Last year I attended the 2018 Singapore Formula 1 Grand Prix for the first time as a spectator. I was seated in the Marina Bay Grandstand overlooking the Marina Bay Sands, the Merlion and the beautiful Singapore city skyline. The view was spectacular. I fell in love with this event watching the best drivers in Formula 1 negotiate the difficult, twisty, narrow and extremely technical Singapore street circuit with the added challenge of racing under lights.
I am a volunteer firefighter in the Western Australia Fire & Rescue Service. With a love for motorsport I completed my Fire & Rescue course with the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport (CAMS) and started volunteering at race meetings at Barbagallo Raceway in Perth as a fire marshal and occasionally a flag marshal.
The first F1 race I marshalled was the 2019 Australian Grand Prix. The weekend was an amazing experience and it being the start of the F1 season added something really special to the event. It was, however, difficult for all involved in the marshalling and Formula 1 community with the tragic and unexpected death of FIA Race Director Charlie Whiting. Everyone involved in this event pulled together to make it a special one in his honour.
After the Australian Grand Prix finished my mind was still on the sights and sounds of the Singapore Grand Prix, so I decided to put my application to be a race official.
I was fortunate enough to be selected as a Fire Marshal for the 2019 Singapore Grand Prix. I completed my required six days of officiating at motorsport events between October 2018 to July 2019 to be selected. Local Singaporean officials have to attend a combined total of nine days of training in the lead up to race day.
The Formula 1 season was starting its final run of ‘flyaway’ races. I had been allocated Sector/ Turn 19, at the exit of the tunnel that passes under the very Marina Bay grandstand where I’d been sitting only a year before. I was also in regular contact with the officials who I would be working that weekend in the weeks leading up to my travel to Singapore.
Before I knew it the race week arrived and I was flying to Singapore. Officials had to be at the track on Thursday evening. This was my opportunity to collect my accreditation pass and uniform and meet the team I would be working with for the next four days.
From there we went to our respective sectors for what is known as the FIA Speed Test. This involves the FIA Safety Car driven by Bernd Maylander and the Medical Car doing laps at a progressively increasing speed to eventually be flat-out negotiating the technical street circuit. This also provided marshals an opportunity to settle in to our home for the next four days.
The day we had been waiting for had arrived: the First Practice session for the F1 drivers. But before that came practice sessions for the event’s support categories: the Ferrari Challenge Asia Pacific and the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia, which got us all in the mood for the F1 practice session to come in the afternoon.
The Formula 1 cars could be heard throughout the 5-kilometre street circuit: FP1 was underway. The sound of the F1 cars passing under the Marina Bay grandstand was deafening but such a beautiful experience.
Everything was running smoothly in FP1 until about 27 minutes to go when Valtteri Bottas lost control of his Mercedes and crashed heavily into the wall right in front of us, resulting in the session being red flagged.
It was our moment in the spotlight for the Sector 19 L team. All of us sprang into action to check on the driver, safely recover his damaged Mercedes and remove any debris from the track which could damage another car or puncture a tyre.
I was on standby in case the car caught fire, however this wasn’t the case. We conducted ourselves professionally and were congratulated by our Sector Chief.
That night all of us were buzzing after the practice session as we were invited to a special Marshals’ Pit Lane Walk. This was fantastic to get a look ‘behind the scenes’ into the F1 teams’ garages and get some great pictures.
Free Practice 3 was the first session of the evening. This was the final chance for the F1 drivers to get ready for qualifying later in the night. The difference in pace was evident from Free Practice 1 on Friday, with some drivers getting precariously close to the barriers and others kissing the walls.
Later on Saturday night it was time for the all-important qualifying session. All of us marshals at 19L shared our prediction on who we would like to see come first, second and third – needless to say not one of us was correct!
The pace in qualifying turned up another level, with all the drivers giving it their all to extract every last hundredth of a second on offer.
The day all of the officials had been waiting for all year had arrived: Race Day. It was Singapore’s time to shine as the eyes of the world are the floodlit circuit and its officials. The atmosphere was building, and with the Porsche and Ferrari races complete it was time for the Drivers’ Parade.
As an official being able to stand on the side of the track to see your favourite drivers is such a special experience. Its also nice to be appreciated by the drivers for the hard work officials do, even if it is just a little wave.
Lights out and the roar of the field could be heard from the other side of the circuit. As they raced down Raffles Boulevard anticipation was high. As the leaders entered the tunnel the sound and sight were amazing. The field passed so quickly it was near impossible to distinguish the numbers on the cars.
As the laps ticked by everybody was beginning to wonder whether this could finally be the first Singapore Grand Prix without a Safety Car. Of course we jinxed ourselves.
The last lap arrived after two hours of epic racing. It was a sight to watch Sebastian Vettel make his way though the tunnel past my sector to go on to take victory under lights at the Marina Bay circuit.
The FP1 drama with Bottas aside, Sector 19L saw little major action or incident. Ultimately that’s the hope of all marshals and drivers – we’re there in their time of need, which everyone hopes never happens.
Overall, I had a fantastic experience as a volunteer race official at the 2019 Singapore Grand Prix. I was privileged to work with a professional team from around the world and create friendships and memories which will last a lifetime.
I would recommend anyone who has a passion for motorsport and wants to give back to such an inclusive and great sport to give marshalling a go. It is a great way to meet new people and make lasting friendships. I had a fantastic experience with all the race officials that I had the pleasure of working with at Sector 19 L at the 2019 Singapore Grand Prix. Until next year!
Images via Paul Healy and Reuters