Sunday, 24 October 2010

Nailing my colours to the mast

I meant to post this ages ago, but finally I've got around to it...

There are still (just about!) 5 drivers in with a chance of winning the F1 championship.

Here's my order of preference:

1. Jenson Button (always and forever)
2. Mark Webber
3. Fernando Alonso (I just don't get the way he's F1's villain these days. He's not my favourite, but I don't dislike him)
4. Sebastian Vettel (I don't dislike him, I just don't want Mark to be beaten by his team mate)
5. Lewis Hamilton

So, if I'm grumpy or happy during/after a race, it's mostly because of the mix of how these 5 are doing in terms of the order above.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Life ain't the pits in the pits... (PART 2)

Marshalling tales continued...


For the Renault World Series the next weekend, I was there for Saturday and Sunday. And I was put..... in the paddock again. Right. You'll remember the rigmarole I went through last time, I was determined to find it this time.

As I walked into the Paddock Bar to sign on, I stood to look at the 2 queues of marshals and decide which one I wanted to be in. A lady was watching me do so, and so she started talking to me to help me pick which queue to join. Her name was Sue, and it turned out that she was the lady in charge of the paddock. HOORAY! So she told me exactly where I should find everyone. And the answer is...... Brooklands. The assembly area is right in front of the Brooklands Suite. So Mr Sign On's instructions the week before of "well, you know where the paddock is" with vague waving in completely the opposite direction of Brooklands was pretty much as wrong as you can get.

So I went to the assembly area at Brooklands (if a race doesn't start out of the pitlane, the cars will come along to the assembly area and we'll put them in order before they head off to the grid). But it turned out it was a VERY quiet day in assembly that day. There was about a 5 hour gap of nothingness in the middle. We enjoyed a bit of sitting in the almost sunshine and watching the cars go by, chatting and getting to know everyone and having a good laugh. And I had a potter about to explore the 'Renault Village' thing they'd set up for the crowds to investigate. But then when I got back to assembly there were still hours to go before we had any cars turn up again.

But then we got word that the pits were very short on people, and so would some of us like to go and help on startline?

Hell yeah! I'd heard of startline, but wasn't exactly sure what it involved, and it sounded a bit terrifying, so I definitely wanted to have a go!  So a group of us headed over, and we had to hang numbers out over the pitwall so that the drivers know which grid to line up in, and then we had to be ready there with our yellow flags in case anyone stalled.  (And in my second race, someone stalled right in front of me so I had to wave my flag like crazy!!)  Watching the grid starts from the pitwall is just amazing too. Love it!

And then the Chief Pits guy came over. Did anyone have any experience with pitstops? Everyone else said no. I said "ermm.... weeelll..... I was doing pitstops at Le Mans last weekend......."  He looked at me. And he said "Right. Lou. I know you're only a trainee - but you're in!" He gave me a few sheets of paper and a pen, a brief breifing, and sent me off the pitwall towards the garages he'd assigned to me. I had 2 cars, had to watch the stops and check 'yes' or 'no' for a few things, and that was that. It was fun, and now that I had an idea of what I was doing, being pushed in the deep end was ace. I clearly did an OK job, as Chief Pits then asked if he could steal me for the rest of the day, to keep doing startline and pitstops. Absolutely. I'd rather do that than sit doing nothing (as there was still nothing going on at assembly till the last session).

I also spent some time with the guy that started/ended all the races. He was like the Charlie Whiting of the day, I guess. But that was cool, coz it meant I got to watch a race start from up in the starting gantry (which is right below what used to be the footbridge over the straight, so it's the best view in the house). So that was a bit special too.

At the end of the day, Chief Pits guy asked if they could steal me the next day too. I knew the assembly guys would tease me for ditching them, but as I knew it was going to be fairly dead there on Sunday again, and the pits were short on folks so they needed me, it wasn't a hard decision to make. (Plus, the assembly guys spent a lot of time in the pits helping out with startline anyway!). I went back to the assembly paddock for the final session, to see what they did for it, and to break the bad news that I was ditching them...!!

Oh, and that Saturday night was my first night camping at Silverstone. It was great fun. My friend Chris was marshalling on the bank all weekend too, and he has a tent, so we had a good camping session (reliving the heydays of Spa!). One of the best things was sneaking into the grandstand opposite the pits at about 10pm and watching how some of the teams were still working away. Another good thing was rolling out of bed about 10 mins before having to sign-on, rather than getting up at 5:30am in order to drive back to Silverstone!

On Sunday, there were quite a few trainees turned up at the pits - some on their very first day, they'd only turned up because a friend had told them how short on people we were. So Chief Pits guy put everyone in pairs for the pitstops because no one had done them before. Except for me, I got put by myself. Because apparently I'm now experienced at these things..!!!  Which is fun :)

Startline all went well on Sunday. But I had a bit of drama with one of my pitstops - my car was released alongside another car that was already going down the pitlane!  So I had to write an incident report, and then I was summoned to talk to the stewards!!!!!!!

It was rather exciting being summoned to the stewards. I went and sat up in Race Control for a bit, waiting for them, and someone made me a cup of tea, and Sue from the assembly paddock had been stolen to do the race control phones (talking to all the marshals who were reporting all the different incidents going out on track), so I got to have a chat with her. And then I spoke to a British steward and told him what I saw. He went off and told a French Renault steward what I saw. The French stewards then thought for a long time about whether they wanted to talk to me directly or not. In the end, they decided not. So I went back down to the pitlane, only to have Sue run after me about 15 seconds later, saying that actually they DID want to talk to me. 

