Unlicensed Marshals standard practice at USGP in Austin




Brought to you by TJ13 contributor Mattpt55

Without a large group of trained and experienced marshals, it would be impossible to mount any professional motorsport event, much less a Formula 1 Grand Prix. This being so, TJ13 reveals the shocking fact that the inaugural USGP in Austin was manned by a significant number of inexperienced and unlicensed marshals in key positions. Highly experienced marshals who spoke out on the matter had their views dismissed and were ignored.

untitledTJ13 has learned that one experienced marshal who flew in from Abu Dhabi at her own expense was stripped of her credentials. Her full story is here.

However, in summary on the way to losing her credentials she and other experienced marshals noted more than a few serious safety issues. There was almost no training being provided and the training on offer was both inadequate and in some cases on how to use certain equipment not even present in Austin. In one case an FOM cameraman had to show the marshals how to properly operate the equipment. The FIA appeared to be oblivious to this at the time, however Charlie Whiting was informed after the event but no official response was forthcoming. How COTA bypassed the usual FIA requirements is unknown to this day.

Now of course, all new or returning additions to the F1 calendar are likely to suffer some degree of disorganisation and difficulty in recruiting and training marshals. After all marshals pay their own travel to and from F1 events and often their accommodation too. In return they MAY receive one or two complimentary tickets for the event – not a huge return for putting their lives on the line. These new and returning GP are not always the most attractive options to those with limited time/money, particularly the Tilke-dromes where the marshals are often kept far from seeing the action.

Most race organisers solve this problem by recruiting locals but are meant to ensure they are properly trained and licensed before the event. COTA’s problems were exacerbated because they required an unusually large number of marshals, the volunteer population in the area was small and there was a perceived relative lack of fun for the marshals. Given the unpleasant nature of the marshalling experience at the inaugural race in COTA, recruitment of marshals for the USA’s premier motor sport event has been a persistent problem in Austin – and has again been this year.

When the call first was issued for volunteers for the 2012 race weekend, respondents were required to already have a National license from the SCCA. Such was the lack of interest, as the event drew closer licenses were being fast tracked for marshals who were novices or hadn’t been active for years. This desperation led to the licensing of an individual who had 10 years previously been a flag marshal for one day and had no experience of a professional event. Another was a complete virgin marshal. These individuals were tasked with making sure the drivers and spectators were kept safe.

At the same time, experienced marshals who attended professional events frequently and were regularly consulted on issues were being roundly ignored by the pit chief and the marshal’s coordinator. It would require more than this article to list the events which contributed to the worst marshalling organisation many have ever been involved with. But here are a few anecdotes.

Morning Meetings

This is a tradition at most circuits. Its a simple briefing on potential issues that might arise, particularly useful at a new venue one might surmise. One experienced marshal remarked it was the first time in 12 years that they had seen it skipped.

Fire Marshals:

At Austin, outside of the pitlane, there was no sign of professional fire-fighters. There weren’t even fire extinguisher bottles at all of the fire stations. By contrast, one marshal estimated there were as many as 50 trained fire-fighters at the Montreal GP.

Mobile Cranes

Not only were workers trained on the incorrect equipment, but not enough workers were assigned to operate the kit safely. In at least one instance it was down to a FOM cameraman to show marshals how to properly operate the equipment.

Though the situation has improved somewhat since the first Grand Prix and change in leadership has brought more training, the fact of the matter is that individuals with as little as 2 race weekends experience will be marshalling the race this weekend in Austin.

There are differences in the accreditation requirements for different world regions. In the US, the SCCA requires 10-18 race weekends and a rotation through all the jobs (including race control) as well as a formal observation before a divisional license will be granted. This is the minimum requirement to work F1 races elsewhere.

In the UK, the MSA requires 15 days experience plus an upgrade from trainee grade, again subject to a training day and observation before being considered to work F1.

So how does COTA manage to satisfy FIA?

Unsurprisingly the FIA regulations regarding marshal qualifications are vague. In fact Appendix H regulation 2.3.4 of the ISC states that aside from the Post Chief and Deputy, individuals only have to have had “basic training” in order to be marshals. As explained, the de facto standard in most regions of the world requires fully accredited marshals and given the FIA’s renewed emphasis on marshal safety in the wake of the Mark Robinson tragedy in Montreal 2013, it rather beggars belief that FIA allows COTA to continue to operate with such inexperienced and unqualified marshals. In typical fashion, the FIA seems to be turning a blind eye. But it is precisely this kind of reactive thinking that lies behind many of the recent incidents in F1, particularly the Bianchi incident.

