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From champagne with Seb to singing with Prince

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From champagne with Seb to singing with Prince | Abu Dhabi Grand Prix | F1 features | ESPN F1

Mark Sutton
November 16, 2010

What a great way to end the year. Looking back at Sunday it was a rollercoaster of a day followed by a rollercoaster of a night, and I came away with some fantastic photos and a couple of stories I won't forget anytime soon.

To start with the grid before the race was carnage and way overpopulated. The King of Spain was out in force with about 20 bodyguards, which seemed way over the top and made getting a photo really difficult. In the end I just held the camera above my head and hoped for the best and the resulting photo was actually pretty good. One of the Sheiks of Abu Dhabi, who was instrumental in putting the race on, was there as well with his entourage of guards. In contrast, the Crown Prince of Bahrain was walking around without any security and I went straight up to him and said hello. It was strange that he managed to cope by himself but the others needed a 20-strong entourage.

Right after the race finished I followed Sebastian Vettel from crossing the line, to the podium, to outside the press conference and finally to the wild celebrations in the Red Bull garage. During the podium ceremony I concentrated on getting photos of the team's reaction as we had another Sutton photographer trained on Sebastian. I also snapped a nice shot of Nicole Scherzinger and Jessica Michibata celebrating their boys Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button on the podium.

There were some real emotions going around, but nowhere more so than at Red Bull where it all went a little bit crazy. When Vettel returned to the garage it simply turned into carnage, as you can imagine. Everybody wanted a bit of him; the team was trying to celebrate with him, we were trying to get the perfect photo of him and the BBC was trying to grab him for an interview.

Fernando Alonso and King Carlos of Spain on the grid © Sutton Images
By chance I managed to get in the front row of the photographers' scrum and got absolutely drenched in champagne. I got one shot where the champagne is running down his face and I was stood just inches away in a similar state. There were really raw emotions and it got to the point where I had to push him back because he was getting too close for the lens to focus. I was literally pushing him around to get him in the right position for a photo, but I don't think he knew, everybody was pushing everyone else, it was so intense.

As soon as Sebastian came back outside the party upped a gear with champagne bottles popping everywhere. They were trying to organise a photo of the team and it was so out of control that I soon realised that we weren't going to get the shot. So I took it on myself to start organising people and get the photographers back where they should have been. I was shouting, "Get back! Get back!", but no one was listening and eventually I had to get a barrier to separate the team and the photographers. None of the PR people or official photographers were going to do it, so it needed someone to take charge to get the shot and in the end we did.

Sebastian Vettel in the midst of the celebrations © Sutton Images
All the team were wearing these 'Seb is the 2010 champion' t-shirts and I thought that they must have printed a batch for Mark Webber as well, just in case. I had a scout around the bins to see if I could find any Webber shirts, because they would be worth quite a lot of money, but unfortunately there was nothing in there.

Once the celebrations had died down I left the circuit because everyone was heading off to different after parties. I'd been given three VIP wristbands for the Prince concert, so I thought I may as well use them and I took a couple of friends from British Airways, one's a pilot and one's a stewardess.

We eventually found the VIP area and got some beers in, and there was Tonio Liuzzi, Giancarlo Fisichella and Nick Heidfeld as well as loads of other F1 people. I'm not a huge Prince fan but I have to say that he was bloody brilliant, everything was pure live and it was a brilliant atmosphere.

After 20 minutes he left the stage and the VIP area started to empty because everybody thought it was over. But he came back on in a different costume a few moments later and started inviting people to get up there with him. I said to the other two that we should try it and the next thing I know we're at the front helping people climb over and onto the stage. I tried to get up there after them and a guy said, "No, no, no, you're not allowed over", I was gutted but then I flashed my F1 pass and he let me through.

Jessica Michibata and Nicole Scherzinger after the race © Sutton Images
I got up there and looked out at a sea of 30,000 people in front of me. That's when it hit me: I was on stage dancing with Prince and one of the biggest crowds I've ever seen was watching. A song or two later, Nicole Scherzinger and Lewis Hamilton came on to do a little set with him and we were up there dancing alongside. I was just thinking what the hell am I doing here and all I could think to do was whip my iPhone out and take a few photos and a bit of video.

After that we headed over to the Amber Lounge where a number of drivers were enjoying themselves, but there was nothing really to talk about. Vettel and Red Bull were having their own private party, Virgin was having its own party and I think McLaren was doing its own thing somewhere else.

For me it was a perfect end to a brilliant season of Formula One racing.

Sutton Images | GP Week | Follow Mark on Twitter

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Mark Sutton is inches away as Sebastian Vettel gets doused in champagne © Sutton Images


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