Gasoline and glamor
We spoke to the charismatic photographer and car enthusiast about his experiences gained in 40 years of involvement with Formula One. What it feels like to be trackside and hear the scream of the cars as they race past and feel the earth tremble beneath your feet, is something Werner Eisele knows all too well.
Mr Eisele, describe the moment you first experienced a Formula 1 race live. When was it and what did you feel?
It was in 1956 and I traveled - on my mother’s bicycle - to the Bad Cannstadt Formula One race that took place at the Nürburgring. It took me three days to get there and three days back. I was 17 and there wasn’t really any other option, as I only got my driving licence the following year. It was an exciting trip – I stayed in farmhouses and was constantly repairing the bike. But it was definitely worth it, as apart from watching the race itself, I finally got to see the drivers Stirling Moss and Juan Manuel Fangio up close.
You’ve been photographing Formula One races for the past 40 years. How has the sport changed over that time?
Well of course motor sports has gone through many changes over the years. The cars have got faster and the safety precautions both in the cars and on the track have improved significantly. A change that has been particularly noticeable for me, is the whole press hype and the restrictions now placed on members of the press and photographers. For example, at the 1964 Grand Prix in Monaco, there were just 15 photographers from all over the world. Prince Rainier and his wife Grace Kelly greeted us all in the Sporting Club with a handshake, something which is difficult to imagine happening today.
If you could swap, and start your career now rather than back then, would you?
Never! Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t lost my fascination for Formula One. I still go to the races from time to time – although I now stay in the paddock as opposed to trackside - but I wouldn’t want to have missed the early years of my career. I’m happy with the way things are.
In your career as a photographer, was there ever a situation in which you felt in danger?
Unfortunately I have experienced a number of sad events, and the tragic death of my friend Jim Clark counts among them. Personally, I have very rarely been in danger. Just once, during the filming of the movie documentary “Grand Prix” by John Frankenheimer, Yves Montand ended up crashing his Ferrari Tipo 312 right next to me, ending up in a huge dust cloud on the legendary Tarzan curve. I saw him coming towards me and was just able to get to safety in the sand dunes. That was pretty scary!
What’s the most special experience you’ve had in Formula 1?
My favourite memories, and ones I will treasure forever, are mainly the friendships I’ve built up over the last decades. Close relationships with drivers like Jim Clark, Jochen Mass and of course Jacky Ickx. Also, I’ve always loved the fact that my wife accompanied me to so many races, and continues to do so today. Even now she’s there with heart and soul.
Have you ever thought about becoming a driver yourself and being in front of the lens instead of behind it?
One needn’t exclude the other. As a younger man, I would participate in smaller races with my BMW 700 Coupé. And today I still take part in international rallys in a classic Porsche 360, together with my wife and my son.