I've said in the past that Istanbul Park is one of my least favourite circuits because it lacks atmosphere and good places to take photos, but this year was an absolute cracker.
One of the main problems has always been the attendance, but this weekend was definitely better. On race day there were about 41,800 people there, which is nearly 6,000 up on last year and it made a big difference. Most the fans were in the cheaper general admission areas on the back straight - which is probably one of the worst places to watch - but they were still having a fantastic time. The grandstands are still a bit too expensive for the locals, but I heard this year they dropped them from €600 to €200. For the most part the crowd was made up of a lot of Russians, some Germans and also some Brits on holiday, it was a good mix overall.
I hope we don't lose it from the calendar because the drivers love it and it's quite a flowing track. For them it's close to the four tracks they like best - Spa Francorchamps, Suzuka, Silverstone and Monza. Turn eight is right up there with Maggots, Becketts and Chapel at Silverstone as a top quality corner sequence, and it really challenges the cars and drivers. It's an interesting place to watch because you can automatically tell who's quick and who isn't by the revs of the engines. One of the new cars will come along and have to drop a gear quite early in the corner, while a Red Bull will go through it with the throttle pinned wide open. With a long lens you can really see the forces working on the cars - it's just mind blowing.
When the Red Bull drivers went off the whole crowd behind me erupted with noise and the atmosphere went up a couple of notches. A few photographers left the corner to go elsewhere but I decided to stay because I could see that the McLarens were still close and I could tell it wasn't over yet. Then it happened, they came over the brow of the hill side-by-side and I just started shooting a sequence from the moment they emerged to when Hamilton muscled his way ahead coming out of the corner. I looked around and there was only one other photographer at the corner and I'm not even sure if he got the photos. That's always good news for a snapper, because it means you're shots are that little bit more exclusive.
But with the help of the press officers and by being time in the right place at the right time I managed to get all of them. The only ones I needed a bit of extra help with were the two Ferrari drivers and Michael Schumacher. Ferrari's photographer Ercole Colombo helped me out with Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, I just told him what I wanted and he took the shirt straight into one of their briefings and came back with two signatures - you can't ask for any more than that.
As for Michael, I'd given the shirt to him on Thursday morning but he had so many meetings he didn't have time to sign it. Eventually his trainer got him to do it for me, so by the end of Friday I had all the signatures in place, which was a relief because it meant I could focus on my day job again.
We're heading off to Montreal next, which makes a very welcome return to the calendar after a year out. I've heard it's already sold out, which is great news as the whole town gets behind the event and you get a real carnival atmosphere. As a photographer it's a fairly good venue because you've got plenty of trees to use as a backdrop and even a bit wildlife, with the occasional groundhog going on a suicide mission across the track. It's fenced off all the way around which doesn't help, but because we've been going there for such a long time we know where to get the best shots. It's a lovely part of the world and I'm already looking forward to the great seafood, wine and people we meet there every time we go.