Tales from a Melbourne marshal

Guest articles

Jen Campbell, Melbourne, 2012Jen Campbell worked on the recovery team at the Australian Grand Prix.

She spent the weekend recovering F1 cars including both Ferraris and Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull.

Here’s her story from the first race weekend of the year.

I’m 22 years old and have been involved in motorsport my whole life. My father, uncle and sister got me into motor racing – there is a family joke that my first race meeting I officiated at was the 1988 Grand Prix at Adelaide when mum was pregnant with me!

Now I’m a member of the Vehicle Recovery team at F1 races. That basically involves cleaning up after accidents and returning the cars to the teams. It’s a pretty fun thing to spend a weekend as long as the drivers keep you supplied with dented cars to salvage.

I work at other race meetings in Melbourne and at Sandown and Phillip Island race tracks. Most of the time I’m in the recovery team but at Phillip Island I work on the grid, do pit exit and even get to start some races. I’m basically a jack of all trades.

You have to get your application to be a marshal at the Grand Prix in around October. My father is the deputy chief of recovery so I get to see some of the behind-the-scenes stuff, like team placements, organising trucks and drivers for the week and all of those fun, administrative things.

The Grand Prix week began the weekend before the race, where we got together with the chief of recovery and a few close mates and sorted out all the recovery gear into bags and trays to supply the trucks and cranes with what they need to complete their jobs properly. This is all conducted in true Aussie fashion, with a barbecue and some beers.

I began the preparations at the track with my dad on Wednesday. We took a lap around the outside of the track to put the equipment in the cranes and make sure they were in the right spots and had enough room in the officials’ ‘moat’ (the gap between the spectators and the concrete barrier) to move around and store cars if need be.

Problems with the Medical Car

Mercedes, Melbourne, 2012In the afternoon we prepared the radios and after that we were asked to man turn two for the FIA track test for their DigiFlags, control boxes, and the Safety Car and Medical Car. So off we went, me on the radio sitting in the shade, playing with the buttons on the control box.

Soon after we got a surprising call from turn 11, saying one of the cars had blown up, spitting metal parts and oil everywhere. At first we weren’t sure what had happened, as the local medical and safety cars were on the track as well.

To our surprise, the culprit was the F1 Medical Car – and it looked like an expensive engine blow-up. Fortunately they bring two to each race.

After the mess was cleaned up dad and I collected the KERS protection gloves. These consist of three layers, a cotton inner glove, rubber gloves that go to your elbows and leather rigger gloves to protect the rubber ones.

Then it was time for the Minardi two-seater to come out to play. Dad and I headed off to turn 15 to be ready in case it stopped (it did three times last year over various days).

To no-one’s surprise, it stopped again – gearbox trouble – so we picked it up on the crane truck and took it back to the team.

A quiet Thursday

On Thursday my alarm went off at 4:44am: I had to be back at the track in half an hour in time for the briefing. Fortunately the morning session with the Minardi ran much more smoothly.

The track action at the Australian Grand Prix weekend begins on Thursday, although the F1 cars don’t hit the track until Friday. The support car schedule was packed with V8 Supercars, Carrera Cup Porsches, Group A and C Touring cars and a Historic demonstration with a whole lot of old cars driving around the track at pretty quick speeds.

We also had the Red Bull Race-off which provided the best racing off the weekend, with drivers spearing each other off and whatnot in identical Renault Meganes.

Then there was the Ultimate Speed Comparison, with Gary Paffett in the 2011 McLaren versus Scott Pye in the Triple 8 V8 Supercar and Mick Doohan in a Mercedes road car. You know the drill: the cars get let off at time intervals with the idea being all three cars cross the line at roughly the same time.

Despite all that action, we were left with little recovery work to do on the first day.

A Ferrari on the flatbed

We were excited ahead of Friday as the Formula 1 cars would hit the track for the first time in anger this season. Briefings done and KERS glove allocation completed, we headed off to turn two.

F1 practice started just after noon and we were ready for the fun. And we were soon to be rewarded as the first car we collected was from one of the big teams.

