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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

Portrait of a Nation: The pit lane safety queen reigning over the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

History-making UAE resident Andrea Skyring will be the first female chief pit lane marshal at the Yas Marina race

Andrea Skyring will be the first ever female chief pit lane marshal at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Courtesy Adriano Photography
Andrea Skyring will be the first ever female chief pit lane marshal at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Courtesy Adriano Photography

It might seem a supersonic leap from dinghy sailing to high-octane F1 racing, but it helped Andrea Skyring switch gears into a dream career.

As Lewis Hamilton prepares to celebrate his fifth world championship crown at the season-closing Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday, fellow Briton Ms Skyring will be enjoying her own moment in the spotlight.

She will line up at the Yas Marina Circuit during the long F1 weekend as chief pit lane marshal, becoming the first woman to take on the key role at the Abu Dhabi race.

The UAE resident will manage the busy pit lane area, ensuring the convoy of super-fast drivers keep to the rules and ensure safety for everyone from the competitors to the pit crews.

For modest Ms Skyring, her life in the fast lane - which also includes heading up business support for Expo 2020 in Dubai - is a case of making the most of opportunities when they come up.

“I’ve very lucky with my career,” the 52-year-old said.

“I’ve always ended up in the right place, at the right time, with the right job.”

She sure has. A throwaway comment aboard a boat back in 2010 – about how she couldn’t indulge her love of dinghy sailing in the UAE – led to a suggestion that she satisfy her need for speed by signing up to volunteer at that year’s Formula One.

Up until that point, Skyring had been a fan of the high-speed sport.

But she hadn’t gone any further, figuring she didn’t have the means or the knowledge to truly engage.

But once she found herself introduced to the world of volunteer race marshaling, she never looked back.

“You go along to the training session, you learn what the role is, you learn the rules and regulations, the safety aspects of it, and I got absolutely smitten,” she said.

“The pit lane team is a very close family anyway, but you’re part of a bigger 700-plus set of volunteer marshals, just an amazing bunch of people, all volunteers, all motorsport enthusiasts, all doing it because they love the sport.”

That first Formula One race opened up a whole new world for the petrol-head.

Soon she was applying to work in international races, as well as whatever she could do here in the UAE.

Since setting out in 2010 she has worked at 22 Formula One races.

Her 23rd will be extra special. After working her way up the ranks to deputy, Skyring officially steps into her new role as chief pit lane marshall at her home grand prix.

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Read more from Portrait of a Nation:

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The tailor of Hamdan Street

Samson of the Emirates, the Gulf's strongest man

Dubai's culinary Godfather

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When the starting lights flash green, she will oversee a team of 65 keen-eyed volunteers who have been training for this moment since last spring.

Last year there were 34 different nationalities represented on the team, many who flew in just to volunteer for the event.

Skyring doesn’t anticipate a moment of rest, either. Like the stars at the front of the grid, it will full speed ahead.

Andrea Skyring will ensure safety is paramount in the pit lane at Yas Marina Circuit. Courtesy Boris Dejanovic for the Crown Prince Court - Abu Dhabi
Andrea Skyring will ensure safety is paramount in the pit lane at Yas Marina Circuit. Courtesy Boris Dejanovic for the Crown Prince Court - Abu Dhabi

There will be 12-hour days and, if last year is any indication, an average of 35,000 steps walked during each one of them.

“It’s a pretty hectic weekend,” she says.

But it all pays off, just to be in the middle of the action.

“It’s just amazing, it’s like, electric,” she sid of the atmosphere.

“It’s just fantastic. This is the main event for us, this is what we all work ourselves up to do, basically.”

Skyring’s team is primarily there for safety and secondly to observe, making sure no rules are broken.

“They don’t judge,” she explains. “They just make reports that are sent to race control.”

While some may still view motor sport as male-dominated, Skyring estimates that 30 per cent of her crew are women. There is a female pit lane boss in the US, says Skyring, and there are a rising number of women in the upper levels of Formula One racing.

Claire Williams is the deputy team principal of the British Williams Formula One racing team. Susie Wolff, a test and development driver for the Williams Formula 1 squad, recently became the the team principal of the Venturi Formula E team.

There is the Columbian driver Tatiana Calderón coming up through the ranks, notes Skyring, and Sophia Floersch, the German F3 driver who underwent surgery and is recovering after an aerial crash at the recent Macau Grand Prix.

She has come a long way since that first year volunteering, which, like all her F1 memories, she looks back on fondly.

“In those days it was the V8 engines and the whole place felt like there was an earthquake going on, because of the engines and the cars and the rumbling and everything else,” she said.

“The hardest part at first is trying to remember what you have to do, 'what do I have to do if they stall?'

If they crash? What do I do? You kind of have all this excited emotion inside of you.”

There is always the possibility of danger inside the pit lane. Another lurking fear is making a mistake that eagle-eyed fans could seize on and ridicule across social media and marshaling blogs.

“There are other things that can go wrong.

“but hopefully the marshals are trained well enough to cope with any eventuality.”

As for that long-ago lament about her love of a water-based hobby she couldn’t do in the UAE?

“I don’t worry about sailing anymore,” she said.

Making waves in the F1 world is more than enough.