Even the Flemish Formula 1 photographer is condemned to the TV in Spa

This weekend should have been his 39th Grand Prix of Belgium, but Georges de Coster is conspicuous by his absence. The Flemish Formula 1 photographer was denied access to the Spa-Francorchamps circuit by the FIA motor sport federation. De Coster would have preferred to set the clock one year ahead. “Up to 2021. With an audience.”

Have you already accepted that you can’t do your job here, or are you out of your mind? “Of course I hate it. Honestly, I still can’t believe it. I’ve been here since the early 1980s. I saw here the last victory of Ayrton Senna and the Formula 1 debut of Michael Schumacher. Each edition has produced fantastic images. Hopefully this is a one-time thing.”

“I was very angry at the beginning of this week, but it’s gone down a bit. I imprint myself: being healthy and happy is more important. Motorsport is my passion and this grand prix is very nice, but tomorrow everyone will forget about it. Time flies. The Tour de France has started. Who cares about the results of this race?”

“The grand prix is barely alive this year anyway. You’ll notice it when you open the big Belgian newspapers. They’re boycotting things because they’re not allowed to come. They write almost nothing about Spa-Francorchamps.”

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Formula 1 leadership only allows a handful of photographers. Do you understand that? “Personally, no. I am the only Belgian photographer with a permanent F1 accreditation and I am proud of this race. This is a beautiful environment. A unique place. A great and challenging circuit. In this difficult time I asked permission to attend one race. In my own country. “It’s incomprehensible that the door remains closed.”

“What I find very annoying is that I can’t think about what happened here a year ago: the crash that killed French Formula 2 driver Anthoine Hubert. I knew Anthoine and his mother well. The world of motorsport is a big family. Anthoine is missed. I wanted to walk to the place of doom to commemorate him. That’s taken away from me now.”

What’s the formal reason you don’t get access? “They didn’t want to make an exception. If they let me in, others would get angry. The international photo agency Getty has made a deal with the FIA and F1 management. They’re shooting everything now.”

“Corona was apparently an excellent opportunity to downsize the photographic corps. I estimate half have been eliminated this whole season. Those who are, all work for Formula 1 or a race stable.”

“I did everything I could to get in, but I was kept on a leash for months. The reaction was always: send an e-mail and we’ll check it out. Maybe we can, maybe we can’t. You’ll hear from us. And then it gets quiet or you get vague lyrics.”

“I think I’ve been sabotaged by the English mafia in Formula One. And I’m not the only one. They’re paranoid. Terrified of being infected, but I’ve been here recently at several races where things were different. There’s room in the press room to keep my distance.”

Journalists barely come in this season either. In the press room there are dozens instead of hundreds. Does that fit the picture? “Yes, but I think that’s a different story. Journalists are not allowed to have contact with anyone on the circuit. They just sit in the press room for days looking at screens and interviewing drivers via the internet. You can do that at home. If you have to do everything online, what are you doing here?”

“I understand you want to be an eyewitness to a race like this behind closed doors, but all race weekends? Then I think you’re out of your mind. I don’t see the added value. For photographers, presence is essential. We can’t take pictures from our living room. We have to be on the track.”

If you were allowed to work on the track, you’d be shooting pictures with empty bleachers. Spa isn’t really photogenic now. “No. Our hearts are bleeding. There’s no fan here. That never happened in the history of the Belgian grand prix. Actually, I think a GP should only be held when the fans are welcome. I don’t like this.”

“Bernie Ecclestone was right. They should have cancelled the season. Do it with an audience or do nothing. Like Zandvoort. Jan Lammers understood perfectly well that a race needs fans. It’s to his credit that, as a former driver, he doesn’t focus on the incrowd.”

“On the other hand, politics plays a big role here. The event puts Belgium and Wallonia on the global map. There are only 17 grand prixs this year. We’re there, as a small country. But of course it’s not healthy that Spa always writes red figures and the taxpayer gets the bill.”