“Bad Marshal!” Wag Finger… Wag Finger…

Earlier I was scolding myself for signing up to do an event and not actually going after getting accepted (MotoGP at COTA). I hate when other people do it and I hate to find myself in the same situation. I haven’t made it a habit but it has happened once before. A year ago I applied to work the Grand Prix of Long Beach in California and had to withdraw my application because of a new job I started. They didn’t allow me to travel. But as bad as that act is there are worse things marshals could do that would have all sorts of people waging their fingers when they see pictures. Especially pictures of a marshal sleeping on the job with F1 cars racing around in the background:

sleeping marshal - sutton images - sepang
Photo by Sutton Images from Sepang International Circuit, 2015 Malaysian GP

This photo of a “relaxing” fire marshal leaning against the ARMCO with a speeding F1 car on the other side of it shows the marshal in potential danger. Danger that he put himself in. And basically it makes all marshals look bad because people tend to paint us all with the same brush whenever one person does something wrong, we all take the blame for it.

But that picture is hardly a one-off incident. There has been photographic evidence of previous wrongdoing, like this marshal captured on camera sleeping during the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai:

Getty Images Photo of Sleeping Marshal at the Chinese Grand Prix

The photo even made it onto the Wall Street Journal web site:

A race marshall sleeps as Ferrari Formula One driver Alonso drives past him during the second practice session of the Chinese F1 Grand Prix at the Shanghai International circuit
Wall Street Journal: Sleeping Marshal during Chinese Grand Prix

Unlike the Malaysian fella who’s clearly a fire marshal with a sleeping fire extinguisher next to him, this Chinese marshal has an unknown role. He’s not a flag marshal, there’s no flags he’s responsible for waving. He’s not a fire marshal, there’s no fire bottle he can waive. He could be a spectator marshal or one of the tow truck drivers that work with the recovery marshals enjoying his downtime in what seems like the worst possible spot: next to a hot track! (against the crash barrier/tire wall). Bad marshal! Wag finger, wag!

If you think bad marshal behavior is limited to the far east, check out this professional marshal from Monaco:

Daimler/Hoch Zwei Photography Monaco Grand Prix sitting marshal

The rules for marshals are clear: you must be ready at all times whenever cars are on track. Sitting is forbidden when on duty. And despite a fancy helmet and heavy duty gloves, this fella would not fare well against flying debris if he had to get out of the way in a hurry, especially with the racing line so close to his marshal post. This is a mistake on the part of the marshal. But we all make mistakes. The typical day at the track, especially during the Formula One weekend is pretty long and filled with a lot of “hurry up” and “wait!” It gets boring, and it gets tiresome. People that work by themselves, like all the marshals pictured above get especially bored, tired and sleepy.

This is not me making excuses for marshals doing something wrong. And definitely not for those that got caught on camera by the big media wigs like Sutton/Getty/etc. It just sheds some light on what could be happening, and what circumstances we work under. I also wanted to point out that by reducing marshal numbers, like many tracks have done (including the ACO for Le Mans 24h this year) spreading out marshals thin only contributes to the potential boredom, at the very least marshals should work in teams of two or more to keep each other company and watch each other’s backs.

Many tracks are also uptight about various rules, and at some point marshals get burned out trying to adhere to them. I think we as a marshaling body around the world should take note from the Japanese marshals. Who are known for doing things by the book even when such procedures may result in a horrific crash like the one  at Suzuka last year. But they know how to keep morale up, and this is one of the ways during the track inspection:

Japanese Grand Prix marshals welcoming Charlie Whiting to Suzuka

When a similar inspection takes place in the US or Canada, Race Control instructs marshals to look their best, professional. Where the Japanese instead use the opportunity to show they’re not robots. This particular photo shows Charlie Whiting doing a track inspection for F1. In addition, the recent training video I got from USAC for the MotoGP event at Indianapolis showed the Japanese marshals doing similar stints for the MotoGP track inspection… performing the wave, dancing, etc.

You think the FIA or Charlie frowns upon them goofing off? Hell no!

Getty Images: Japanese Grand Prix marshals during Track Inspection

He does not! In fact, as per the interview in the Australian GP Gazette by Lynne Huntting of PressSnoop.com Charlie Whiting actually encouraged marshals to express their uniqueness during the track inspection, even allowing them to take pictures at that time. Crazy! Or maybe not, maybe he recognizes the importance of keeping people focused on the goal of putting on a safe weekend and preventing the volunteers from burning out over the long hours of sometimes boring event where nothing exciting happens.

So lets collectively wag the finger at the marshals that got caught sleeping at previous events. And lets do something about it in the future. As far as I’m concerned there are no Malaysian marshals or Chinese marshals. We are all FIA marshals working to the same standard and should uphold the same professionalism no matter where we work.  Be safe folks!