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.
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.
On Friday, there were a total of five sessions – 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.
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.
Come race day, the mood and the rapport within the team were pretty good. The weather was scorching hot. There were only three sessions – 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.
2010 Singapore Grand Prix
Images © Singapore GP