Over breakfast beers we chat and watch the sun rise, and it emerges that these guys are firefighters from the UK. They arrived late last night and are some of the 350+ British volunteers from Silverstone to assist with the Marshalling and trackside safety. Etihad airways has provided the flights for these volunteers, as they are more experienced in the running of F1 than the local crew. More on that, and them, later.
Following a couple of beers, my new friends and I head to the mess for breakfast. Breakfast is a congealed mass of grey eggs, questionable fruit, Hot dogs and unidentifiable animal parts. It will be my only breakfast in the Camp mess. At a quarter to seven, most of the team I'll be working with arrives, and the first problem of the day presents itself.
Access to any area of a F1 race is strictly controlled, and Abu Dhabi is no exception. Sadly, the Abu Dhabi police force don't seem to be up to the task, and have created endless obstacles for the race organizers. For me to get the first of four (yes! four!) passes allowing me access to to various localities I needed to submit the following:
- A Three page questionnaire covering everything from where I was born, to who my immediate family members are.
- A copy of my Passport, and any relevant residency visas.
- My Omani Driving license, International driving licence and american driving licence.
- My Omani Iqamma.
- Ten million passport photos on a white background.
Late last night(58 hours before the racing starts), the Abu Dhabi Police rang up everyone and said that EVERY SINGLE PASS needs to be taken back from the marshalls and event staff, and delivered to the police station to be cross checked with records and have a shiny round sticker stuck to it. 58 hours before the racing starts. The Colonel in charge of F1 security has made it clear that anyone found to be lacking a shiny little sticker on their badge will find themselves in a not too shiny jail so fast it will make thier head spin.
Most of the 800+ passes under our control have been distributed already, so for the morning, our unhappy task is to try and get as many passes back from people as we can. By noon, we have 400 passes in hand, and some poor bastard has been sent off to get started on the stickers at the police station.
Off to the track, where I get to meet the guys I'll be working for for the next 5 days. The guys seem nice, and refreshingly unpretentious, but we can't do a system and regulations walk through as planned. This is because our office has been taken over by 17 Pakistani guys who are frosting the glass.
Which brings me to something that impressed me throughout the entire event: In Abu Dhabi, it is so easy to get someone with a brain and skills to show up and do their job. In my day to day life in Muscat, that Never, ever, ever, ever happens. It seems almost everything is a epic struggle that leaves me nearly suicidal, and usually drunk, angry or in a police station.
In Abu Dhabi however, getting a company to do the thing you need them to do takes one step: pick up a phone and ask. Yesterday, my office was a gigantic, clear, fishbowl. In two hours, my office will be a gigantic, opaque fishbowl, with window frosting seamlessly applied by the expert hands of guys how know how to FROST FUCKING WINDOWS. Every request or emergency thing I needed throughout the race was dealt with by a honest, knowledgeable, polite person, who arrived at the appointed time with the things he or she needed to fix the problem at hand. How Novel.
I spend the rest of the day wandering around jaw agape, checking out the facilities, sorting out administrative odds and ends, and meeting some of the other people who have come out to run the event. Most are lovely, your standard motorsport weirdos, witty, strange, all with great stories to tell and easy to talk to about everything from the mundane to the transcendental. Really great people.
But there are like 15 or 20 other people, all British, who are really weird. Bossy, arrogant, condescending, dinosaurs, who to top it off, are really funny looking. All of them! There are three guys, who I think were born some time in the mid Jurassic, who look and act almost exactly like the old guys in the balcony from the Muppet Show. Despite showering them with talent, charm and kindness, I have yet to receive a kind word or so much as a smile from any of them. They are part of an experienced contingent from the UK who are here to "help" us run the race. They are also annoying as hell.
Now that I"m typing this, the British people need a post all their own, which I'll write up as the next post.
We finish up in the office around 9 pm, and head back to the labor camp, where the staff welfare comittee has hooked up a sound system and has an excellent selection of music playing. The carport has been strung with fairy lights and disco balls, and the catering company has laid on a fantastic feast of Fresh Shwarma, falafel, salads and gooey desserts. I load up a plate, head over to a table packed with old friends, someone hands me a gin and tonic, and all is right with the world.
An hour and three gins later, the first of the buses with the remaining 300 or so British marshals and the balance of the Medics shows up. And things get interesting.
Formula 1, Day 2 part 2 coming later in the week.