You’ve probably heard many drivers in motorsport talk about ‘Life on the Edge’ the perfect balance of exploring the limits of what is possible in a race car versus the outer limit before everything ends in wreckage and ruin.
Racing teams explore that extra tenth of a second of pace and drivers go beyond it to find the measurable limits of any car they are in.
What about when it goes beyond the edge though, when those fine margins are strained and that line between perfection and destruction is crossed? Well that’s where those in orange come into it.
It’s an easy life as a marshal
One of the biggest myths going is that marshalling is an absolute doddle, just standing around waiting for a car to crash. What actually happens is that they’ve normally been at the circuit long before the birds are awake, signed onto a post, checked the equipment is present, correct and working and also received a briefing on what to do if it all goes wrong.
That happens every time there is racing, every race day, before a single engine has been revved. If a marshal is in the paddock or assembley you have to remember their timeline is more condensed as they have to start working before anyone out on track as the cars reach them first.
So, now I’ve told you it’s not easy it’s probably best I explain why.
If you think about it…
Let’s start with what marshals are thinking about as the race session is happening – I’ve broken it down into each role on a typical post at the circuit. All of these descriptions of the roles are before a car crashes.
Incident marshal – Their eyes are on the racing, looking for everything that could cause them to have to do something, looking into the how the cars are behaving, that is out the norm from them turning into the corner and being on their way. Why? They need an exit strategy if a car is coming directly at them where do they go to and an entry route which is the safest and quickest route to a car without putting themselves in harms way and ensuring no further danger to the driver.
Flag marshals – If you thought the incident marshals were watching the race a good flag marshal will tell you otherwise. They’ll be able to give you almost the entire running order and key facts about the race. They have to be watching, they need to get out blue flags for slower cars to know the leaders are approaching. They also need to watch both ways if they’re on their own because at any second they may have to throw out a yellow flag for an incident.
Incident Officers (I/O) – They’re watching the racing and they’re watching their teams.Equally as scrutinising as the incident marshals in watching the racing, they need to look at the teams and how they react, as they could be providing a link up between other incident marshals on post and the post chief if there is an incident.
More than likely they’ll be on scene to assist and look after the incident team looking after the incident.
Post Chief – They’re watching well… everything. The racing, their flag marshals, their I/O and the incident teams. They’re in charge of the post out on circuit but, they’re also the communications link between the ground and race control. They need to know exactly what is happening on circuit to get the best picture to race control and if there is an incident they need to get the safest environment for their team to work in. Not only have they got to do this they have to provide the link the other way relaying information from race control to the marshals on post.
When it all goes wrong
When the driver goes over the edge this is when it all comes together, all that thinking that has been done as previously mentioned and all those strategies devised between the incident marshals are put in place come into action. Yes, we will admit somethings do go wrong and we can’t account for everything but, what comes into effect is a group of people working in that ‘over the edge’ scenario usually under great time pressure.
When a car crashes the incident marshals and flag marshals react simultaneously, incident go to the crash to assess what has happened, whether the driver is out, or if medical attention is needed, if it the car will tow or as in most cases if it won’t. The flag marshals get the yellow flags out to neutralise that section of track to get the situation as safe as possible.
What comes next can trigger a small reaction or a large one. When the incident team have assessed the crash, the driver has got out; it will be judged to be in a safe position or whether it requires moving, sometimes this requires knowing if the car will tow. Most of this is usually done under the direction of the I/O who has a clear view of what is happening, marshals, incident and on coming cars. The Post Chief will be in communication with race control and the the situation updated, a report on the incident will also have to be written if there was contact between another car.
If the crash is more serious then this could trigger a red flag situation, this could be to get a rescue unit to the incident as soon possible to assist the driver. Once the red flags are out the whole circuit jumps to action, if there is enough of the race left the cars will be re-grided so the startline marshals have to get the new grid sheets and get to work. This usually requires cars to be stopped before the startline therefore the final few posts on circuit jump to action to help bring the cars to a safe stop.
The red flag will allow the recovery truck to come and assist with the clean up operation, again to a very tight time constraint as most UK circuits have a curfew meaning that all the races scheduled in the day need to be completed.
All this can happen at any moment so, the next time you’re at the circuit and see some marshals standing around doing nothing, they’re probably thinking of a hundred things to do with the racing and will be ready to react usually as the incident is happening.
Written by Robert Lee