Former F1 driver Mark Webber and the other Porsche LMP1 drivers had their portraits taken straight after each driver switch at Nürburgring. Literally, out the car, helmet off, smile…
Martin Schoeller is one of the most important portrait photographers of our time. He went to the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year, his first time at a racetrack. “I wanted to feel, understand, and experience what happens there. How exhausted the drivers are after their run. How dejected when they lose. And how euphoric when they win.” What do the drivers look like when they remove their helmets? What do their eyes reveal? What do tension, stress, and concentration do to the 43 muscles in their faces? How do the colors of the face change? The interior of a Porsche 919 Hybrid with more than 900 hp is subject to extreme acceleration forces and extremely high temperatures. The drivers lose about two liters of water every hour.
The legendary Circuit de la Sarthe, where Porsche celebrated its eighteenth overall victory at Le Mans on June 19 of this year in front of 250,000 spectators, is where the idea for this project was born. Schoeller would take portraits of the six LMP1 drivers at the following race in the World Endurance Championship (WEC) series on the Nürburgring, right after each driver switch—when the sweat runs, the heart races, adrenaline soars, and faces speak volumes.
The six Porsche race-car drivers and the star photographer have a good deal in common on this day: precision, professionalism, and speed. They also share the struggle for those fractions of a second that will give the drivers victory and the photographer an authentic shot. In front of nearly 60,000 spectators, Timo Bernhard starts the six-hour race for Team 1, and Neel Jani starts for Team 2 in the car that won Le Mans. After each switch, the drivers are weighed, and then they go straight into Schoeller’s studio box in front of the Porsche racing truck just a few meters away. The process is always the same. Take off the helmet and hood. Look right at the camera. Nobody wipes off sweat; nobody smooths his hair. Mark Webber has a serious look. “I’ve just driven an hour on a roller coaster—and suddenly the world is standing still. It’s more intense than anything I’ve ever experienced,” he says. Brendon Hartley, with a red face and disheveled hair, agrees. “I braked from 250 km/h down to 0—you can’t decelerate any more than that.” Le Mans winner Marc Lieb runs his index finger across his left eyebrow and looks pensive. “It isn’t as smooth as in France. It’s a restless race.” In the end, Team 1 (Webber, Bernhard, Hartley) races to victory; Team 2 (Jani, Lieb, Dumas) takes fourth place.
The drivers are completely present and open, and do in fact show something intimate to the camera. “They have a look that is curious and questioning, but one that is also resolute and reflects the intensity of the race. You can trace its course on every one of them,” says Schoeller, who watched the action at a monitor in the racing truck between sessions. “One of them is annoyed because he got a time penalty from a collision. Another is quietly jubilant about a successful passing maneuver and the four-second lead he built. And just a few seconds after handing the wheel over to Bernhard, Webber’s exhausted face shows the flicker of a triumphant smile.”
Engines roar from the circuit. Autograph hunters wait at the pit wall for their heroes. After his second photo session with Schoeller, an exhausted Romain Dumas wants to know, “But now it’s for real, right? We’re done?” Schoeller smiles, shakes his hand, and claps him on the shoulder. “Yes, it’s for real. And it was good. Very good.”