x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Dizzying work of Yas Marina track manager Gary Dearn

The 600 million-strong audience for this weekend's season-ending race 'is not just watching Yas Marina Circuit but Abu Dhabi, too.'

"Everything has to be primed and ready to go," says Gary Dearn, the senior track manager, at the Yas Marina Circuit control room.
"Everything has to be primed and ready to go," says Gary Dearn, the senior track manager, at the Yas Marina Circuit control room.

ABU DHABI // Just after 11am yesterday, Gary Dearn set out on a two-hour walk along Yas Marina's Formula One track.

Along with officials from FIA, F1's governing body, Mr Dearn, the senior track manager, checked every barrier along the 5.5km circuit.

The ritual happens at the same time on the Thursday before every race of the season, to check the fencing, the barriers, the kerbs and anything else that could jeopardise the safety of the F1 cars as they race around at speeds of up to 300kph.

Everything must adhere to strict rules laid down by FIA and the UAE Automobile Touring Club.

"We identify any issues or any slight changes that need to be made," said Mr Dearn before embarking on his morning walk. "There might be also a slight change in regulations that we may need to react to."

He started out as an electrical fitter, but motorsport was his passion. "I first attended the premier Grand Prix circuit in England in 1969. I was sitting on my dad's lap, driving his [Ford] Capri. It got in my blood."

When the opportunity to be a race marshal came his way when he was older, he threw himself into it, eventually rising to be chief marshal for the British Grand Prix.

He progressed into motorsport management, before being approached in 2008 to come to Abu Dhabi. Mr Dearn arrived in February last year, just nine months before the UAE's inaugural race.

By his own admission, he is a stickler for standards. "Motorsport is dangerous. It says so on the back of the ticket. You have to be ready for anything to happen and any circumstances that confront you.

"Whether it be a lost child in the paddock or an accident that has just happened, you need to be at top of your game."

The track has to be kept clean, too – a task not helped by Tuesday night's sandstorm. Come Wednesday morning, dozens of workers had to be sent out to resweep the entire track.

Each day over this weekend one of his Mr Dearn's 17 marshals will drive around the circuit, picking up any debris and identifying any problems. Any chips in the asphalt that need fixing, and any sign of loose barriers trigger a complete check of all the others.

The barriers and railings, 11km of them, were all checked just three weeks ago.

No other track has the distinctive tramlines that run all the way around the Yas Marina Circuit. They were included to help drivers judge distances, especially in the run-off areas near bends.

The lines are repainted four times a year, a job that amounts to 1,000 sq metres to be painted. The last coat was applied just two weeks ago.

"It freshens everything up. When all the customers walk in on day one on Friday, the place looks immaculate.

"That's the aim. When you have a worldwide audience of 600 million people they are not just watching Yas Marina Circuit but Abu Dhabi and the UAE. It is everything the region stands for.

"You want everything right. It's always a case of check, check and check again."

Today, he has made sure everything is ready to run. The marshals' flags have been cleaned, and the firefighting equipment is in working order.

"Everything has to be primed and ready to go. The facilities are fully operational."

And for all this, he, and the track, won FIA's all-clear yesterday for the race to go ahead. "It went very well and they said it was perfect," he said.

He will watch the race with ATC and FIA officials in the control room, via the 44 cameras around the track.

"It's about being involved," he says. "It is, to me, the world's best sport. I've been in motorsport since I was a marshal 25 years ago and to work at Yas Marina is a privilege."

eharnan@thenational.ae