My facebook wall lit up after the Australian GP with all the comments and photos posted by my marshal friends there. But one comment stood out. My fellow American marshal from Hawaii was fairly upset at one of his sector chiefs for preventing him from taking pictures. Obviously I was not there so I could only but speculate what sort of pictures he was trying to take. But again, there was another comment from Lynne Huntting, the editor/contributor to the AGP marshal gazette that made a separate post saying how despite the expectations from AGP organizers, marshals would be allowed to take photos during the track inspection (as per Charlie Whiting) and during the driver’s parade. And so this comment peeked my interest.
Of course we are not allowed to take pictures during Motorsport events as marshals. This rule is blown out of proportions, and at times it seems it’s the “only!” rule enforced during a Formula One event whether in Australia, Singapore or the United States. And yet people continue getting in trouble for taking pictures!
I think it’s one of the motivating factors behind people volunteering in the first place. I will explain because I too got in trouble more than once after taking pictures at a major Motorsport event, most notably the Canadian GP in Montreal. Why did I take pictures that got me in trouble? Because I wanted to preserve my memory of just how close I got to the cars and all the action during the event. I shared those pictures on facebook and other social media to promote the event to my friends who seemed eager to one day experience what I had experienced because “I was so lucky!” to be there. But, I got in trouble by an overzealous fellow volunteer who based on her experience was assigned a supervisory role over the team I was on. She went further to preach that as a result of my ignoring her “orders!” I was never again to be trusted because I put everybody on the team in danger by my picture taking.
Did I put everybody at risk? And more importantly “intentionally” as she claimed? No! I certainly don’t see it that way. She claimed that in that second that I took a picture anything could have happened and I wasn’t paying attention to my job. But that’s not true. I snapped a few shots of the cars on track, and proceeded to continue focusing on the action. And in the moment I took the shots I was still focusing on the action through the display screen of the phone. Did I take my eyes off the track for even a moment? Not any more than I would while doing something else like sneezing or scratching my balls. Or doing anything else for that matter, that humans do while standing on the side of the track from 8am to 5pm. 100% of my attention was on the track and all the cars on it.
So because of the overzealous fellow volunteer I was put on probation when invited to come back the next year. I was offered a position on a team with a different supervisor, but I did not go. Ironically none of my actions during my second Canadian GP were different from the first year there. The only difference was the presence of the overzealous fellow volunteer.
“Overzealous” is the same word that my buddy from Hawaii used about his Australian fellow volunteer. So the problem really comes down to enforcement. My Hawaiian buddy has spend over a month in Australia volunteering for everything from Bathurst 12h to Clipsal 500, to SBK Superbikes at Phillip Island and is finishing his stay with Australian GP. It’s the same trip I did in 2013 when I went down to Australia, except my buddy has been doing this routine for a few years now, the privilege of being retired. But I’m afraid he will leave Australia on a sour note as a result of this picture taking fiasco.
Is he wrong?
All of us are forbidden to take photos. It’s clearly stated in the rules.
So why do marshals do it?
Why do some marshals take it upon themselves to enforce the rule that can easily be enforced by powers within the FIA? I mean there is a brilliant system in place of using cameras and tabards with clearly identifiable numbers assigned to each marshal. If the FIA was as strict as the Australian GP organization or the COTA people for the US GP, the FIA is fully capable of pulling guilty marshals out of the event and preventing them from marshaling the GP again if photo taking was such a major sin to them. But I suspect it isn’t. The problem escalates when someone much lower down the chain of command, the before mentioned “Overzealous” fellow volunteer, decided to show how powerful they are by forcing someone not to take a photo. Tensions arise as a result, and people leave an event feeling unappreciated.
The organizers do a great job of organizing a marshal pit walk to appease the marshals that want to take photos. But as generous as this act may be, most of the race cars people are interested are in bits and pieces. So if you want a shot of a fully assembled car, the only option you have as a volunteer is to take a picture of it while it’s on track. The organizers also do a great job of recruiting photographers that are responsible for taking pictures of the marshals and sharing those pictures in an album. But again, if you get one decent photo of yourself through that photographer you’re lucky. And generally the pictures they take are no different than a picture you can ask any of your fellow marshals to take of you while there’s no cars on track, so the benefit is quite limited.
What have I done personally to comply with the rule?
I have stopped taking pictures. Period. Do I miss it? Not particularly… I have made it a point to optimize any picture taking opportunity I have to take all the shots I want when I’m allowed to do it. I have focused my efforts on shooting videos for my #MarshalCam project when we are allowed to do it. But I do still get an urge to snap a photo of a race car on track and that urge goes through the roof when I see other people blatantly disregarding the rule around me. Yet, because I was singled out in Canada and since then every time I have been at a US track I’ve had a flag chief come over to me and remind me personally that I am not allowed to take pictures, I have complied. And so should others reading this!
Please share your comments below as I’m sure opinions vary on this topic.