United States F1 Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas, Austin, TX

As with any other motorsport weekend, this one went by too quickly. But what a great weekend it was. I usually get excited about events as they’re in progress and then looking back think perhaps I was overly enthusiastic. This wasn’t the case at all at COTA as I was mad as hell from the moment I saw my station assignment and the location of the digi board. I was spewing mad that the track in the US was much like the track in Singapore, or the track in Canada, or elsewhere I worked where there is so much talk about Safety but so little of it is actually put in practice when it comes to the marshals. And this was precisely the case at turn 12 at the Circuit of the Americas. The light board was in a perfect spot, but there was no hole in the fence for the operator to see the oncoming traffic! I had no vision of what was flying my way at the fastest point of the track, and therefore as a result had little chance or hope to actually do any blue flagging. What a shame?!

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Now at that point people would say: “Well focus on yellow flag” … Sure being near the apex of the turn, it was easy to see through the fence. But what about all this “Safety” talk… if I have my back to the traffic and someone comes crashing into the fence Dario Franchitti style – I am toast!  So “safety” as you can see was not a major concern at COTA for F1.

It wasn’t just me who wasn’t given much consideration. The one and only retirement during the actual race occurred just meters away from where I was standing and the good folks responding to the mangled car had no clue what to do when they got to it. The intervention marshals, the flat bed driver, the Manitou operator, all did their own thing and none contributed to each other’s safety. Its easy to criticise in hindsight but I wouldn’t be saying a word if any of us in the US actually got some fucking training for this! For example, the marshals responding to the car should stay behind the ARMCO as much as possible before entering hot track to respond to the incident, our guys ran out on the track and were running with their backs to traffic for a good 100 meters. The flat bed driver arrived on scene and parked past the stricken vehicle, not before it to protect the marshals responding. (sure he would have been in the way of the Manitou once it finally showed up two laps later, but the driver could have stayed in the truck and moved it when the Manitou made it on scene). The hooker had no clue where to thread the strap to connect the vehicle to the Manitou. And finally when all the people on foot near the vehicle being lifted thought it would go on the flat bed that had been waiting all this time, the Manitou driver proceeded to reverse with the vehicle dangling in the air because none of the marshals there were stabilizing it. I was across track behind the fence cringing at the potential accident that was waiting to happen over a multitude of scenarios that could have gone terribly wrong. We got lucky…. But we cannot depend on luck alone for Safety!

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Now that I got that off my chest, there were a number of very positive events that took place that made this race weekend one of the most pleasant ones I worked all year. And once again the people I worked with were a great contributing factor to my happiness. For starters no one on the team projected the negative vibe of being better than anyone else. We all had our levels of experience and I think each respected that notion. The post chief was kind enough to share his duties which I thought was unique, especially when it was my turn at the helm and I  had some Ferrari debris to pick up under safety car conditions. That was a rush as always, and the crowd cheering resulted in a constant thought running across my mind: “don’t trip and fall on your face… don’t trip and fall on your face.” Similarly the boss allowed me to adjust the digi board location to my liking, which was quite helpful… though again without a hole in the fence it was very difficult to see anything. I did manage to rig a somewhat tolerable set-up that included a rear-view mirror, though I was not impressed with my blue flag because it was still very difficult to see and I didn’t want to use the flag incorrectly. I did get the blue flagging out of my system when I was on actual manual flags for the Historics race, that was fun!

Hanging out in Ausin and San Antonio before it was better than any of the previous times I had visited Texas. Things went well all around, from car rental, to hotel, to CouchSurfing. In fact I spent a great deal of time hanging out with my hosts, even got a chance to introduce some marshal buddies with the CS’ers which was a great experience. Food was sublime, with all the Tex Mex, BBQ, biscuits and gravy, and other local cuisines that made the whole trip memorable. I had a great time and feel good about it.

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Texas BBQ at Salt Lick outside of town…. finger lickin’ good!