DUBAI // For now, the only eyes fixed on the group of marshals for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix belong to the chief clerk speaking at the front of the impromptu classroom. Five months from now, the eyes of more than 600 million television viewers will be paying close attention to their every move.
For the race weekend to run smoothly, every marshal volunteering at the Yas Marina Circuit will need to concentrate as hard as Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton and the other 18 Formula One drivers making their way round the track. On Nov 1, their work will determine whether a driver is using a safe car, whether rules have been broken or whether or not a driver survives a crash. The UAE-based marshals had their first training session yesterday at the Dubai Autodrome, consisting of a detailed run-through of the jobs available and their requirements.
Those invited to stay on will reconvene in September, when the serious training begins. It is not quite Marshal Idol, although some dropouts are expected. Individual jobs will be assigned as the sessions continue. While yesterday's session was a gentle introduction to life as a marshal, none of the 250 people attending left without appreciating the responsibility that lies ahead. "Without marshals, there would be no motor racing," a former driver said in one of the educational videos shown yesterday.
"You are going to be involved in one of the world's leading events - that is what Abu Dhabi will have," said Gary Dearn, senior track manager at the Yas Marina Circuit. "It is not just a motorsport event." Ronan Morgan, who will be the chief clerk at the Grand Prix, said: "The exposure that is going to come to this country is going to be quite amazing. "The global television audience watching the race live will be 600 million. So we need to make sure that we give the right impression. It is an opportunity to showcase Abu Dhabi and the UAE to the whole world. It represents an opportunity to fill a role in an event of an amazing proportion."
Many of those attending yesterday will fill the role of track marshal. Their job will include removing a car and debris from the scene of an accident. The first on the scene in the event of a collision, they will ensure the race can continue with as little interruption as possible. They also can also help in case of a medical emergency. Flag marshals will alert drivers if there is an accident further along the track, as well as warning about infringements or cancellation of the race. One of the flag marshals will have the highly visible job of waving the chequered flag to greet the winner.
More technical marshaling jobs will require volunteers with specialist knowledge. Those with an engineering background will work as scrutineers, co-operating with officials from the FIA, the world motorsport governing body, to inspect cars after the race to ensure they comply with regulations. The marshals will also be among the hardest working people on site during the race weekend. Their working day will start at 7am and end at 6pm.
Full training will begin in late September, with four day-long sessions on Yas Island. Future marshals may get the opportunity to prove their new skills during a race at the Dubai Autodrome before the Grand Prix, while a mock accident exercise will test their reactions. One official at Dubai Autodrome said yesterday: "They need to be able to feel the fire before the real thing." Wayne Bishenden, senior paramedic at the Autodrome, told the aspiring marshals it was crucial to retain focus while working. "Monitor what is around you. Listen to the cars, listen to the radio. Don't ever enter the circuit. When there is an accident, everybody comes on the radio, screaming, your adrenalin is pumping, and the next thing you know, you want to run on to the circuit and help someone. Act logically."
While many of yesterday's participants will go on to work at the race, they will be joined by another 350 marshals from the United Kingdom, and up to 80 from Bahrain, which has hosted a Grand Prix since 2004. Race organisers have a five-year plan in which, by 2014, all the 600 marshals needed for the race will be staffed from the UAE, with the majority being Emirati. Key to that, they said yesterday, was for the experienced marshals attending this year to pass on their knowledge to the new kids on the block.
Among them may be Mashal Awad, a 20-year-old who was persuaded to attend after a talk on the Grand Prix at Abu Dhabi Men's College, where he is a student. "This event will be huge," he said. "People never thought something like this would happen here. As a local, I know this will be one of the best things for my CV." Attracting local marshals to the first Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was never going to be difficult. But the challenge, said Mr Morgan, was ensuring those same marshals will return every year.
"Recruitment has gone well, training has now started but the retention is very important. We have to make sure we look after these people and that they have an enjoyable time. "Everybody who trains is going to have a lot more knowledge after it, which is invaluable." "If you're in it, you are in it for the long haul," Mr Dearn said. Organisers say they are determined to foster a team spirit among volunteers by housing them together on Yas Island throughout the race weekend. They hope that spirit will lead to those teams working together on any of the 150 motoring competitions held in the UAE every year.
"There will be a real adrenalin rush," said Brian Chesher, a 38-year-old Canadian high schoolteacher living in Dubai. "They are setting up transport for the marshals, as well as housing and food, so you are on site the whole time. There's going to be a great atmosphere." Work on completing the Yas Marina Circuit continues at a frantic pace, with the superyacht marina to be flooded at the start of next week.
Yesterday's event offered the first proof of the behind-the-scenes work gathering momentum. "This is the first milestone towards hosting the race," Mr Morgan said. "It is happening. "There is so much enthusiasm in this room about it. There were people waiting outside at 7.20am, and if that commitment is maintained right to the end, it will be a real success." firstname.lastname@example.org