Felipe Massa arrived at turn nine going backwards and was brought to a stop by the gravel trap. This was a big moment for me – I’ve had Toro Rossos and Force Indias on the flatbed before, but this was my first Ferrari.

No team likes their cars’ secrets being revealed when they stopped on the track. But Ferrari seemed especially paranoid about covering up their cars.

As we lifted the F2012 they concealed the underside to stop photographers getting sneaky snaps. Michael Schumacher did much the same with his Mercedes’ front wing when he spun in final practice.

In the second session Narain Karthikeyan came to a stop and we plonked the HRT on the truck. Along with a Formula Ford car in the intervening session we’d recovered three in one day – busier than usual.

Melbourne rain

Melbourne rain, 2012We had stopped at turn six to recover the Formula Ford car and donned our jackets as it began to rain lightly. That done, we drove on and as we reached turn eight the track was soaked.

By turn ten it was bucketing down. With our windscreen wipers on full blast we could only barely see what was happening.

Another recovery crew stood soaked at turn 11 having failed to get their jackets on in time. We happily waved and tooted our horn at them (as you do) and cruised around.

By the time we got back in at turn 15 it was back to spitting rain and sunshine. Melbourne weather at its unpredictable best.

Two world champions

Saturday brought another quarter-to-five alarm call as we were on Minardi two-seater duty again.

All weekend long I had been hoping for the chance to pick up Sebastian Vettel’s car. Much to my surprise, it happened in final practice.

Heading into turn six during final practice the world champion put a wheel on the grass and pirouetting into the gravel. We loaded the Red Bull RB8 onto our truck and set off for the pits.

We were excited, hanging out of the truck window with index fingers pointing to the sky in true Vettel style. Some of the crew took pictures as we drove past.

Red Bull were very polite when we got back to them and didn’t seem too worried about the undertray of the car either. We even got a big thank you from the team for bringing the car back, which always makes you feel appreciated.

Soon it was time for qualifying, so we all got in the truck, and kept an eye on the live timing.

Fernando Alonso was the next big name to spin into the gravel, which gave us the chance to complete our set of Ferraris and have another run-in with the Italians. After we unloaded their car, we stopped at pit exit and watched the V8 Supercars race on the big screen there.

Race day

Sunday started with a luxuriously late 7:30am alarm call: no peak hour traffic to contend with and no Minardi two-seater either.

Race day anticipation was setting in and most were dreaming of a Mark Webber win or even a podium for Danny Ricciardo podium. Unfortunately both made poor starts, though both went on to score points.

Vitaly Petrov came to a stop on the main straight, prompting race control to deploy the safety car which another crew recovered the Caterham.

This was the correct call. The left hand side of his car was still on the racing surface, even only a little. It could have posed a danger being parked there and needed to be moved for everyone’s safety.

Petrov’s car was stopped just after the beginning of the DRS zone and potentially in the firing line from anyone losing control coming out of the final corner – as Adrian Sutil did in qualifying last year. It’s not a high chance, but leaving the Caterham parked there would not have been safe in my opinion.

The recover truck was stationed at turn 13. To get it to the car without the field under control of the safety car would be unacceptable and dangerous to the crew of the truck. So the safety car was a must.

With all recoveries we did that weekend and have done at other meetings, we try to keep ourselves as safe as possible. For gravel trap recoveries, which are usually less dangerous, they are done under local sector yellow flags.

We use skeleton crews for recoveries – only the people that are needed, no hangers-on or people doing nothing. We always have someone keeping watch in case something happens, to give a warning. And recovery vehicles are parked ‘in line line of fire’ to keep them from hitting the rescue team – you can see this in the video of Petrov’s recovery above.

When the race finished we went to get Rosberg’s car from pit exit. But just as we were ready to go, the Mercedes crew arrived to wheel it back themselves – they were very concerned about their car’s floor being seen by others. We were later told by others that Force India had also been anxious to keep their floor covered up.

The aftermath

After the clean-up we went to the after-party at the Muster tent, where an award is given to the the best team – Sector Start/Finish won this year.

It was another great race weekend in Melbourne. The hours are long but working with a great team, bring so close to the action and getting such rare experiences makes up for it.

If you’ve ever thought of giving marshalling a try I strongly recommend it – get in touch with your local motor sports association.

