96HRS of RACING

Turn 10, Spectator Marshal. Albert Park. Formula 1 Heineken Australian Grand Prix 2022. 7-10 April.

I still can’t fucking believe the weekend I had at the Australian Grand Prix.

My first ever volunteer gig for the sport I love with every fibre of my being and I saw all my legends up close. I experienced so much, that even now, when I look back at it, I can’t believe it.

To do a quick summary, I have collected over 4 days:

  • An AUSGP Officials Key Chain
  • An AUSGP Officials Patch for the 2022 AUSGP
  • An AUSGP Officials Pin
  • An AUSGP Officials Cap
  • An AUSGP Marshal Minute-By-Minute Handbook
  • An AUSGP Program
  • A FIA AUSGP Tabard – SPECTATOR CONTROL MARSHAL
  • An AUSGP Officials Bag
  • An AUSGP Officials Pen
  • An AUSGP RACE OFFICIAL ID Tag
  • An AUSGP Officials Lanyard
  • An AUSGP Officials T-Shirt
  • 4 Sets of Earplugs
  • 149 Photos
  • But most exciting of all ….
    • A piece of PORSCHE 922 GT3 CARBON FIBRE
    • A piece of ASTON MARTIN AMR22 SV5 CARBON FIBRE
    • A SCUDERIA FERRARI WIN IN MELBOURNE WITH CHARLES LECLERC #16

It’s hard to sum up the crazy weekend I had, but I will try to list facts instead of trying to put them in any sort of order.

My role as a Spectator Control Marshal was simple. I was to patrol the “moat”, the no-man-land area between spectators and the track itself. If things went to shit, I was to assist the Intervention Marshals on track, clean up debris or help remove tyre barriers. But my main purpose was to guard any “beached” cars (the term coined form the fact that a lot of cars will be stuck in the gravel trap at Turn 10) from spectators and be a deterrent for unwanted behaviour spilling out onto track.

The best part of it all, is that I get the absolute best view of the on-track action. I can press myself right up against the crash barriers and look through photographer’s slots. I also have the freedom of movement to view the action from different angles and really immerse myself in motorsport sounds, sensations and thrills.

My spot was the newly configured Turn 10, in which I commanded an incredible view of Turn 9 exit, and the fourth DRS zone that was introduced for the Albert Park track. This was a fast left/right combination that would test the driver’s accuracy in nailing Turn 10’s apex and set themselves up for an overtake in the subsequent DRS zone.

Make one mistake and you would end up in the large gravel trap, where my team of marshals would be waiting with a crane, 2 fireys (firefighters) and a VEHICLE INTERDICTION Marshal, eager to put his hands on your expensive car.

Which is EXACTLY what happened to Sebastian Vettel in his first weekend back for the F1 2022 World Championship.

Free Practice Session 3 saw one of my favourite drivers on the grid, smash his AMR22 into the barriers in front of me, creating a huge cloud of gravel and smoke and my humble fabulousness was the first open-mouthed, official on the scene.

ARE YOU OK SEB? I remember yelling once or twice. But he ignored me and instead hopped out of his car and walked to the other side of the track in disappointment at himself and his accident. It didn’t help that yesterday his car broke down just 100 metres up the track from Turn 10 and I saw his grand theft moped in all its hilarity.

Minutes later, came the other AMR22 of Lance Stroll, after his accident with Latifi. He was parked around the corner, and I remember dashing down to greet him as he got out of his car, to the jeers and cheers of the Australian crowd and being astonished at how tall he was.

But the most memorable element of Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant F1 Team’s misfortune was my quick investigation into Vettel’s crash site and managing to score a tiny piece of carbon fibre that once belonged on his car.

A tiny, jagged, fibrous, criss-crossed piece of an multi-million dollar Formula 1 car in my hand.

I was ecstatic.

Then came the race day itself, where on Lap 2, Carlos Sainz Jr. misjudged the temperatures in his harder compound tyres, misjudged his braking points and flew across the grass, nearly collecting Mick Schumacher’s VF22 in the process and found himself and his F1-75 beached on the gravel at Turn 10, vainly spinning his wheels to get back into the race.

For the next 56 laps, I was tasked with babysitting the F1-75, my absolute favourite machine on the grid, marvelling at every curve on the precious Ferrari and admiring the sheer elegance of the red prancing horse.

What struck me, was how small these cars were up close. For some reason, when they’re blasting around on track at 300km/h, they seem larger than life, faster and blurrier than what you imagine, but up close, they’re actually quite compact vehicles, with millions of tiny details that will catch your eye.

Perhaps it is the sidepod design, but I remember being particularly shocked at how tiny the AMR22 was, and being much more in love with the F1-75. To me, the Ferrari is a much nicer looking car, with its striking crimson colour and black accents, as well as its more traditional sidepods and design aesthetic.

