Belgium GP – Stepping into the unknown
As the chequered flag dropped on the 2018 Belgium Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps and I worked my way up the track to where the bus would pick me up to take me back to the campsite, I felt myself holding back a number of emotions.
A Spanish flag and a thumbs up from my all time sporting hero, Fernando Alonso. [Sam Collinson]
An overwhelming amount of happiness was fighting back a feeling of sadness as I walked confused towards the group of friends that I had travelled to Belgium with. A hug from fellow marshal, Ashley Harwood, would give little consolation that I will never get to see my sporting hero, Fernando Alonso, complete a Formula One racing lap at Spa, as he would wave goodbye to F1 at the end of the season.
That seemed to be the worse bit, but looking back on what I was actually sad about was that this great experience was coming to a swift end. I had to go back to the campsite and start packing up to head home and leave the theatre of entertainment.
As views go, there aren’t many better.
I sat reflecting at the side of the track as the crowd rushed by and fellow marshals waited for the bus to soak up what an experience it had been. An experience that can only be told right if I take you back to the beginning of the journey which started on the previous Thursday at 2am, when myself, Richard and James McNeil met with Tom Stalker, Ashley Harwood and Spencer Fletcher, to form a two car convoy to Dover.
Normally at that time of a morning, you’re either tucked up in bed or tired beyond all function. I however, was on my way to catch the ferry bouncing along to every 80’s song that I could shuffle on my phone. With excitement and adrenalin kicked in I lasted all the way to the M25 before I crashed hard and hit the pillow. Thankfully I wasn’t driving so I could snooze all the way.
From there we caught the ferry and met up with another marshal, Phil Goodge, turning a two car convoy into a three. Phil had brought radios for us to communicate between each other when on the road. This provided the first bit of laughing and entertainment, as we spoke about everything and anything, from the lack of trains to the craziness of driving, all the way to Spa.
Sitting around the campsite at night with a BBQ going, we exchanged stories of previous marshalling trips and then as the weekend rolled on the stories became things that we had seen on post during the F1. If you don’t really enjoy the F1 the social side will always make up for it.
Team supreme, nationality didn’t matter and nor did language. The racing and laughs did.
As we sat around, we spoke about our teams that we had been allocated with, and how they were accommodating to our ways and tried to get us involved in everything. Each day we had a team photo with the crew and as each day passed we got more and more laid back as we grew comfortable with everyone’s company. Language wasn’t a barrier either as we all spoke the universal knowledge of motorsport which could often be described with facial expressions, usually by raising our eyebrows when a driver had been a little daft.
The weekend also threw up a nice little bit from Martin Brundle of Sky F1, as he was stood down at Eau Rouge to talk about the cars change of direction and mind-bending speed through Raidillon, we got chatting about how good the post was and how many times we had been to not only the Belgian Grand Prix but, other F1 races on the calendar.
He was surprised that this was our first time at Spa and that we’d landed so lucky with possibly the best view and the best piece of track on the F1 calendar. He even gave us a nice little mention during Free Practice as we’d given up our time to marshal there.
Spa really was one of the best experiences that I have ever had marshalling and I am certainly going to apply for it next year. I may not get as lucky with the post I did this year to be sat at Eau Rouge and be treated to the greatest spectacle on earth but, it is what you make of the weekend. Yes, I may have also been upset that Alonso got taken out at the first corner, but I got a thumbs up from him on the drivers’ parade for my Spanish flag.
Never just pick a group of people to go with. Always go with a great bunch of friends.
All that’s left to say is, it is true what they say. Time really does fly when you are having fun.
It goes even faster when you’ve got the greatest group of friends along for the ride with you and that’s exactly what they are, the greatest group of friends.