Follow Jen on Twitter to see more of her pictures from Melbourne.

Guest articles

Images ?? Jen Campbell, Mercedes

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72 comments on Tales from a Melbourne marshal

  1. F1Yankee (@f1yankee) said on 29th March 2012, 10:52

    aren’t marshals volunteers? that’s absurd! i can see it at the local level, but for big time organizations there should definitely be some serious compensation for the services and risk. anyway, great job!

    • Jen Campbell (@12popsicles) said on 29th March 2012, 11:11

      All volunteer stuff, but look at the experience I had, it’s all money can’t buy stuff!
      We are trained though, and properly licensed by our officiating body, CAMS so it’s not like we are all lunatics with no idea running around everywhere, not all of us anyway ;)

      • maxthecat said on 29th March 2012, 11:20

        You get to watch F1 for free and i’m sure in Bernie’s mind that’s payment enough! I remember in Monaco one year people could see parts of the track from outside without paying, next day Bernie had 20 foot shields erected so no-one could see for free.

    • Dobin1000 (@dobin1000) said on 29th March 2012, 11:43

      Circuits can’t afford to employ full-time marshals, especially ones that operate practically all year round. It wouldn’t be fair to have volunteer marshals who have to sit in the pouring rain for nothing marshalling a rallycross race watched by a couple of hundred people, and then tell them they can’t come and work on an F1 race because they have other people who also get paid for the privilege.

    • Christopher (@twiinzspeed) said on 29th March 2012, 13:26

      Even though they are volunteers, most all of the workers I have come across through the years are very good at their jobs. Most take it very seriously and are really professional. They work really hard for no pay only for the love of the sport. They deserve kudos from all of us.

      • Dphect (@dphect) said on 29th March 2012, 14:48

        I did a marshaling taster day and it was pretty boring really. At Oulton Park on Druids corner all day long, only one car got stuck in the gravel… Although I did get a ride in an X7 around the circuit – I swear the chap was over 70 too.

        It was just a lot of standing around waiting for something to happen, horrible in full sunshine as you had to have your full body firesuit and gloves on while cars were racing. Must of lost half a stone in sweat alone that day.

        Never again, I’d rather pay and chill out.

        • Jen Campbell (@12popsicles) said on 29th March 2012, 14:57

          some days can be a bit dull but most are fun, it’s more about the people you work with that make it fun, I’m lucky as the people I work with are like a big extended family and I get along with a lot of people. If stuff happens on track, it’s a bonus!
          One day doesn’t mean every day is the same. Ful body fire suit and gloves? We’re you a fire marshal?

          • Nick.UK (@) said on 29th March 2012, 15:29

            @12popsicles – I laughed when you said your crew where doing the Vettel ‘finger’ out the windows of the truck. I’m sure Jenson Button would have given you all a cheer for that haha. Was great to read about your weekend. Good work too :)

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 5th April 2012, 14:56

      Yeah, they certainly are. And the Circuit of the Americas is currently looking to fill their books with people to do that job: http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/groups/going-to-the-united-states-grand-prix-at-circuit-of-the-americas/forum/topic/want-to-go-to-the-usgp-try-signing-up-as-a-marshal/

  2. IDR (@idr) said on 29th March 2012, 10:55

    Great article. Thanks Jen Campbell for taking your time in writing your experiences.

  3. gwenouille (@gwenouille) said on 29th March 2012, 10:57

    Interesting ! Thanks for that report !

    But concerning Petrov’s car on race day: i think that this lorry-recovery-thing is not the most appropriate tool to remove a stranded car. Look how slow it was on the track ! I mean, even Maylander is far too slow in his SC… Waiting behind that huge truck to go around half of the circuit can’t be good for the cars (overheating, cold tyres, etc…) What’s your opinion ?

    • Jen Campbell (@12popsicles) said on 29th March 2012, 11:09

      I understand your concern about how slow it was in the video, but that is pulling up to the incident so they wounds be going super quick.
      And if the safety car comes up behind the truck, we pull as far as we can to the side of the track off the racing line and let the cars go past, that’s why the truck was so close to the car, to keep most of the track clear for the cars to go past.

