x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix eyes the future of home-grown marshals

News It clearly states on the back of a Formula One ticket: "Motorsport is dangerous." However, it could be a lot more hazardous for drivers and spectators alike, if not for the invaluable presence of hundreds of race marshals.

250 volunteers showed up at Dubai Autodrome to sign up to marshal Abu Dhabi's inaugural race on Nov 1.
250 volunteers showed up at Dubai Autodrome to sign up to marshal Abu Dhabi's inaugural race on Nov 1.

It clearly states on the back of a Formula One ticket: "Motorsport is dangerous." However, it could be a lot more hazardous for drivers and spectators alike, if not for the invaluable presence of hundreds of race marshals who will act as the eyes and ears of race officials at the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix later this year. Within five years, the organisers of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix hope to be self-sufficient with their own marshals, and last weekend, 250 volunteers showed up at Dubai Autodrome to sign up to marshal Abu Dhabi's inaugural race. On Nov 1, these volunteers will be supplemented by 350 seasoned marshals flown in from the UK and up to 80 from Bahrain, who will be expected to pass on their expertise to the UAE's band of less experienced stewards.

"We would not be able to run any form of motorsport in this country or any other part of the world if we did not have sufficient marshals to give their time to make it all happen," said Ronan Morgan, who will be the chief clerk at the Grand Prix. He acknowledged the sport requires hundreds of volunteers to help events run smoothly. "In motorsport, there is a ratio of 20 [marshals] to one [competitor]. At the end of the day, we have 20 cars on the track and there are 600 to 700 people looking after them," added Mr Morgan.

Gary Dearn, senior track manager at the Yas Marina Circuit, told the 250 volunteers who hoped to take part in the Abu Dhabi GP: "Drivers have confidence going into a corner dicing with a competitor and knowing there are marshals around the corner. They feel safe." Keith Wake, who has previously marshalled at the Australian Grand Prix and had signed up for the Abu Dhabi race, knew what was expected.

"When the track is live, it's deadly serious. There may be three or four guys on a post. You can't stand there and have a chat. You must watch everything. You are inches from the barrier and if the car loses control you have to get out of the way." The technical aspect of Formula One will also be manned by locals within the next five years. The most important post will be that of the scrutineer who looks closely at the parameters of the car, such as the tyre elements or its wings, to make sure it falls within the rules.

Mr Morgan said: "There are plans afoot. We have been speaking to academics and are looking at trying to mould part of the engineering degree courses towards motorsport in the future. As part of the five-year plan, we would have graduates who would be proficient in motorsport technology. "The Yas Marina circuit has a huge future and needs a lot of good, solid and qualified Emirati people to work there in the future. It is very important to us there is a five-year plan where we see less dependency on people from outside our country and become totally self-sufficient in numbers over time.

"We will gradually increase the number of Emiratis participating and then the aim is 100 per cent local participation in five years time." On the track, when temperatures are expected to soar over the course of the Grand Prix weekend, there will inevitably be times when the mind wanders. The temperature on Nov 1, 2008, was 40° Celsius and its paramount for the marshals to look after themselves and their colleagues so they stay alert to any potential incidents. "Your welfare is important and you need food and water," said Mr Dearn.

The checklist for marshals over the three-day event will include a track inspection for leaked fuel and debris, such as nuts and bolts. On the starting grid, marshals will be look for similar hazard. Mr Dearn added: "The world will be looking down on us as 600 million people will be watching the event... it is a fantastic experience. "Marshalling will be hard work and boring at times as well. It can be dangerous but always be alert and look after your surroundings. It is enjoyable. As a group, we will welcome the world to Abu Dhabi."