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First Timers: Marshalling

Wednesday 12 January 2022

Despite spending 20 years in the sport, both trackside as an engineer and as an amateur driver in numerous categories, there was still plenty to learn about marshalling. As part of his 2021 motorsport challenge, Mercedes F1 Motorsport Strategy Director James Vowles visited the home of British Motor Racing to observe and work with the Silverstone race marshals during the summer break.

James is our third ‘rookie’ of the week who also featured alongside Mel Morgan and Emma Cooper in the December edition of Revolution. Read his story about experiencing motorsport from a different perspective.

James Vowles 

As an engineer and a driver, you rarely stop and think about the hard work and dedication going on all around you at the track to make things possible. That’s why I was keen to spend a day with marshals – to understand what they go through and see racing from a different perspective. 

I turned up for a briefing at seven o’clock in the morning, and the first thing that became apparent was the mix of people, with experienced marshals alongside first timers. It was a really friendly group, and I was welcomed straight away. 

The marshal post associated with me was Woodcote, and I was placed with a very experienced senior chief marshal. He was incredibly welcoming, and with a shared passion for motorsport, we were never short of conversation. My first thought was that I would be unlikely to experience much in the way of track action requiring marshals because that corner is an easy right-hander. 

It turns out it is totally unpredictable. There could be nothing at all in one race, and you use a few flags; the next, you’re just rushed off your feet. At one point, we had to go out onto the track to clear up an oil trail, and then later, in a fairly junior race, a car ended up on its roof! 

I have had more than 20 years of motorsport and been in many meetings defining the rules, but I think the value in the day was learning how four or five people pulled together and came to respond on that particular sequence of corners. The teamwork is, I would argue, no different to a racing team – just a group of professional people coming together for one purpose. 

Also, as a driver, the experience gives you an understanding that if you are irresponsible on track, you can impact many other people’s lives, and you are reliant on many other people to help you in those circumstances. It resets you a little bit. 

Everyone was friendly and welcoming – even one individual who was reputed to be a little bit difficult was the opposite; he was fantastic! Everyone had comments about decisions that were made, but it was done in a friendly and constructive way. They just want you to form a part of what they consider their family. 

If you want to try it, the first thing I would say is do not delay. Any apprehension you have will be evaporated the second you turn up at the track. Whatever you think it will be, I suspect it will end up being better than that. It really is an environment that welcomes you in, and motorsport sucks you in as well. So, if you like it, it will be very difficult to leave in all truthfulness. 

If you’re feeling inspired by James’ marshalling experience and want to find out how you can become a registered marshal with Motorsport UK, click here.