So they were a bit sheepish when I went in, having kept me waiting and then sent me packing, only to ask me back again! There were three of them in the steward's inquiry - I think two French Renault ones, and then a British guy too. I just told them exactly what they saw, they said "OK, thank you!" and that was about it.

It was all very exciting though - influencing a steward's inquiry!!!! I don't get to do THAT every day!!!!

So, yeah, I'm absolutely loving it. I do want to go back and spend a bit more time on the bank as a track marshal.... but so far, the pits have been awesome.

Life ain't the pits in the pits...

Hiya, I've been very slack with this all lately - I've been meaning to tell you about my marshalling adventures for ages. I've now done 2 days as a track marshal (at Bridge for the Silverstone Classic) and 3 days in the pits. Well, two and a half days in the pits, and half a day in assembly... I shall explain.

I'm just going to skim across the track marshalling days - it was fun, I loved it, but not many stories to tell. But the pits... ahhhh, the pits!


I only marshalled on the Sunday for this weekend. My friend Chris (from 'Team Belgium' when we went to Spa) was also there that day, doing his first day as a track marshal. We signed on, and - as expected - I was assigned to the paddock. I asked the sign-on guy where I should go to meet the rest of my paddock marshals. His response was, "well, you know where the paddock is, right?".  We were standing in the Paddock Bar at the time, which is (as the name might suggest) pretty much in the paddock, and so yes, I knew where the paddock was. He gestured vaguely towards the end of the paddock where Scrutineering is.  "Well, just go there, look out for the guy with the radio, he's the one in charge".

Right. Incredibly unhelpful, that.

So I pottered around the paddock, and I asked a few passing marshals if they knew where I should go. They didn't,   but they all tried to be helpful by suggesting places to go. One of them suggested I go to the office for the pits marshals, as they might be able to point me in the right direction. So I popped in, and they were mid-briefing (from a French Le Mans guy, and someone was then translating it) but one of the guys took me under his wing and was going to help me find the paddock marshals until he decided that actually it'd be much better if they stole me for the pits instead.

I'd been told that the paddock was going to be pretty quiet and so I might want to go out to a post around the track in the afternoon. So being stolen for the pits, where they were short of people and it was going to be busy, sounded like a good idea. So I allowed myself to be stolen. And had no idea what I was letting myself in for.

It was a 6 (ish) hour race, with lots of pitstops going on, so we were all assigned certain cars where we had to watch the pitstops and then talk to the fuel engineer and write down how much fuel they put in at each stop. Then we signed it and the engineer signed it, and the bit of paper went off to the LMS officials, in case there were any sort of disputes.

Everyone was in pairs, and I was teamed up with the lady that was Chief Pits. This pleased me, as I had NO idea what I was doing and I thought it was good that I was with the lady that knew EXACTLY what I was doing. But, to start with, not so much. 

Because she was Chief Pits, she had to make sure everyone else knew what they were doing too. So during the practice session and the Radical race before the LMS one started, she spent the entire time walking up and down the pitlane sorting things out and checking everyone else. Which is fine, because that's her job, and when she walked by me she'd smile and say something reassuring like "I haven't forgotten you!".... but, on the other hand, I felt like I'd absolutely just been lobbed into the deep end. I didn't have a clue what I was meant to do, or where I was meant to stand, or what I was meant to be looking out for. So I just tried to stand out of the way and look as if I knew what I was doing. But I couldn't help but think "What the hell am I doing here???" I wasn't a happy bunny. I felt totally out of my depth and lonely.

But before the LMS race started, Chief Pits lady turned up. Phew! She explained what we had to do during the pitstops, and reassured me it'd all be fine (as I was kind of doing my rabbit-in-the-headlights impersonation). 

We got to watch the start of the race from the pitwall... and WOW. That was properly incredible. The noise and the speed and the rush of air as they went by (rolling start) was just AMAZING. I had to actually hold onto my hat as it was about to blow off! It's worth marshalling just for experiences like that alone. (No one else gets to stand on the pitwall for the start of the races, just the marshals.)

I did the first few pitstops together with the Chief Pits lady (who was lovely). All went well and was very straightforward once you knew what you were doing. And the three engineer guys I had to talk to about the fuel level were all ace. There was Chris, Rich and Very Beautiful French Man (I don't know what his name was). We had four cars to watch, so Chief Pits lady and I split it so we had 2 cars each. 

But then during the race, she'd hear things over the radio that she had to go and investigate at the other end of the pits, and so she'd give me the books for her 2 cars and leave me on my own again. But by this time, I was perfectly happy on my own and thrived on having all 4 cars to watch. She'd come back after being away for 10 mins and I'd be like "yep, we had 3 pitstops in that time, but they all went fine!".

I don't know how many pitstops we had in total... 20.... 30...? There were lots, especially because Very Beautiful French Man's car was breaking more and more as the race went on, so it kept having to come in. But even when they had an issue with the fuel rig and the pit stop all went wrong and took forever and they couldn't get much fuel into it, the Very Beautiful French Man was still utterly lovely to me as I tiptoed up to him with my book to write down just how little fuel had managed to go in. I was a bit worried he'd be in a bad mood and snap at me, but instead he gave me a VERY French shrug and a grin and we did our bit of maths to figure out the fuel. (Maths!!! I didn't know I'd have to do MATHS!!! The terror.)

But anyway, yeah, it was great. I absolutely LOVED it all. It was brilliant being so close to the action (being very close to being run over by awesome Le Mans cars for 5 hours long) and feeling like you're actually contributing to it all by taking the official records and getting to talk to the engineers. And I got to potter along to the podium at the end and be part of the celebrations. And I adore just getting to swan around wherever I want at Silverstone. It feels like home.