The United States Grand Prix was my third Formula One event of 2016 and my third visit to the United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. I had previously marshalled in the capacity of Comms in 2013 at Turn 16, and in the Pit Lane/Starting Grid in 2015, when I survived the extraordinary weather conditions which saw Qualifying cancelled on the Saturday due to Hurricane Patricia.
This year’s enterprise began with tentative correspondence confirming availability and willingness with my Specialism Chief earlier in the year, followed by the completion of the online registration process through the motorsportreg.com website in the summer. I was then formally authorised to return in the capacity of a Pit/Starting Grid marshal and was able to proceed to book flights and accommodation.
The track, a 3.418 mile anti-clockwise circuit with an iconic freestanding tower (known as “the Mullet”) is located 14 miles outside of the Texan state capital, deemed by many to be the music capital of America, with 6th street being the central hub. As there are no hotels or amenities close to CoTA, the alternatives for visitors are either to camp at the circuit, or to stay in Downtown Austin and commute in daily. To this end, the organisers requisition a hotel called the Drury, which has reasonable room rates for the marshals (or corner workers as we are termed there), and school buses are laid from that Hotel on to transport workers each morning for those not making their own way to the track.
However, my own preferred choice is to fly into Houston, which is the fourth largest city in America, and spend some time sightseeing, for instance, visiting the Johnson Space Centre (NASA) etc. We then pick up the 31 foot RV with slide out sides to drive the 165 miles from central Houston to CoTA.
We broke up the 4 hour drive each way in order to camp overnight at a nature reserve beside a beautiful lake in the countryside, where deer, wild boar and armadillos roam freely. This offers a tranquil contrast to the busy city. Then, on arrival at CoTA, there is a designated RV lot for marshals beside the marshals tent, situated by turn 11.
Prior to arriving in America, schedules and essential information is emailed out with sign on and shuttle details.
Apart from the “must do” visit to Wild Bubbas Wild Game Grill, a famous burger restaurant located 1 mile from the track which serves unusual burgers, and frequented by the F1 teams and staff, the other Thursday duty is to register and acquire wristbands, tabards, hats, and in the case of the corner workers, blue overalls. As a specialist marshal, however, I was provided with a beige long sleeved short to wear with black trousers. After registration, all marshals were then shuttled to the Velocity Lounge overlooking the start/finish straight for a free buffet.
Friday was the first day of early morning shuttles providing transport from the marshals’ tent to post or Pit lane. Each day, breakfast and lunch was provided, with drinks provided all day, in the pit office situated in the F1 paddock. Each evening, food and soft drinks are also available in the marshals’ tent. On Saturday night, marshals were permitted access to the Taylor Swift concert, and 80,000 fans attended to watch the concert and the fireworks.
The F1 support races were Historic F1 cars and Porsches. The Historics proved to be demanding owing to their propensity to overheat and stall, and required a lot of pushing in the pit lane. During their first race, I had to assume intervention duties and successfully bump started the Benetton Tyrrell that had stalled on the green flag lap.
In the intense heat, care had to be taken to avoid dehydrating, as there was no shade standing on the pit wall during the sessions.
For Race Day, I was fortunate enough to be allocated P9 on the grid, which was Massa’s Williams. The Grid Presentation is an amazing spectacle, with a marching band, and the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders performing. Standing on the grid beside car 19, the highlight for me was the sailor who sang the National Anthem, followed by a firework display and 5 helicopters doing a fly past. It was an incredibly poignant and emotional moment and I felt overwhelmed and immensely privileged to be able to participate in, and share such an awesome experience. I was moved by the friendship and the welcome everyone gave me, and I have met some wonderful people and made some dear friends. I will never forget it.
Written By – Janette Williams