Perfecting the marshal arts

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 September, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 September, 2004, 12:00am

A group of 900 volunteers undergoes months of rigorous training

A Formula One race is one of the toughest organisational challenges in sport. You've got cars whizzing around at more than 330km/h, at Shanghai's state-of-the-art track you will have 150,000 spectators clamouring for a look and the world will be watching to see how the Chinese manage to run their first Grand Prix event.

The Shanghai International Circuit will have 900 volunteer marshals on race day and organisers have turned to the experienced Portuguese for help in organising the team.

A group of specialists from the Motorsport Association of Portugal co-ordinated an intensive training programme for the 600 track, 150 fire and 150 medical marshals who will take part, putting them through a gruelling course to make sure they have all the skills they will need on race day.

'Through an expert programme provided by the Motorsport Association of Portugal, we have constructed a highly motivated team who will strive to be among the best in Formula One,' explained Edward Guo, Shanghai International Circuit race and event manager.

When deciding who would co-ordinate the training, specialists who combined both strong tuition skills and wide race experience were chosen, the organisers said.

In recent years, marshalling has been hazardous at times. In 2001, a marshal was killed by flying debris at the Australian Grand Prix and an Italian marshal died at the Italian Grand Prix the previous year. No driver has been killed in F1 since Ayrton Senna at the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola in 1994.

The marshals' preparation began in March this year, with an introduction to racing and safety. Then, at the China Circuit Championship rounds, the volunteers had the chance to put their training into practice, under the supervision of Portuguese Eduardo Pinto and Louis de Pinto, who gave the volunteers their support and advice throughout the races.

The Portuguese went back to Shanghai last month for more specialist sessions, including instruction on incident clearance, fire-fighting, communication systems and racing terminology, with marshals attending lectures and practical sessions using the F1 track which will be used this weekend.

To give the marshals a feel for race day and to supplement the training programme, key members of the team have also visited other circuits to see their counterparts in action, with marshals attending the Australian, Canadian, French and British Grands Prix to broaden their experience.