Behind the scenes with a track marshal at the Singapore Grand Prix

F1 Fanatic reader Wei Jian worked as a track marshal during the Singapore Grand Prix weekend. He tells us about his experience recovering cars and reveals some interesting facts about marshalling.

Almost a thousand trackside and non-trackside volunteers were on hand to help the Singapore Grand Prix run smoothly. I was one of them, stationed at turn 16, officially known as sector 16.0L.

Preparation

I signed up at the beginning of this year as a volunteer race official for the Singapore Grand Prix having followed F1 for a decade. Since I’m not going to be a world champion I though the next step to get more involved with the sport I am a fanatic about was to be a marshal.

Marshaling covers a range of functions such track marshal (my role), flag marshal, observers/communications, recovery specialist and fire marshal. Each sector of the, depending on requirements, has a certain number of each.

My training started back in early May when the new race officials had to attend theory lessons which covered topics like safety and regulations. Having cleared the theory lessons, our roles were then assigned in July.

Onwards, training became more specialized to our respective roles. It included both theory lessons and practical sessions of car recovery. At the end of it all, the roles were combined in a training session which included a mini-race that was conducted at Johor Circuit in Malaysia.

Race week began on the Thursday before the race where we familiarised ourselves thoroughly with our sector. During that session, the FIA safety car did some tests and inspections running on track.

I had the privilege of walking through the pit lane at the end of the day and managed to catch sight and a light touch of Nico Rosberg and Vitaly Petrov’s cars which were waiting to be weighed.

Most teams were still in the early stages of setting up the cars on Thursday evening. Unfortunately, none of the drivers were in the pits. Earlier, Felipe Massa cycled around the track and on the way out of the circuit, I saw Jenson Button and girlfriend Jessica Michibata.

Friday

On Friday, there were a total of five sessions ?ǣ Formula BMW Pacific practice and qualifying, Porsche Carrera Cup Practice and of course F1 first and second practice. Time was rather tight and breaks within the sessions were few and short.

Coupled with the shower which came as the chequered flag fell for the first session (Formula BMW practice), it was a tough first afternoon of work despite not being ‘activated’ (sent onto the track) during the afternoon sessions.

But come 6pm the mere sound of the F1 engines reverberating through the buildings completely got me pumped up and extremely excited. Turn 16 was rather dry by that time so nothing much happened except that Timo Glock did a doughnut in the run-off area during first practice.

I briefly hoped the three-wheeling Adrian Sutil, who knocked a wheel off in the turn ten chicane, would choose to stop in my sector. Alas, he went by and stopped at turn 18 – one of three that pulled up two corners down from where I was.

Saturday

On Saturday, there was Porsche qualifying and race one, Formula BMW race one, and F1 final practice and qualifying. This time though, there was rain from the moment our team got to the sector.

Luckily, the rain ended quite early so most of the sessions ran on a drying track. This time though, I was activated to recover a Porsche which stopped in my sector during the Porsche race. Michael Choi’s car was hit in the rear by a rival and stopped in the run-off area with a puncture and wheel damage not unlike that sustained by Lewis Hamilton in his collision with Mark Webber.

As we’d practised I went out into the run-off area with two other track marshals, supervised by our leader, to attempt to push the Porsche into the ‘dead car’ space behind the barriers. Unfortunately, the wheel was too severely damaged and the car wouldn?t budge. Race control eventually decided to leave the car in the run-off area.

The other sessions were relatively quiet – once again the crew down at turn 18 as two more cars stopped there.

Sunday

Come race day, the mood and the rapport within the team were pretty good. The weather was scorching hot. There were only three sessions ?ǣ Formula BMW race two, Porsche Carrera race two and the 2010 Grand Prix of Singapore.

I tuned into the radio frequency of the commentary provided at the circuit to provide me with live updates of the race as I did not have a big screen to view from. Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel’s pace through the race was very impressive almost to a point where you could see how easily their cars turned into the corner compared to the rest.

As expected, turn 16 was quiet throughout the race. Only Heikki Kovalainen treated the hungry marshals at turn 16 to a doughnut in the second half of the race following contact with Sebastien Buemi, shortly before his car caught fire.

Once again, the turn 18 team had to recover two cars when Kamui Kobayashi smacked into the barrier, followed by Bruno Senna. It was easily the unluckiest corner with a grand total of seven recoveries throughout the weekend.

At the end of the race, there was an appreciation party for the volunteers with a sumptuous buffet and performances. Being an F1 fanatic, I went home to re-watch the Grand Prix on TV to get the full picture of the race and especially the incident between Hamilton and Webber.

The standard of marshalling

Having read some comments here about the marshalling over on the site, I wanted to see how my fellow marshals did elsewhere on the circuit. While there was some room for improvement, I honestly thought the sectors that had to recover cars did not do too badly.

In my opinion, the blue flags shown during the race were rather poor especially in areas with close succession of corners. Hamilton was badly held up by a HRT at one point.

Having said that, I stood in the flag post for my sector and it was rather hard to see the oncoming cars. Another thing I noticed was the duration that the green flags were waved after the second safety car period. It seemed to go on for at least two laps which I felt it was unnecessary. I suspect the instruction to withdraw the flags from Race Control were delayed due to the incident between Hamilton and Webber.

As for recovery, we have to wait for instructions from race control before getting on track to recover the stopped car. And race control usually has to wait for a suitable gap in between the traffic before allowing recovery to proceed due to safety precautions.

