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.
TJ13 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.
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.
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.
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.