Many of you will have seen Nadine’s e-mail asking for volunteers for a top secret event. All you needed was to be available on 12th July, have a set of BMMC overalls, your own flags and be able to get yourself to central London.
A huge number of us replied volunteering our services within just a few hours – a pretty extraordinary response from the BMMC members. However I think we could all guess from the date that it was going to be an event connected to Formula One. Fortunately I’d bought a set of flags just weeks before so I was able to apply.
To get the e-mail to say I’d been lucky enough to be selected was unexpected – I never thought I’d be successful from that number of applicants. Nadine put us all in contact with the others selected and a bit of travel planning was put in place. Our meeting point was to be outside the South African embassy.
A few of us decided to turn it into a grand day out and agreed to meet up for lunch at a rather nice Italian restaurant at Oxford Circus before reporting for duty. To work off lunch we walked down to Trafalgar Square to meet up with the others. It was only once we were all together I realised what a good job Nadine had done in selecting the 12 – we were from a good mix of the regions and 3 of the 12 were female. There was already quite a crowd and with 12 of us in our orange overalls we soon started attracting attention.
We met up with our contact, Andy (who organises events for Top Gear) for a thorough briefing and then we were given the chance to walk the course and decide how we were going to man it. We didn’t have radios so we also worked out which flags we were going to use and that we would work the same way we would on a hill climb, with the flags repeating back down to the starter. There was to be two laps per car and the event would finish with a parade of all of the cars. Jenson Button would be piloting the two seater car with Naomi Campbell as the passenger, carrying the trophy for the British GP.
Once we had everything organised we were able to access the pit lane. We had permission to wander and get up close and personal with current and classic F1 cars. We were offered refreshments from the same service that was provided to the teams and drivers which was much appreciated. As the drivers started to appear they were happy to pose for photos with us and sign autographs as they were much more relaxed than they are on a race weekend. For me the highlight of the pit access was when Chase Carey, the new owner of F1, came over and thanked us for volunteering.
Walking out to our posts before the start of the event I heard someone in the crowd saying ”Look, there’s a female marshal”. There were loads of kids in the crowd and I am hopeful that by making this event so accessible lots of boys and girls will become motorsport fans and perhaps even marshals. The knowledge of those in the crowd was very impressive and I answered lots of questions on how to get involved with marshalling. One member of our group was really organised and had slips of paper printed with the club’s website address to hand out.
The event itself was simply amazing. I don’t think many who were there, including myself, have ever been that close to running F1 cars, whilst still being behind the safety barriers. Looking into the eyes of Vettel as he drifted his Ferrari car round Trafalgar Square is an experience that will stay with me forever. There was meant to be a no doughnuts rule but that quickly went out of the window as the drivers enjoyed themselves. The “Hoon of the Day” driver award went to Daniel Ricciardo for the most doughnuts.
Following the parade the drivers walked up the course to Trafalgar Square, all taking time to wave, sign autographs and take selfies with the crowd. It appears that the days of the drivers being inaccessible to the fans are disappearing under the new F1 ownership, especially with the promise of more events such as this day in London. I have to pay credit to Arrivabena, Ferrari’s team principal. He stayed out on the street with the fans for at least 15 minutes longer than anyone else, criss-crossing the road to make sure he saw and spoke with as many people in the crowd as possible.
Unfortunately the end of the event was slightly marred by a medical incident in the crowd but as usual, we all found ways to assist the medical teams with most of us helping to screen the scene and some asking the rest of the crowd to move back and away to allow access.
Five of us decided that we would end the day by going to the free concert by the Kaiser Chiefs which was part of the event. We stayed in our overalls and I have never had such a positive response from a crowd. We had many, many comments on British marshals being the best in the world and thanking us for giving our time to ensure there is racing at all levels in this country. Perhaps a little shamelessly, we took it as another opportunity to promote how easy it is to get involved with marshalling.
I will remember the day for the level of energy and excitement it generated, the buzz and the knowledge of the crowd and the appreciation of F1 making the effort to get closer to the fans. Hopefully it’ll all happen again next year…
Thank you BMMC for the opportunity to partake in a Grand “Top Secret” day out.