Shot! The central feature at the 2017 Festival of Speed
Celebrating the career of Bernie Ecclestone was a radical departure, unfortunately this year’s sculpture was more of the same
I’ve been coming to the Festival of Speed for the past 8 years. Each time, the first thing I go straight to is the central feature in front of Goodwood House. More than the cars on the ground or gunning up the hill, it’s the one thing I shoot the most.
Ever since the first one back in 1997 it’s been the work of one man, sculptor Gerry Judah and each year it’s been devoted to a different marque, usually commemorating an important anniversary. With the exception of 2011, when it celebrated 60 years of the E-type, it has always featured physical cars balancing precariously high above the house.
Because of its size, there’s no escaping the sculpture. It dominates most visitors’ vistas at the Festival and, more than anything else, becomes the symbol of that year’s event. Yet despite its scale, Goodwood do a good job of keeping it under wraps (not literally of course) until the event begins. The marque is usually only revealed a month or so earlier and the design itself as part of a fireworks display the night before.
Last year, I have to admit, was the first time I was disappointed. Judah’s creation for BMW may have been his biggest so far, but to me it was simply uninspired. It was too similar to previous designs, it lacked the wow factor he’d achieved in the past where you literally wondered how the structure stayed up. What’s more, it was so generic it could have been created for any marque.
Which one was going to feature for 2017 remained a mystery right up until a few weeks before. The most obvious contender was Ferrari who were celebrating their 70th anniversary. However, they’d been on that first ever sculpture and few marques get the honour more than once, Porsche being the only one I can think of.
When Goodwood finally announced the news, it’s fair to say it took everyone by surprise and caused more than a few raised eyebrows. That’s because for the first time the central feature wouldn’t be celebrating a marque, but a man. And a controversial one at that.
Had it been John Surtees (the only man to have been world champion on both two and four wheels) and who had died aged 83 a few months earlier in March, I think most people would have approved.
However, the man in question wasn’t Surtees, but Ecclestone. Now Bernie has always been a contentious figure and in the latter years of his F1 career he was a divisive character, with as many loving him as hating him. It was certainly a brave choice. All we were told was it would celebrate the 5 ages of Ecclestone and feature cars from different stages of his motorsport career.
For me, the cars themselves weren’t important, what was was what the structure looked like. I found out, almost by accident, the afternoon before when a snap of it appeared online on Autocar. Immediately I saw it, I felt a deep sense of disappointment. Essentially it was a circle, with five ‘arms’ flying off it.
So why my chagrin? Well, there were a number of reasons. Whilst we’d not seen a complete circular structure before, it was quite similar to 2009’s sculpture for Audi which featured two cars crossing each other on a track creating almost a circle as they did so.
And just like every sculpture since 2011, it was white.
2013’s Porsche sculpture was one of the most effective, but ever since the general look and the concept were variations on a similar theme: tapered white metal with cars fixed vertically to the leading edge.
Perhaps most disappointing was the fact we saw something very similar last year for BMW.
But appearance aside, this year’s sculpture had another failing. As soon as I saw it I knew its design would make it hard to get a variety of different shots of the structure, mainly because of the way the cars were positioned.
Seeing it in person the next morning confirmed my fears. It was going to be difficult to photograph.
Now if you’d never seen a Judah sculpture in front of the house before, I’m sure you’d be impressed. After all, it was 34.5m tall, 25m wide and made of 70 tonnes of steel. And it did contain 5 actual racing cars.
However, if like me you’d seen quite a few, you’d probably be somewhat underwhelmed. This sculpture was nowhere near as impressive as previous iterations.
Rather than being finely balanced, a huge chunk of the structure rested on the lawn. There was no ‘magic’ in how it could stand up and its huge exposed rivets meant this one looked significantly less sleek than its predecessors.
But perhaps its biggest design failing was it only looked good from one or two vantage points. The way the cars were placed on the structure meant that in most cases you were looking at them from underneath.
This is what Gerry Judah had to say about this year’s sculpture:
“Coming up with a sculpture for Goodwood is always a challenge. It has to be different, dynamic and dangerous, as motorsport itself. This year, what better way than producing a firecracker.”
It may have been a firecracker. But for me it was a firecracker in name only. Nothing about it was innovative. Why paint it white again? Why use the same steel arms again? Why fix the cars in exactly the same way again?
As someone once said “Being different is better than being better” but this was more like “the same, but different”
A splash of colour, some movement, something to give it the wow factor. All were sadly missing. And, when you think about it, apart from accommodating five cars significant to his career, what was the relevance of this design to Bernie Ecclestone?
Nike designer Tinker Hadfield famously said: “If people don’t either love or hate your work, you just haven’t done all that much.”
Well, I can’t speak for anyone else, but I neither loved or hated it, I just felt it was surprisingly uninspired (if that’s not an oxymoron in itself!)
I hope next year’s is way more adventurous and a return to form for Gerry Judah. I also hope it returns to celebrating a marque, rather than a man. That said, there doesn’t seem to be too many potential contenders for whom 2018 is a celebratory year: Honda will mark its 70th birthday, while Aston Martin’s DB4 will celebrate its 60th.
Whatever it ends up celebrating, a clean sheet of paper should be the start-point and anything white, curvaceous or with cars stuck on the extremities should be avoided.
Behind the image: All these images were shot handheld with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 and either the 12–40 2.8 Pro or the 75 1.8 lens. I rarely shoot the entire sculpture — I leave that to virtually everyone else. Instead, I’m looking for a series of clean, dynamic shots with nothing else in the image. For me, it’s all about finding creative compositions and how the light falls on the structure. I was at the Festival for two days this year and both were totally different weather-wise. The Thursday was overcast with grey skies, whilst the Sunday was warm with blue skies. As for my images, I’m quite pleased with the results, especially the ones against blue. Even though they don’t capture the sense of scale,I like how clean they are. But remember, I’m simply trying to create a great image, I’m not attempting in any way to document the sculpture. Shot at Goodwood on 29 June and 2 July 2017.