There seems to be a booming interest in marshalling at the Formula 1 Indian Grand Prix despite a cloud over its future. The risky nature of the job is no deterrent for the 650 odd daredevils who will man the Buddh International Circuit (BIC) during the Oct 25-27 event, importantly all-Indians for the first time.
It has taken three races for the Indian marshals to get well versed with the ways of F1 and this time they will be performing the chores without overseas assistance.
There were 850 marshals at the BIC for the inaugural 2011 edition, 250 of them from Bahrain. The overall number has already been reduced by 200 as the 16th round of the season approaches. The last edition had 750, the Gulf nation sending only 100.
"We have come into F1 late but we are improving rapidly. Initially, the FIA (world governing body of motorsports) had advised us to take outside help for three years but they are now satisfied with the personnel we have in India. It is a huge confidence booster for us and it doesn't mean we are going to get complacent," Prabha Shankar, co-founder of Indian Motorsport Marshals Club (IMMC) and member of the FIA Commission, told IANS at BIC on the sidelines of the National Championships.
Shankar is using the domestic event as a shakedown ahead of the next month's big event.
He is also intrigued by the increasing number of Indians volunteering to be marshals, a decreasing trend worldwide.
"The risk factor is always there and you don't even get paid. That is why marshalling is not an attractive exercise anymore. I am a little puzzled to see so many wanting to be marshals and I am having a hard time picking the best of the lot," said Shankar.
He could only choose 650 out of the 7,000 who wanted to be part of the Indian Grand Prix this year. In 2012 there were 4,800 applicants and the year before 2,000.
"It is incredible to be part of a F1 weekend. It is great fun even though there is no money," Rohan Shankar, an automobile engineering graduate from Chennai's Sri Venkateshwara College, told IANS, adding that he loves the risk involved in the sport. He has been a marshal here since the inaugural Grand Prix.
Marshal fatalities have decreased as the sport has become safe, the running over of a recovery worker by a crane at the Canadian Grand Prix in June underscoring the element of risk.
Besides recovery of cars and clearing the debris on the track, marshals are required to waive different flags during the weekend. Their support is invaluable in case of fire and they are seen helping the FIA officials in the pits, on the grid besides scrutineering and logistics.
What lies ahead for the 'unsung heroes of F1' considering there is no race next year and 2015 seems far away?
"I really hope the race stays in India. It would be terrible not to come back as a marshal here again. Jaypee has made an amazing circuit and I am sure they would do all they can to retain F1," summed up Rohan.