A big trip deserves a big blog, so sit back and enjoy this one!
They say a week is a long time in politics, but it can also be true for motorsport marshals!
After braving the snow and -2 temperatures of Oulton Park for the season opener, Sarah and I were heading down under for the start of the F1 season and Melbourne Grand Prix.
The Australian Grand Prix had been on our bucket list for many a year but now we had the bug for watching in orange this was going to be the trip of a lifetime.
A long flight via Abu Dhabi, we arrived in Melbourne the evening before day one of a packed four day schedule.
Four-time world champion Alain Prost was also on our flight and we grabbed the chance of a quick chat at the baggage carousel where Alain told us how impressed he was that we had travelled all the way from the UK to marshal at Melbourne.
Egos boosted we headed downtown but with the jet lag we struggled so we headed off early to the track to collect our credentials and head for sign on and breakfast courtesy of the local Rotary Club.
At the Marshal Muster tent we met up with colleagues from the UK including fellow OP member John Edwards who had flown in from Sydney the night before as well.
Once signed on, tabards collected and the random breathalyser tests completed we joined our fellow International marshals for a welcome and introduction from Phillip Livingstone who is the overseas marshal liaison for the Australian Grand Prix.
Phillip’s role included ensuring we were all on the same page with our hand signals and his morning briefings before the main daily briefings soon become known as the morning yoga sessions!
After the main briefing we headed for the buses and a trip round the Albert Park circuit on route to our allocated posts, Turn 11 right for me and 12.5 for Sarah, the new DRS zone.
On post we were soon introduced to our Sector Marshal, Darren, and another briefing followed along with another hand signal practice. I was with a mixed team of Australians and overseas marshals with representation from Canada, UAE, Singapore, South Korea and the UK.
The packed four -day programme included an interesting and mixed bag of support races including the V8 Supercars, Australian GT championship, Ferrari Challenge Asia Pacific and Porsche Carrera Cup along with a few demos laps and speed comparisons.
Thursday was mainly practice and qualifying culminating with the first race of the weekend at the end of the day for the Australian GT’s and Porsche Carrera Cup. I have to confess here that the jet lag finally caught up with me towards the end of the day and I’m sure I dropped off for part of the last race of the day!
By the time we had wrapped up and headed back to the hotel all we could manage was a shower and a pizza from the rather handy pizza store next to the hotel before we finally hit the sack after what felt like a marathon 48 hours without sleep.
Friday soon arrived, it felt like about five minutes after I dropped off to be honest, but the adrenalin was soon running thick and fast again as we set off for the track for the first two F1 practice sessions of the weekend and our first sight of what the teams have produced for 2018, halos included.
As I climbed off the bus following morning yoga, Darren, advised me we had a problem with our kerb on the inside of the turn and we would need to replace one of the kerb stones which had cracked.
This was a running problem throughout the day and even brought us a visit from none other than Charlie Whiting himself to inspect it before giving the green light for FP1 to commence.
In between practice and qualifying sessions our team was getting to know one another and develop some good banter among the crew, with some of our Aussie hosts having fun with the overseas team members with their explanations of common Aussie slang. The tables were soon turned though when news of ball tampering emerged from South Africa, boy did we have fun with that one!
On the track it was clear to see Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull were looking good through 11 and 12 with Hamilton commenting later in the day at the press conference how fast those two turns were that he didn’t lift off let alone brake.
Whilst waiting for the start of FP2 a golf buggy complete with Sky Sports F1 camera crew arrived at our post and Martin Brundle joined us for a live piece to camera explaining to the viewers how he expected to see drivers taking the left hand turn 11 and right hand turn 12 if they were in the zone.
Saturday brought an unexpected twist to events as we awoke to dark clouds and the threat of rain.
The international marshals briefing this morning included an invitation to exchange gifts we had been asked to bring with us from our home motorsport clubs, I got a New Zealand bottle opener and in return gave them some BMMC regalia.
The heavens finally opened as we set up for the day and quickly improvised canopies were soon erected around our post to provide at least some cover and protection from the elements.
Thankfully by the time F1 qualifying arrived the rain had stopped and the sun finally returned although I suspect a certain Mr Bottas had wished it hadn’t!
Another good day was had by all, not too much action on our corner to report with most of the fun had by turn two, back to the hotel to prepare for the main event on Sunday and pizza for tea for a change!
I’d managed to develop a bit of a chest infection by the time Sunday arrived, probably not helped by the 24 hour flight, the constant changes in weather and lack of sleep but nothing was going to keep me away from the first race of the season.
The only down side to being on a part of the circuit away from the main stands is we didn’t get to experience much of the atmosphere the crowd created although there were more spectators in our sector today than we had previously had.
The day kicked off with a team photo with flags from all the respective nations represented on our crew alongside the OP flag of course and we were briefed that we would be able to stand trackside for the driver’s parade – flags included!
We also found ourselves featured on the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport website on race day after we correctly predicted the outcome.
When the race itself finally arrived it flew past in a flash and soon we were surrounded by swarms of fans who are let onto the track within 5 minutes of the end of the race.
By the time we had packed all our kit away and returned to the muster tent it had been transformed into a dining room fit for a king and free beer and a BBQ (come on this was Australia, what else did you expect!) was laid on for all the marshals as a thank you from the Australian Grand Prix Corporation.
The evening was a great way of thanking all those volunteers without whom motor sport would not exist and the video of the great and the good thanking us all for our efforts even included a reference from Alain Prost about the two marshals he had met coming through the airport who had come all the way from the UK!
All in all it was an excellent once in a lifetime experience and one we both thoroughly enjoyed. Anyone thinking of applying for an overseas dream trip could do a lot worse than Australia, you’ll be guaranteed a warm welcome and some great fun and the kind of banter we are used to at OP.
All that was left for us was a few days R&R including 2 days in Abu Dhabi on the way home and a trip around the Yas Marina circuit with a friend we met at the Canadian Grand Prix last year.