Villeneuve and the Ferrari spirit

Villeneuve and the Ferrari spirit

Photographer Paul-Henri Cahier chooses his favourite F1 shots

Words: Matthew Barker

French photographer Paul-Henri Cahier grew up with F1 and has been taking highly acclaimed racing images since the late 1960s.


The Official Ferrari Magazine: Motorsport photography really was in the family wasn’t it?

Paul-Henri Cahier: Yes, most definitely! My father’s [Bernard Cahier] first Formula One race was in 1952 and that’s the year I was born, it’s really in the blood. I still have the smell of Castrol R in my mind and in my nose – that and screaming engines. The first grand prix that I remember I must have been four years old, sitting in [Juan Manuel] Fangio’s 250F Maserati in Monaco. My father took a picture! I started to go to races during summer breaks, then my father gave me a camera. I was completely self-taught. My father would look at my photographs and say, ‘This is not good, this is not sharp… Ah, this is good…’ I learned very quickly.


TOFM: Was it difficult for you to follow in your father’s illustrious footsteps?

P-HC: After a while it just became the obvious thing for me to do. It was all there, but I couldn’t see it, that it was my destiny, something that I had to do. I developed my own style and I loved what he did, and I think he loved what I did, so it was great. I think I was a bit of a pioneer in what I would call graphics, of having a very aesthetic and graphic view, of trying to convey that through photography, that experience. I love to catch that small bit of time, that little window, that opening into his soul. They’re in the groove, in that instant where everything sorts of clicks together.

Michael Schumacher during the 1997 Spanish Grand Prix <em>Photo: Paul-Henri Cahier</em>
Michael Schumacher during the 1997 Spanish Grand Prix Photo: Paul-Henri Cahier

TOFM: When was your first grand prix as a professional photographer?

P-HC: It’s hard to say when the word professional applies in this case. I was still in school when, back in 1968, a French magazine called Champion published one of my pictures, which they used as a double-page spread. I was so proud, I never expected it. It was at the French Grand Prix and it was a picture of Jacky Ickx, who won the race.


TOFM: Did growing up in a motorsports environment help you as a photographer?

P-HC: Yes, in that I was used to seeing the drivers, they would come and have dinner with us and stay overnight: Jack Brabham, Phil Hill, Graham Hill, Fangio… and so it created a normality in my relationship with them, it helped me to be loose, not to be stressed, in their company when shooting them.

Michele Alboreto at the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix <em>Photo: Paul-Henri Cahier</em>
Michele Alboreto at the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix Photo: Paul-Henri Cahier

TOFM: Were you always aware of Ferrari?

P-HC: Oh, absolutely. From day one there was something always mystical about Ferrari. I always remember we would go to Monza, it was the end of summer, before school started up again and we would drive there by car. I’ll never forget arriving in the Parco di Monza and feeling the atmosphere. The Scuderia Ferrari is a team that is unique in every aspect.


TOFM: Do you have a favourite Ferrari photograph that you’ve taken?

P-HC: Ah, there are so many, but there are a couple that I really like. If I had to choose just one, it would be Gilles Villeneuve in his unmistakable style at the French Grand Prix. It’s just a wonderful shot of him in the 312T5, in 1980 at the Paul Ricard circuit 1980 [see main image above]. Really, Villeneuve is as Ferrari as it gets.


TOFM: Do you still enjoy the sport now?

P-HC: It has changed tremendously. It’s difficult for people like me who have been around the sport for such a long time. It used to be a very human sport, there was a closeness to the drivers, you could go out and have dinner with them, and photograph them in any way, anywhere. And that’s gone. Sebastian Vettel is a nice guy, he’s also an exceptional driver and it’s really great for Ferrari to have him, I don’t think you could find a better match. Vettel is one of the good guys, definitely.