x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

The unsung heroes behind the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

The club found in Emiratis a keenness to help out with an event that lends the world a window on to the UAE.

Volunteers receive indepth training from the Automobile & Touring Club of the UAE before they can work by the track.
Volunteers receive indepth training from the Automobile & Touring Club of the UAE before they can work by the track.

Any list of the most unique and exhilarating ways to show appreciation for one’s homeland would have to include volunteering as a marshal for its Formula One grand prix.

No, really. If that sounds sort of dreary, you had better listen to Mohammed Abdulrahim.

The 24-year-old Emirati from the Etihad Airways marketing department, who never had a scintilla of interest in Formula One, said this: "To be quite honest, I thought it was going to be boring because it would be racing and nothing else."

And he said this: "When we started with the actual events, it was just amazing.

"I can't describe it any more than that. It was perfectly amazing in every way."

And he said this: "I volunteered, and I got in love with it."

And he said even this: "Some people say it's like noise pollution, but I say it's like music."

Music! Clearly, Abdulrahim had felt the surge many former neophytes experience, when the whole din and scale grabs your bones and gives them a right and riveting rattling.

That's why in the searing heat of last Friday, at a Yas Marina Circuit overwhelmingly noiseless, Abdulrahim eagerly joined the throng of 318 volunteers as the Automobile & Touring Club of the United Arab Emirates provided the last day-long training session in preparation for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix three weeks hence.

They met in the wee hours of the weekend morning - OK, 9.30am - and had coffee and tea and chitchat, and they got a briefing from Ronan Morgan, the club sporting director, and they dispersed to their various stations on the vast premises to learn firefighting, pit-lane management, accident recovery, all the things that make a colossal event work with deceiving effortlessness. It's an operation deeply impressive and expansive, with safety in its frontal lobe.

Noting the 63 nationalities and close-to-20 languages among the 700 total volunteers - repeat: volunteers - Automobile & Touring Club project manager, Tanya Kutsenko, said: "We are a very demanding club.

"We do require a lot of commitment in terms of time and training sessions."

In studying the reasons people join, the club found in Emiratis a keenness to help out with an event that lends the world a window on to the UAE. Or, as Saeed Al Marzouqi, 35, put it: "This is the No 1 sporting event in the UAE."

Al Marzouqi spoke just as the lunch break ended, just as the entire group would return to the auditorium to hear Morgan say: "I think we've learned a lot, but we do need to continue learning." As two of the 30 Emirati marshals present that particular day, Al Marzouqi and his friend Waleed Al Yafaie, 22, rated patriotism first. "As volunteers," Alyafaie said, "we want to serve our country. At least we return a little bit of what they give to us."

Abdulrahim later agreed. He said: "I actually say it's the least I can do for my country. I have to do it, without any question. I have to do it."

Of course, then they find their way into other benefits, and not just the music. "Being close to the most famous drivers in the world, like [Michael]Schumacher, [Fernando] Alonso, to see all the kinds of teams and how they are organised, it's something very interesting," Al Marzouqi said.

Al Yafaie said: "It's very interesting because you're very close to the F1 cars, pushing the cars."

Then comes adventure, as when Al Yafaie worked Post 1 last February during the GP2 race with the multi-car crash at one very surprising outset.

Al Yafaie said: "We asked race control for permission to proceed … And then the firefighters helped us … We cleaned the track … The crane came and took all the cars, which took a very long time … First of all, I was doing the yellow flag, and then I saw some tyre flying like this. [He gestures as it went by his sightline] … All the people helped us to finish this. The medical, they came. Everyone. It was a very big action for us."

The ends of such days, of course, can bring a consuming fatigue after what Abdulrahim calls "a very hectic week". Both the paid and the unpaid often report feeling utterly drained. So, when that question goes to Al Marzouqi and Alyafaie, especially after such a crash description, you might picture two Emiratis helping the country and then crashing into slumber.

No, here's what they do, as after the 2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: They go home and watch replays, sometimes all through the night, hoping to evaluate how they did and maybe even hear some music.

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