For 56 laps, I was a neighbour to a legendary Ferrari and I knew that my passion for this sport and the legendary team only increased with every look at the car.

It was the finale of the race that got me worried though.

Track invasions are a common phenomenon at Grand Prix, and with every lap ticking down, I knew it was only a matter of time. After all, this crowd was like me, starved of Formula 1 for two years and eager to celebrate an awesome event. What better way than to jump onto the track and take photos with a captive Ferrari?

The crowd was only building in anticipation and I remember asking the Police Sergeant nearby for more officers. Soon there was a huge gaggle of police officers, guarding a Ferrari, and a crowd eager to touch or break something off of it.

But thankfully, everything went smoothly. We kept the crowd under control by creating a barrier between us and the car, and despite my sheer nervousness at seeing over 3 thousand people crowding all around me, we kept our cool and was able to load the precious car onto a tow truck and get it back to the Pit Lane safely.

As I watched the Ferrari set off, I was struck by the realisation that I have literally spent sunrise to sunset with cars for 4 days straight. As a marshal, our start time was 0600HRS every morning, which necessitated me getting up at 0445HRS in the morning, taking a shower and then hopping into my car for my 35 minute commute to the track.

The drive to the track was an absolute blast too, with completely empty streets, minimal traffic cameras and the sounds of my tiny Toyota Corolla roaring through suburban streets at 20km/h over the speed limit.

The soundtrack to those morning drives were always sourced from F1 itself with its’ incredible theme song, Gran Turismo’s Castle Over the Moon or Initial D’s ridiculous Eurobeat melodies, which was only fitting as I was following in Takumi’s footsteps, waking ridiculously early in the morning to prepare for work.

I loved those drives as much as I did, hanging out in Chapel Street post event, seeing all the fans enjoying themselves and finally breathing some life back into my home town. It made me so happy, seeing the streets bustle with activity and chatter again, and giving me hope that events would soon return life back to normal after the trials of COVID.

One of the most amusing asides at the event was the fact that I made friends with a lot of people there. I loved working for my boss, a typical, non-nonsense, gruff guy with a big body and even bigger heart. I did everything I could to learn from the more experienced team, from what every single flag meant, to chatting with the firefighters about their experiences in another life as a paramedic.

The whole weekend, I was so happy to be working with like-minded people, people who understood, breathed and lived racing. Folks who volunteered so much of their time and sleep to motorsport and would do it every single year without question. Without the 1000-strong marshal team at the AUSGP, Formula 1 simply would not be able to operate safely and efficiently.

I felt like such an imposter when the announcers were thanking the marshals and the grandstand in front of me pointed at me and clapped raucously. This was my first event and I honestly hadn’t done much, except stop spectators from walking into the moat (which none did) and gawk at the cars going past.

Perhaps the most difficult thing was moving a tyre barrier to and from the track, as some of the support races required them (Supercars Championship & Porsche Carrera Cup) and being called upon to help clean up the track when it was time to race for F1.

That was easily the biggest thrill for me, picking up debris and cleaning the track. I had seen so many brave marshals on screen before, doing exactly the same thing and to hear the crowd cheer as I did my duties was such an adrenaline rush. I loved it. For sure, next year, my goal is to be an INTERVENTION MARSHAL and do that job for 96 hours.

Another incredible moment was actually on the very day, where I was one of the first marshals to jump into the bus, that would drop us off at our Sector (Turn). I was yelling and laughing with glee as I urged the bus driver to gun it down the track and seeing the START/FINISH LINE in person, through the glass of this slow bus, still sent shivers through my body. I couldn’t believe that I was in some type of car and careening down past the line at 100 km/h.

Experiencing the bus ride in the morning was so much fun, really recreating the feel I was so familiar with, due to endless laps at Albert Park on my racing simulators.

But I saved the best for last. On Sunday, I got there extra early, packed my overalls away and only wore my gym clothes, with the FIA Tabard over my hoodie to keep some semblance of officialdom. Setting the clock on my Garmin Instinct, I then proceeded to run the entire 5.278km of the 14 turn, Albert Park circuit, clocking it in at a miserably slow time of 26.57 minutes.

A very far cry from Leclerc’s pole of 1.17.868 minutes.

I felt proud though and to see and experience the entire track on foot, on a quiet morning was so much fun. I was definitely helped along by the cheerful encouragement of the other track marshals at their turn, with one guy even humming the Rocky theme for me.

It was the Saturday that I was looking forwards to the most. As a reward for our services, we were allowed to do a PIT LANE WALK, an experience that people normally have to pay thousands of dollars for. That evening, I walked up and down the Pit Lane, soaking in the house music that was blasting from the Oracle Red Bull Racing garage (I mean, who else encapsulate that cool vibe?) and staring at all the cars on display.