Still, how hard can marshalling at an F1 event it really be? Well in the next article we will take a more thorough look at marshalling and what is really required. Hint: harder than you think.

27 responses to “Unlicensed Marshals standard practice at USGP in Austin

  1. I could say “unbelievable” but that would be a lie.
    great article and looking forward to the next.

    too bad there was not more lead time to forward this to dozens of Govt agencies and consumer protection advocates in hopes of someone picking up the ball and launching a full investigation.

    ideally, I would hope to see COTA, FIA, FOM, etc. shut down as not fit for purpose.
    that beats the hell out of any senseless and preventable injury or death IMHO.

  2. Hmm..firstly the marshalls blog reads a bit strange- like something is missing she did or behaved or attitude we are not privy to…and as such maybe take with a pinch of salt

    However, as much as I am sure we can all agree standards should be upheld, given the farce that is race control and stewarding, expecting any change in shoddy marshalling is expecting miracles…and its not just cota, there are plenty of shoddy examples of marshalling at many GPs and sadly until (perhaps several) more serious injuries occur, the sqare root of zero will be done about it sadly.

    • It was very informative to contrast what I found with regards to other countries and races call outs for marshals vs what happened at COTA that first year. It was a particular shitstorm of badness that has made their life difficult going forward and very much down to those directly in charge on the ground, who are no longer there. In fact a lot of the speculation amongst the more experienced set is that itd runs all the way to the front office because once they dispatched Tavo Helmund they had no one left with any real GP experience. Beyond that though, there is a group of highly trained and dedicated people who take just as much pride in their skill at marshaling as the drivers do at driving. Very easy to overlook.

  3. weekend weather forecast by Wunderground
    special statement by NWS

    82° | 71°
    0.75 in

    Fri 10/23
    82° | 70°
    0.96 in

    Sat 10/24
    74° | 63°
    2.91 in

    Sun 10/25
    71° | 60°
    1.2 in

    … Rainfall likely today through Sunday…
    … Heavy rainfall leading to probable flooding Friday night
    through Saturday night…

    Rain chances will gradually increase across south-central Texas
    today through Friday… and peak Friday night through Saturday
    night. Locally heavy rains could occur anytime today through
    Sunday morning. However… the greatest chances of heavy rainfall
    will occur Friday night through Saturday night. The heavy rains
    will slowly end from west to east Sunday.

    The most likely areas to receive heavy rainfall are portions of
    the eastern Hill Country and anywhere along and east of the
    Interstate 35 corridor. Despite recent dry conditions… flash
    flooding is probable across this region given the high rainfall
    accumulations forecast. Flash flooding could be enhanced further
    across recent burn areas.

    In addition… the heavy rainfall and potential for lightning will
    likely lead to disruptions of outdoor activities through the

    Total rainfall amounts from today through Sunday could reach
    4 to 8 inches across the eastern Hill Country and anywhere along
    and east of the Interstate 35 corridor. Pockets of 10 to 12
    inches could occur in isolated spots across this region. Farther
    west… total rainfall amounts of 1 to 4 inches are forecast
    across the western Hill Country and Rio Grande.

    All interests in south-central Texas are urged to closely monitor
    forecasts as this potential heavy rainfall event unfolds. Flash
    flood watches could be posted later today or tonight. Have ways to
    receive flash flood watches and be prepared to take action should
    flash flood warnings be issued for your area. Remember… if you
    encounter flooded roadways… turn around… dont drown.

    • those dirt parking lots are going to be so much fun! not to mention the traffic disaster that is likely given how poorly organized the traffic routes were last year.

  4. Really a story about……what? And 3 years old at that.
    Not a good look admittedly, but one that would have been seen at many F1 circuits all around the world going to a new region for the first time and one that I’d wager is still extant today.

    • Article about becoming marshal for Dubai. notice prominently mentioned all marshals will be FIA credentialed. http://www.thenational.ae/lifestyle/motoring/marshal-law-learning-to-be-a-grand-prix-flag-waver#page2

      Here’s a first timer talking about his experience and contrast that to the read it online and get a little in person training before having your first event be a WEC race

      And here’s a tale of the first Singapore race under the preparation section. Contrast that with the 5 minutes at best in the inaugural COTA race to get a sense of what I meant about the FIA.