In Vitantonio Liuzzi’s case, he stopped at the opposite side of the track at turn ten. It took less than two laps’ time to clear which was good. The safety car period was longer because recovery couldn?t commence until Massa and Nick Heidfeld, who were about half a lap behind, passed the area.

For Kobayashi and Senna, it was the well-rehearsed turn 18 crew who did the recovery. They took effectively two laps to recover two cars even though Safety Car lasted four laps. Again the recovery was delayed by a car that was a long way behind the lead pack – this time it was Michael Schumacher, who had just pitted for a new front wing.

As for Senna?s complaint that the yellow flags appeared too late after Kobayashi’s crash for him to avoid hitting the Sauber, it wasn?t exactly true. Another car managed to avoid Kobayashi before Senna crashed into him.

I guess the comparison of marshalling standard is against Monaco that has years of history behind them. It?s a high yardstick but hopefully we will improve as the years go by. Overall, I think they did well.

My experience as a race marshal was very rewarding. I could now appreciate the work and efforts going into the running of a Grand Prix. It adds another dimension to watching an F1 race.

I had the pleasure of working with a great team and we enjoyed ourselves tremendously, despite the long hours and tough weather, all for the passion in the sport. Hopefully, my sharing has provided a new perspective to the intricacies of a Grand Prix to everyone.

I?ll definitely be back again to marshal at the 2011 Singapore Grand Prix. Until then, it?s back to being a spectator.

You can follow Wei Jan, who comments here as Adaptalis, on Twitter.

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43 comments on Behind the scenes with a track marshal at the Singapore Grand Prix

  1. Awesome account. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks Wei Jan, it’s nice to hear what goes on behind the scenes from your perspective.

  3. Excellent story. I enquired about marshalling at my local race track, they apparently needed lots of people, but they never got back to me.

  4. Jared404 said on 1st October 2010, 9:33

    Thanks Wei Jan, I really enjoyed you story.

  5. codesurge said on 1st October 2010, 9:59

    Great story!

    One question though – as a marshal, was it possible to follow the race closely (you mentioned via radio) or were you normally too busy with your marshaling tasks to do so?

    • adaptalis said on 1st October 2010, 18:19

      For my sector, we were not too busy during sessions so it was possible to follow the race. We’re suppose to keep a constant lookout for debris or fluid on track. So yea, eyes were always on track.

  6. Ronman said on 1st October 2010, 9:59

    Great Insight Wei Jan… and thanks Keith for giving people like Wei a platform to share these nice stories…

  7. DGR-F1 said on 1st October 2010, 10:00

    Great article Wei Jan, what a great way to get involved!
    Incidently, I think Monaco’s secret is having strategically placed cranes which can reach into every corner and lift the cars straight up and over the barriers. Perhaps Singapore needs to do something like this as well?

    • adaptalis said on 1st October 2010, 18:21

      I seem to recall that for Monaco too. We have that at the part under the grandstand due to the poor accessibility of that portion of track. But no idea why it wasn’t further implemented elsewhere. Maybe something to do with the height of the debris fence?

  8. Shaun Field said on 1st October 2010, 10:16

    Great recount, hope you keep going with it. If there is a permanant track nearby, try marshalling out there. I’ll give you better skills for next year, and skills in other area’s too (flags or communications if one of those appeal to you). Plus, its fun :P

    I took up marshalling this year at a club level, and it has been the best thing i’ve ever done. I’ve been enjoying every meeting, including the club meetings. Although i’ve only been doing it for a year (and yet to even do a major meeting), I’ve seen some fantastic action. If you can’t afford to go racing, it is by far the best thing you can do for your sport.

    Australian marshalls were responsible for training and the senior roles at singapore and korea. We had a couple still doing sinapore this year, and about 10 of our regulars will be at Korea. I’m hoping to have the requirements to go in a couple of years.

    • adaptalis said on 1st October 2010, 18:26

      There’s a new track being built but not F1 capable. If my schedule permits, i’ll probably help out there as well.

      Totally agree that this is the best thing i could do for the sport.

      Oh YES! Credits to the CAMS officials as well. We had one of your colleague to assist us. Thanks mate!

  9. David B said on 1st October 2010, 10:19

    Great stuff Wei Jan.
    I would definitively like to copy your path, but Monza is quite far from my living town.

  10. verstappen said on 1st October 2010, 10:30

    for stories like this, I visit this site – truly for F1 fanatics

  11. Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 1st October 2010, 10:48

    Thanks to Wei Jan and the people like you. There’d be no F1 without people like you and they don’t even pay your travel expenses. Hats off to your passion and dedication.

  12. It is great to hear about GP weekend from this perspective. Thanks :)

  13. BasCB said on 1st October 2010, 11:50

    I really like your account of the Singapore weekend. Nice to get another view on the how and why of the Marshalling.

    If there would be a GP somewhere close to me i might have a try at getting into Marshalling myself in the future. Souns like a lot more of an experience then just watching the action on the TV or live!

  14. MarcusAurelius said on 1st October 2010, 11:57

    This is why I like this site so much.

  15. Red Andy (@red-andy) said on 1st October 2010, 12:12

    Thanks Wei Jan, particularly for addressing some of the criticisms that were levelled at the marshals after the race. By and large, marshals the world over do an excellent job and their efforts are often forgotten.

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