  4. tobinen (@tobinen) said on 29th March 2012, 10:57

    Great stuff Jen. excellent article.

    I bet AMG keep quiet about the medical car blow-up!

  5. Tommy C (@tommy-c) said on 29th March 2012, 11:14

    Yep, that rain on Friday before FP2 was absolutely ridiculous. I was sitting on the inside of Turn 9 putting sunscreen on before lunch cause it was really quite hot. Then within about half an hour the rain hit and i could no longer see the city. Even worse, i couldn’t even see across the lake! It was probably the heaviest rain I’d ever been outside in…. But I wasn’t going to move! I had a fantastic position to take photos of the cars during FP2 and the wet track in the sunshine half an hour later made the cars looks stunning with the rooster tails out the back! It was definitely worth being drenched and unbelievably uncomfortable for about 15 minutes!

    • damonsmedley (@damonsmedley) said on 29th March 2012, 11:31

      @Tommy-C I agree about the sun filtering through the spray. I’ll have to upload some of the footage I got between turns 2 and 3 of the cars passing through the puddles as it actually looks stunning.

  6. Brilliant article Jen, always good to get an insight into the inner workings of a grand prix. Hopefully we’ll get more guest articles like this during the year. The event itself is a spectacle but I’ve found the efforts from those behinds the scenes is even more impressive, particularly when constructing and deconstructing a street circuit like Albert Park.

    Can’t speak for other races but the Marshall’s I spoke to in Melbourne were all great people and happy to chat between sessions. Had a good discussion with a flag marshal about blue flags during practice; felt bad for them when they were criticized during the race.

    • damonsmedley (@damonsmedley) said on 29th March 2012, 11:29

      @jay I watched the highlights from the team radio channel when I got home and apparently it wasn’t the trackside blue flags at all — it was the dashboards of the cars displaying incorrect information. It took a while for them to work it all out, but one engineer (can’t remember who) said there was a technical glitch with the system, and all drivers were getting blue flag warnings on their dashboards/steering wheels at random times, even if no-one was in sight or indeed, they weren’t a lap behind.

      • Jen Campbell (@12popsicles) said on 29th March 2012, 11:34

        As far as im aware, the blue flag marshals were being told by race control when to blue flag as well. And race control can control the digiflag panels too. But i cant say for sure as ive never really flagged at any meeting of substance (unless you include the chequered flag/black flag)

        • Cheers Damon that makes more sense. You’re right Jen, blue flags during the race are waved under the instruction of race control which is why I thought the criticism was unfair.

          I’d asked why they were blue flagging cars during practice. Turns out they flag any two cars approaching a corner side by side; not to demand that the lead car yield, simply to let them know there is a car in close proximity so they check their mirrors.

          • Alex W said on 30th March 2012, 1:00

            The race leader can be blue flagged if he is slow, but there is no obligation to act in that situation, rare but it has happened.

  7. sato113 (@sato113) said on 29th March 2012, 11:20

    nice article! where u marshalling in 2011 or 2010?

  8. damonsmedley (@damonsmedley) said on 29th March 2012, 11:22

    Brilliant article Jen! It’s amazing how everyone seems to have such different experiences over the weekend, and marshaling must be very rewarding and exciting! I’d really love to try it one day if I’m living in Melbourne.

    That Friday rain was absolutely hilarious. The Formula Ford race was run in overcast conditions and then some rain came in, gradually getting heavier. After a few laps, turn 1 was like an ice rink, and several cars spun and went into the gravel right in front of me (I have it on film, actually).

    Almost as soon as the race finished, the heavens opened massively. It was so heavy that you couldn’t see the other side of the track — so it definitely would have brought out a red flag if it had happened on Sunday afternoon. Anyway, @Aus_Steve and I got absolutely soaked from head to toe. Having wet jeans is a horrible feeling as they never seem to dry! We then ran to the exit of turn 2 and crawled under the general admission concrete stands to stay dry! :-D

    One question; are there any pictures of you doing the “Vettel finger” in the recovery truck taken by photographers? That must have been quite a sight!