      Last here’s another look at being a marshal in UK again where it clearly states that being certified a certain grade by MSA (UK’s SCCA and FIA recognized organisation) is prerequisite for working any F1 race

      And finally, as to what the story is about well to me it speaks volumes about everything that is wrong with FIA and safety. They are reactive and are creating the possibility for major issues because they are not paying attention to the small things. For instance in Canada, it was discovered that a completely different system for attaching cars to the JCB was in place at another racetrack, one that obviated the need for marshals to run in front of the JCB as it was transporting the car. Shouldn’t the FIA be sytematizing this knowledge and demanding that all circuits meet a certain standard with regards to experience and training. More to the point, that kind of thinking was also directly related to the Bianchi incident, in which regulations were blatantly ignored so the race could be run. When problems are small ignoring them and hoping they go away usually works, but when it doesn’t, the penalty is awfully stiff at this level. Consider to that in every incident the first people to the driver, even before the medical team are the marshals. Now who would you rather have looking out for you if you were a driver. Someone who went to a webinar and had flagged 2 races or someone who had dedicated the better part of a year, including training and had 10-15 races and had gone to the trouble of getting credentials? And again, the question is why hasn’t the FIA updated it’s regulatoins and procedures, particularly in light of Montreal ’13

      • Nice post Matt, the marshals really are the unsung heroes of any event and if the FIA and MrE didn’t have their support or dedication we would not be having any race. What gets my goat is the total lack of credit or funding for these gals and guys,they put their lives in the firing line and every driver owes them a great deal..how hard would it be for the management to recognize this? How many professional organizations have such a reliance on volunteer help? IMHO its a discrace how they are funded and if the FOM can’t be bothered to police the tracks then it should fall to every driver and team to fund an experienced team to follow F1..maybe then we won’t have the track problems we have seen this year

  5. Excellent but worrying read. It would be like being at an airport and expecting untrained staff to help guide the planes to the terminal building. Can’t they find enough money out of all the millions made from this sport to ensure adequate training and safety standards are met? I look forward to the next article.

  6. Keep on pounding at Charlie. Maybe send this kind of report (or every feature about safety since Japan) to a local reporter who doesn’t care about accreditation.

  7. with ALL the massive issues IndyCar has, permanent and travelling safety and medical professionalism is and has been religiously the finest the racing World has ever seen. anything less is fraught with money-grubbing, greedy, narcissistic, POS dumb-assed muther fuckers not fit for purpose AND willingly supported by all of us …

  8. Ok, this particular article, I am going to have to say is very poorly researched.
    Especially as it pertains to the first year.
    I will start with the marshalls.
    The first year, there were hundreds of resumes come in. You needed a scca national license and pretty much the experience you listed . They were chosen by very experienced race control people.
    Many were people that they had worked with at Indy street races.
    Their experience is not what I would question. I would question their dedication and seriousness, as I caught some of them climbing the fence, to go buy souvenirs.
    The comment about a tv cameraman showing someone how to use equipment? I’m calling bs! No Marshall entered the track, as there was on a couple of car that needed attention, for mechanical reasons.
    The firefighter comment, I personally take exception to.
    Lon Bromley headed up all track safety.
    He has served in that capacity, for almost every form of racing, all over the world.
    My job was to make sure every member of the safety team was on station, had all proper equipment, radio’s working and on proper channels.
    Not including pit lane, there were 16 firefighters, 8 paramedics, 4 doctors on track. As well as an additional 16 firefighters 8 paramedics, and a lot of nurses around the track. That does not include the nurses and doctors at the on site medical center, or the Fia doctors.
    And we started training the firefighters and paramedics, 3 months before the race.

    Now had this article been written about any of the following years, I certainly would not be a shock.
    Given the fact that, not a single person from the first year is there any longer, and the bottom line is the only thing management cares about, could make this one of the most dangerous track to participate at.
    In fact, over the last 2 years, your article does not even come close, to identifying all the corners the cut!
    They actually have hired people from temporary staffing agencies, to work on the track!
    If you are willing to sacrifice safety, to save a buck, you will never be a world class facility.

  9. Well, that was the original standard. But as my sources state that by the end that had fallen by the wayside. Numbers around the track were exceedingly hard to verify but that’s why it’s under anecdotes, because I only had a single source for some of them.

    As far as the first year goes with management at least I have heard the polar opposite, that things have gotten better, at least with regards to training of F&C. But the real issue remains to my mind and the point of the whole article is why any US marshal working any other GP has to provide letter from ACCUS and have SCCA creds to be considered, but someone at COTA with literally 2 weekends experience can be given a flag. And despite what you imply I have a fairly certain belief that the situation, at least in the broad strokes, was as I represented it. So there were 16, instead of 0 firemen outside the pitlane: relative to the 50 or so at Montreal not gonna make a difference. But, truly, you are nitpicking, because the point of the story isn’t so much what did or didn’t happen but the curious difference between working at COTA and at any other GP, not just exp but creds. It was very easy for me to verify that being credentialed is bog standard at any other GP. That’s on the FIA and the real issue.

