x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

GP Marshal’s Blog: Saturday – Fully Qualified as Scary

Sir Jackie Stewart was in one of the garages, and when he saw us poor marshals gawping at him he came over and shook all our hands, and thanked us for volunteering to make motorsport a success. Wasn’t that lovely?

Jane does her job, and gets thanked by Sir Jackie Stewart for it, while Vettel, Hamilton and Alonso get down to their own jobs behind her

Today after the Paddock Club walk there was a Porsche race on the track, so the main pit lane marshals were stood down and made free to wander around the pits. Oh happy day!

There are always driver and manager and owner interviews on TV and radio broadcasts before Qualifying. Lately ex-F1 driver David Coulthard has been teamed up with ex-driver and ex-team owner Eddie Jordan and presenter Jake Humphrey on BBC sport … and as I walked down the pit there they were, interviewing team principles and drivers, giving opinions, and all that media stuff.

A large group of pit lane marshals were milling around watching, when one of the marshals suddenly got an SMS from his mates back in England saying "ur live on BBC right now in Sheffield behind Coulthard". His hoot of laughter attracted Coulthard’s attention, and they ended up with a group photo!

Further along the lane, Sir Jackie Stewart was in one of the garages, and when he saw us poor marshals gawping at him he came over and shook all our hands, and thanked us for volunteering to make motorsport a success. Wasn’t that lovely?

But on to Qualifying, which in F1 is a three session process. All twenty-four cars take part in Q1. The bottom six cars don’t take part in Q2, during which six more cars are eliminated from the last round. The final ten cars go on to Q3, the "shoot-out". The cars will begin the race in the order they come in qualifying.

Qualifying is always crucial, but this race will decide the championship so qualifying was extra vital. The odds-on favourite is Alonso, but Vettel, Webber, and Hamilton are all still possibilities, Hamilton barely so. Which is a shame since he waved at me yesterday.

The pit lane speed limit went up from 60 kph to 100, and that made a big difference. It’s very hard to judge the speed of those little cars making that big noise … so we don’t go out there if a car is approaching. But Dave also said, don’t just look down the lane, but across at the next pit box and garage. He was sure right. They come flying out! It’s going to be so freaking dangerous during the race … honestly, just during qualifying I’m surprised no one was knocked down and killed. Because the drivers aren’t thinking of marshals. They’re thinking of qualifying.

We were warned that the FIA was watching us carefully, and to pay attention to our pit garage and not the big screens. And I tried to be good. I watched my cars and my garage, and logged the times in and out, and watched the other cars coming and going. I smiled for my drivers (and got tipped a couple of nods in return, isn’t that nice?) and I waved a warning finger at the race-goers who were smoking in the stands. But as Q3 got into the last few minutes I couldn’t stand it anymore, and stood blatantly staring at the big screen as the top drivers shaved thousandths of seconds per lap off their times, desperate for that pole position.

The result: Vettel, Hamilton, Alonso, Button, Webber. If I had been watching at home I would have been screaming.

Back in the office Dave joked that it looked like it would be a pretty dull race.

I just hope someone at home records it for me, because I will be looking at my garages and dodging cars in the fast lane, smiling and timing, and trying not to be killed live on TV. Wish me luck.