    • Jen Campbell (@12popsicles) said on 29th March 2012, 11:31

      Um, not that i have seen. we only really hung out of the truck when we passed some of our crew taking photos and the only set ive seen are Dads and, well he missed!

    • damonsmedley (@damonsmedley) said on 29th March 2012, 11:35

      @12popsicles I also agree with you about the safety car. If there had been a Barrichello/Schumacher Hungary 2010-style incident, the car behind would pop out from behind the leading driver to be greeted by a stationary car. The consequences of a crash of that size wouldn’t be good. So I thought it was the right decision considering a lot of action occurs on the pit straight.

      • BasCB (@bascb) said on 29th March 2012, 12:08

        Yeah, I think it was the best solution there as well @damonsmedley Considering SC periods, I am curious to hear what you think of the re-introduce rule that lapped cars can now unlap themselve and about the time limit before cars get lined up behind the SC @12popsicles

        • Jen Campbell (@12popsicles) said on 29th March 2012, 12:25

          Erm… not too sure really, the only two SC periods of the year were when i was busy at the track and when i was napping (stupidly fell asleep and missed first 20 mins of malaysia race)
          I did think that it seemed to take a while after the truck was clear at 2 for the racing to get underway, but i need to know the new rules and see it in action before im sure

        • Alan (@calonto) said on 29th March 2012, 22:16

          I don’t really like that rule at all, but last years wasn’t great either. I think a better way to do it would be for the lapped cars to drop to the back of the line – in other words, cars on the leading lap can lap again lapped cars. Like really, what’s the difference between +1 lap or + 2 laps?

  9. TimG (@timg) said on 29th March 2012, 11:41

    Really excellent stuff and a fascinating insight into what goes on over the course of a Grand Prix weekend.

    We seldom hear much about it, but motor racing at every level is completely dependent on the time and goodwill of volunteers who perform a range of essential tasks, mostly without payment or acknowledgement. Having been involved in grass roots-level motorsport in the UK, you really get to appreciate the efforts of the dedicated and highly skilled people who give up their time – and often take similar risks to the drivers and pit crew – to make the sport work properly. It’s easy to criticise officialdom at motor races, but doing the job is incredibly difficult to get right all the time – and most of the time they do get it right.

    I’m not surprised that (most) teams are grateful for having their cars brought back safely. I have vivid memories from years ago, when I was working on a Formula Ford at Castle Combe, of the marshall who took the time and trouble to return a body panel that had come off on the far side of the circuit after contact. Above and beyond, really.

  10. testguy (@testguy) said on 29th March 2012, 11:46

    I’m curious about this Minardi two-seater. What is it for, and why is it always breaking down? Has it become some kind of an in-joke between marshalls?

    • Jen Campbell (@12popsicles) said on 29th March 2012, 12:03

      Its a corporate thing really, Stoddard runs the 2 seater at some rounds of the year (not ure if its all of them or not) and takes people for rides around the track. Baumgartner drives it (remember him from about 05-6 in the Minardi F1) and i know Coulthard took one lucky person in it. We also had a local driver, Cam McConville drive it too. Its not really a in-joke between us but i presume running an old v10 with all the spare parts in the world would become slightly unreliable sometimes.

  11. I had to smile at this aspect of marshalling:

    “This was a big moment for me – I’ve had Toro Rossos and Force Indias on the flatbed before, but this was my first Ferrari.”
    “All weekend long I had been hoping for the chance to pick up Sebastian Vettel’s car.”

    It’s like collecting autographs :-)

    • Jen Campbell (@12popsicles) said on 29th March 2012, 12:06

      We do get competitive. It makes the weekend fun :)
      All in good spirits though.

      Just for the record, to complete my set, i need a McLaren, Mercedes, Sauber and a Marussia ;)

      • BasCB (@bascb) said on 29th March 2012, 12:15

        Shame you missed the chance on Schumacher then, that would have been a really nice Mercedes catch!

        • Jen Campbell (@12popsicles) said on 29th March 2012, 12:29

          But then i wouldnt have had Vettel’s car. :) I did have Coulthards RB a few years ago though.
          And we nearly got Rosbergs car after the race but the team were a bit anal about their floor/front wing being seen. Oh well. Next year? :)

          • BasCB (@bascb) said on 29th March 2012, 12:32

            Oh, right. Guess Vettels Red Bull is the better catch then. In the past few years he has been pretty generous to you guys!