    • Being, “credentialed” does not have anything to do with, being approved by the fia. We presented our station map, with the number of workers at each station, and were issued that many credentials for the race.
      As I stated, I am only speaking to the first year. For the year prior to the race, you would be very hard pressed to find anyone, who had more time at that track than me.
      The lack of visible firefighters, was probably due to not having regular fire engines on track. All safety trucks, carried 250 gallons of fire suppression, as well as 4 fire bottles. From the trucks station, there was not a spot on the track that couldn’t be reached in more than 25 seconds. The marshalling stands also had at least 6 bottles at every station.
      I know this for a fact, as I filled and charged every bottle and truck myself, with the help of one other person.
      My name is at the top of this. If your source, doesn’t know me, he certainly can not speak to the things he told you.
      The second year? Whole different story.
      Practice was delayed, because no one there even knew they had to call for the medivac chopper!

      • OK will check. As far as credentials, well, apologies if I wasn’t clear but what I meant was SCCA license. since SCCA recognized by FIA and then original call specified National license, which I’m told takes some time to achieve. What I don’t understand is why the marshals who work COTA don’t all have some kind of license from SCCA? In 15 minutes on teh internetz I can find articles that all state the dead minimum for working F1 is a license from FIA sanctioned body. In UK, as I’m sure you know, it’s MSA which requires upgrade from trainee, minimum 15 race days and 1 training day plus observation which and I’m more or less quoting does not guarantee passing. Similarly an article from 2010 states flatly that at the end of training for Abu Dhabi all the marshals will be FIA accredited.

        In Singapore for the first year volunteers flew to Australia and availed themselves of training by CAMS, then did a race in Malaysia and CAMS sent a fairly huge contingent of experienced marshals as well. Again what is striking to me is the level of difference in training for inexperienced marshals relative to COTA.
        But the fact of the matter is, per FIA regs only “basic training” is required. But despite that, to work any other GP but the USGP it seems to be the de facto standard that one must have a license from FIA sanctioned org to marshal. So why is that? Even the person I spoke with who is working this year said they felt that it was very much warm bodies needed w/r/t the resume etc.,

        I’m also curious, did you work year 2 or 3 for the GP? And while I’m at it, have you ever marshaled at a foreign GP? Genuinely interested if you have

        • As I said, I am only speaking to the first year.
          Everything in your story, ( for the following years) is very much the reality. In fact, it falls short of pointing out how poorly things really are. Someone on here said it best, it’s a management issues.
          Or, as I see it, lack of management.
          I was not there for the second year. In fact, there was no one left the second year, that had any type of racing experience, at all.
          I have never, marshalled. I was always, track operations. I was brought on by Tavo during early construction.
          The stories I can tell you about how that place operates, are just unbelievable to me. Which is why I refer to it as
          Circus of The Americas.
          I do still have all of my original station maps. I am now curious to go see how they are set up,
          May have to brave the weather, and go see. Although, Lon is still in charge of all firefighters, paramedics, lifts, and tow trucks so I’m sure it’s still pretty good.

  10. With all of the rain expected in Austin this weekend, experienced marshals are essential. Hopefully, drivers, marshals, etc. are not serious hurt as a result of the conditions, lack of training, and incidents that happen as a result of the conditions.

  11. Strange. I have a friend who marshals all over N America, and he’s never mentioned anything about inexperienced and unqualified marshals at the USGP. He’ll be blue-flagging at T6 this year. I’ll be sure to ask the next time I chat with him.

  12. There is a lot of misinformation regarding the tragic accident in Montreal. The ‘worker’ involved was NOT a marshal. His experience was as a non licenced support worker who’s sole racing experience was working as a support worker to a paid driver of a contracted Kobota (like) piece of company equipment 3 days per year over 10 or so seasons. His job was as a ‘hooker’ (hooking bar and strap up to car/lift vehicle).

    The media were responsible for ‘awarding’ him the title as a ‘marshal’. He had no training other than hooking up a race car to lifting vehicle.

    The Quebec Ministry of Labour were involved simply because a death occurred ‘on the job’ (paid Kobota worker).