I greeted the AMR22 again, stared at the Haas’ VF22 front wings, marvelled at the beauty of the Ferrari garage, scowled at the Mercedes team, grinned how the Scuderia Alphatauri ATO3 looked under the lights and shook my head admiringly at the colours of Alfa Romeo F1 Team Orlen’s C22.

And naturally I took a selfie with the FIA Safety Car, the bespoke and gorgeously green Aston Martin V8 Vantage and DBX Medical Car. I loved seeing it on track, so to literally get so close I could touch it and take a knee next to it, was fun.

I even bumped into an old friend there, a fellow event manager who I had worked under briefly and offered me a job at the AO, which I longed to take, but couldn’t due to retail commitments.

Speaking of friends, I actually made a few at the event, the chief of them being an incredibly sunny young woman, who originally hails from Atlanta, Georgia (an American in Australia? I know!) and ended up being commended for providing the best customer service at the Australian Grand Prix, with an interview to boot, an on-field promotion to second in command of the team at Sector 10 and a “COMPLAINT LETTER” being scratched out into a “COMPLIMENT LETTER” by a stranger for her disposition and desire to go above and beyond to help people.

Due to Turn 10 having a disability platform, I helped her police the platform, whenever I could, and ensure that people who had no business being there, would kindly fuck off. As the days went by, I felt more and more protective, as these people, whose lives were already difficult enough, should enjoy their superior view without idiots trying to take advantage of the limited space and with Turn 10 offering such spectacular incidents and views of the race, there were so many damn people trying to crowd them, that the young woman and I had to do a lot of reminding.

What also surprised me, was a young patron with a huge camera and lens with a monopod, who snuck into this gap that I had originally reserved for my friends. Seeing as to how he was alone with just his father, I ended up sticking up for him and pleasantly received a nice photo of me (below) patrolling the grandstands. In addition, he gave the best quote to describe Lewis Hamilton #44, delivered with all the confidence of a 17 year old teenager: “he is the gayest straight man I’ve ever seen. His clothes are just so wack, man.”

I spent the rest of the afternoon laughing my ass off and giving him free bottles of water as a reward.

And I had plenty to spare, because the logistics of the event were incredibly precise and on a scale I’ve never seen at an event before. Between races there were buses that took photographers from point to point, motorcycle riders constantly patrolled the track, delivering and collecting incident reports and a ute would blast along the track, unloading bags of ice and boxes of spring water for us. Hell, in the morning, there was a caravan of utes, just unloading bins for our drinks, fire extinguishers, SC (Safety Car) poles. flag pole stands and other necessities for our turn.

Medical and course cars constantly inspected the track in excess of 150 km/h and I couldn’t help but admire the sheer management that was on display. RACE CONTROL were constantly providing updates and opening and closing the track, and in all honestly, from 0700HRS onwards, there was always something happening on track.

Something to clean, something to inspect, something to update … the work was constant and intriguing, as was the colourful commentary from a very frustrated SECTOR CHIEF MARSHAL.

Were there any downsides to being a Marshal? Well, I couldn’t leave my sector and thus do all the fun stuff I would normally do at the AUSGP, like tickle the brains of ADF members on their toys, or practice a pit stop tyre change. Nor could I really find opportunities to sneak away and buy merchandise or get better food for that matter, because the lunches that were provided were some of the blandest food I’ve ever tasted in a long time.

But beyond those minor gripes, I would never trade my view for a more “fan-friendly” experience. It was completely worth it to get a super-close up view of the drivers, during the Driver’s Parade, in which all 20 drivers were driven slowly around on Shelby Cobras and greeted the ecstatic crowd and us, standing on the track. Nor would I ever want anything else now, having pressed my face right up against the fence and felt and heard the cars roaring past me, metres away.

To sum up, having spent all day in the sun, from dusk to dawn, watching motorcars blast around a track for 96 hours, I can rightfully say that this was the best weekend of my life so far. My girlfriend came down for race day, I protected two of my favourite brands of cars, an Aston Martin and a Ferrari, and I got to see my personal heroes, Sebastian Vettel #5 and Charles Leclerc #16 up close.

To cap it all off, Leclerc got a pole position and won the race.

I don’t think anything will ever top the high I had this weekend.

I can’t wait to go again in 2023.

See you soon Albert Park!

~ Damocles.

P.S. Due to the number of incidents and our teamwork, SECTOR 10 was nominated and was the runner up for best Marshal team at the Australian GP. Not bad for a bunch of rookies.

Doing my rounds at Albert Park. 96 Hours of Sun and Mechanical Perfection. Heaven sounds, smells and looks like this.

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