
TOFM: Was there one particular big break you look back on?
DH: After studying photography at college, I went to see an F1 photographer called John Townsend. He was ridiculously kind and gave me all these agency numbers. I kept calling them up and eventually found work in a dark room, developing pictures that were brought back from the races on Sunday nights or Monday mornings. At the same time, I would go to these smaller races to take shots and hopefully prove that I was worthy of being sent to cover a grand prix. My first was the 1988 British Grand Prix, but one that I really look back on as a landmark occasion in my career is the 1989 German Grand Prix.
TOFM: Was it intimidating for you going into the paddock for the first time?
DH: It was. I grew up with a room covered in posters of drivers and then I suddenly was going into their garages. There was a lot of pressure not to be this star-struck kid, but to come across as a professional, as somebody on their level, that I’m there to do to my job and do it well. And 29 years later that’s still my raison d’être.
TOFM: Do you have a good relationship with the drivers?
DH: I don’t go on windy walks with them, but in quiet moments, maybe when you’re waiting at an airport, you’ll have a chat with one of them. Sebastian Vettel is approachable and professional, polite and always seems like a really good guy. There are others who are not…
TOFM: When did you first become aware of Ferrari?
DH: It was Brands Hatch, the 1976 British Grand Prix. I remember sitting with my dad at the back of the grandstand, at Clark Curve and as one of the cars came into view, straight under the bridge at Clearways, my dad said, ‘This will be loud,’ and told me that it was a V12 Ferrari. The noise, it gives me goosebumps thinking about it now, it was so, so wonderful.
TOFM: Do you have a favorite photograph?
DH: I guess it would be Singapore, 2015 [main image, above]. It’s a very blurry picture of Vettel’s car under the lights. It’s one of those pictures where you use a very, very slow shutter speed and a very fast pan as it comes out of one of the corners. You take a lot of pictures, aware that a lot of them aren’t going to work. And usually the one that does work is a Manor, or a Force India, and I don’t mean to be disrespectful to them, but it’s a car where you think, ‘Oh, why can’t I get Lewis or Sebastian… ?’ But yes, the best one I ever took was Sebastian and then of course he went on to win the race. The car looks like a rocket ship and that’s the way I always think about it as well. I really don’t think that I can ever improve it.