    At each post where these units are located, the post chief has NO control or responsibility over them. They are dispatched by a different control group from race control and are not on the same radio net as the post. They are unpredictable at the best of times and scary at the worst of times. There is a huge amount of politics involved in the tower and it’s my experience that these department heads don’t work well together. This translates downwards to post crews and Kobota/crane crews not working together. Many times these vehicles and crew members fire out of a hole unannounced and the flagging crew react as fast as they can to cover them with the proper flags. There is a feeling by many of these crews that the marshals are ‘arrogant’. What they fail to understand is that many of us have over 500 events, are FIA grade ‘A’ marshals (only) and have many years working trackside using proper safety procedures that keep ourselves safe well as drivers and yes, Kobata crews.

    My observation here concerning COTA is that this is purely a management issue. Good management starts at the top and filters down. If you start with s**t at the top – it rolls downhill.

  13. An interesting read. I have just returned from my first and what I hope will not be my last trip to Austin. I have 25 years marshalling experience and this being my 23rd F1 race, I can say in all honesty it was the most well-organized event I’ve attended in my “career” seconded only by the British Grand Prix.

    Bill Armitage took the reigns following the passing of Bob Pierson last winter and did an OUTSTANDING job. Prior to the event he and his team kept the marshals updated via Dropbox postings regarding flagging procedures, corner assignments, radio protocol etc. One long time marshal also ran a webinar for newbies to F1.

    On the Thursday marshals were invited to the track for a 2 hour meeting with Bill, Jim Swintal and others to clarify points before crew chiefs and TSB operators headed to the posts for an hours test session. That evening at registration we were treated to a lovely catered meal by the organizers.

    Friday morning we reconvened at the tent to go over some finer points and any updates before being dispatched to our corners via school bus or tram. Unfortunately the day was cut short by thunderstorms and we were brought back to the tent for shelter. If there is a lightning strike 8 miles or less from an open air event then evacuation becomes essential. We were also given a newsletter which contained an article about the evacuation procedure and how Charlie Whiting was amazed at that aspect of planning. This was the first time F1 history an evacuation was done. Back at the tent burritos and tacos were available.

    Saturday unfortunately was a monsoon and in the afternoon we were encouraged to seek shelter from the high winds and driving rains. Many of us on the back straight communed in the Porsche scrutineering bay. That day Austin received 8 inches of rain. We went back to our posts to complete another session late in the day and then were taken to pit lane for 1 hour where a photo and autograph session took place. Back at the tent pizza was available.

    Sunday we were all asked to report to the track at 7 am instead of 8 in order to accommodate F1 qualifying. We were all happy to comply given the lack of running from all series there. Rain again occurred in the morning and resulted in Q1 being scrapped. Luckily the rain stopped at lunch time and the wind helped to dry the track. At the end of the day our bus was available to take us back to the tent. The Elton John concert was well attended despite the soggy and muddy conditions of the infield.

    Each morning breakfast of bacon/egg or sausage wraps/croissants were there for us. We received excellent lunches catered from Jason’s Deli with a large sandwich, pickle, cookie and bag of potato chips delivered well ahead of time. Each corner had a cooler of water/pop/Gatorade and support staff in golf carts came past twice a day with more ice and beverages. We also had a sector chief who visited regularly to assist with any issues we had.

    There were more interventions that weekend than there had been in some time in Austin, some more graceful that others but overall they went off without a hitch. I spoke with many people and didn’t hear any words of complaint about anything. People took the weather conditions in stride. The communication was excellent and those in charge were approachable if one had any concerns. At last count 246 marshals attended this event from 9 different countries, the highest turnout ever and 30 more than in 2014. Yesterday the marshals received a thank you email from Bill Armitage and we are to get a survey in the near future as well. Four parking lots were closed after Friday’s rains and spectators were encouraged to take shuttle busses from downtown. From what I seen there were many busses but likely could have been more. Souvenirs were the same prices as at any other F1 event and their were several booths and eating places in the “mall” beside the main grandstand.

    The most unfortunate thing was the parking which turned into a mud bowl with all the rain. As reiterated in the previous post, in the tower under high stress conditions where snap decisions must be made, things don’t always go smoothly. It is a highly charged political environment. Perhaps the first year or two had some teething pains but it seems to have all gelled now. This year, I think the right mix of people were in place and the chemistry was good.

    As for the Abu Dhabi marshal her experience was most unfortunate but I can’t help think that some of it was self-inflicted. Unfortunately we don’t hear the other side of the story. I sense there was an attitude of self-entitlement and that she is very demanding. Since we are not allowed to take pictures while on duty except for lunch there seemed to be photo ops with many high profile folks. I worked pit lane at the British Grand Prix once and had no issues of any kind and was treated extremely well.

    That’s my Austin 2015 story.

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