      • gwenouille (@gwenouille) said on 29th March 2012, 12:17

        Just imagine beeing a marshall at Spa in 98 ! :-)

        • Mike (@mike) said on 30th March 2012, 5:32

          Young marshal on phone to dad — “And I said, probably the first lap will be where the….. *winces*…. I’ll see you next week dad.”

  12. Homer said on 29th March 2012, 12:23

    Great article. Always fascinating to read insights from the people who work “behind the scenes” so to speak.

  13. Arijit (@arijitmaniac) said on 29th March 2012, 12:25

    Excellent article Jen :)
    I would love to be a marshall at India but being voluntary and far away from the city I live in, it becomes very difficult as it eats into your schedule :( Wish I were living in New Delhi!
    I have a question… When you go to collect a car on the track, are the respective team personnel always present? Like do they assist/direct you?
    How is it like interacting with them?

    • Jen Campbell (@12popsicles) said on 29th March 2012, 12:34

      When we pick up the car trackside, no team personnel are there as i dont think they are allowed to be there, but we meet them in the pits, most teams are polite and we usually let them do all the work in the pits when we unload them and its all pretty easy as they know where they want it, we just ask then deliver the car to them.

      • Arijit (@arijitmaniac) said on 29th March 2012, 12:37

        Nice… :)
        I think you should next write an article about the most memorable moments (good/bad/exciting) till today of being a track marshall :)

  14. Meander (@meander) said on 29th March 2012, 13:03

    Thanks @Jen_Campbell for a peak in your diary!

    I laughed at the Ferrari part: “Quick, cover it up before somebody copies our fantastic car!”

    • Jen Campbell (@12popsicles) said on 29th March 2012, 13:15

      Ferrari have always been like that. Every time one of our crews has brought back one of their cars they are out with the covers ready to cover it up. More teams seem to be doing it this year though, but i do see your irony yes. :)

      • David H said on 30th March 2012, 2:00

        Wonderful story, great to hear some of the ‘behind the scenes’ bits and the camaraderie you all have. Lucky you. Remarkable that no team or journalist has tried to slip you all a bribe for that one ‘under the floor’ picture. Or maybe they have and that’s off-record, ha. Make for a nice story thread in a movie anyway. Thanks!

  15. Robbie (@robbie) said on 29th March 2012, 13:08

    Can’t add much other than to echo others’ sentiments…great stuff, Jen. I have been aware for a long time that marshalls are volunteers and therefore are quite passionate about what they do. You have proved that. Races at all levels would not be able to occur without your services, so thank you and keep up the great work. Stay safe.

    • Jen Campbell (@12popsicles) said on 29th March 2012, 13:17

      Thanks Robbie, i try to stay safe but im a bit of a klutz, rolled ankle, bandaged middle finger and strained back to say the least (all at separate times though) :D
      All in a days work!

      • Robbie (@robbie) said on 29th March 2012, 14:20

        Lol, Jen…I think most drivers walk away from crashes these days with less ‘damage’ than you are dealing with. Can’t resist a little levity here…which driver, that insisted you keep the underside of their car down and away from photogs, did you give the middle finger to such that it got damaged and needed a bandage?

        • Jen Campbell (@12popsicles) said on 29th March 2012, 14:26

          Haha no, we didn’t have to deal with any driver shenanigans, nearly got Vettel with the car but at the last minute he ran away. Perhaps I’m scary?
          Finger was ironically the middle one, but I tore a hole in it catching it on debris fence whist jumping through a gap at a local meeting last year. No stitches but a nice bandage for 2 weeks! :)

          • Robbie (@robbie) said on 29th March 2012, 15:13

            Ha ha, fair enough, Jen…I still think you should use my scenario when you are telling your grandkids about some of your interesting experiences…’and then there was the time ______bit my middle finger…ok maybe I deserved it for waving it in his face…but he started it’…’but Gran, are you saying the cars actually had drivers in them back then?’

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