At Formula One’s inaugural Tuscan Grand Prix, Racing Point driver Lance Stroll slid off track and plowed into the retaining wall so hard that his car curved into a banana-like shape. While the driver was okay, the car began to smolder. A group of poorly prepared marshals had run out of tiny fire extinguishers and yelled back and forth while trying to navigate the burning machine off the track. It was a bad look for everyone involved: the track, the promoters, F1, and the FIA. And it’s a reminder that F1 needs its own group of traveling marshals and medics.
The traveling medical and marshaling crew isn’t a new concept in motorsport—the IndyCar series has done a great job developing its own safety crew. That crew, the AMR Safety Team, is composed of 30 personnel, at least 18 of which must attend each race. These are people trained in the art of attending to racing crashes of all levels of danger and severity. Say what you will about IndyCar, but its safety crew is one of the best in motorsport.
There are plenty of reasons why F1 hasn’t implemented this kind of system yet and why the IndyCar model is tough to implement. F1 is a global sport with many more events than IndyCar, so ensuring that each person on the crew is able to travel and work in these countries presents a bevy of logistical problems. In many cases, it’s easier to let the track sort out those problems.
But F1 needs its own marshals and medics. It’s a high-speed sport that requires specific kinds of knowledge, both about the cars themselves and the kinds of accidents that take place in high-caliber racing. These are people who should be trained in the art of extinguishing a hybrid fire and who know how to avoid an invisible neck injury.
This isn’t to disparage the volunteer marshals who show up to Grands Prix—but it seems strange that this is the one aspect of hosting a race the FIA will be slack about. Even just a handful of traveling marshals could better direct and instruct volunteers, creating a much smoother and safer operation across the board.
One CNN feature about F1's marshals noted that these volunteers are often people who show up for 13-hour shifts, sometimes after working a day job. They receive training, but there’s only so much that can be done in the days leading up to a GP. And, in many cases, these volunteers are compensated with nothing but a hat or a complimentary ticket for a friend.
Formula One needs its own full-time, traveling marshals. In a billion-dollar sport, it’s an easily justifiable expense.