I love my FIV.
And I love my standby point.
I have an epic view of the first two corners…and the starting grid…and the finish line. There are people over there that have paid a fucking fortune to have a view like this.
Also? My FIV has air conditioning. Sweet, sweet air conditioning. The novelty of the UAE’s heat wore off in the desert in March. It’s very nice, for a time. But out here the concrete and polished surfaces reflect everything, heat, light and sound back at you.
Being out on the tarmac is an intense sensory overload. A hot, bright, noisy sensory overload. Inside the FIV are comfy seats, upholstery, Wi-Fi and did I mention the air conditioning?
I’m telling you, dude, that A/C got me through the week. The corner doctor (that is, the doc who guards the corner that we’re parked on, in case anything happens RIGHT HERE) is Zaki.
He plods about in his wellies and overalls, sweating profusely while cars are on the track and then, whenever an event finishes and we have a half hour break while we wait for the next race, he leaps like a red overalled whippet into the back seat, whacks his shades and baseball cap off and bathes in the freezing cold air that pours from the vents in the roof.
Today’s main event are the Porsches and Chevys, souped up street cars driven by keen amateurs. Boy racers, I think, we could call them.
They bang and jostle each other like cows in a lunch queue as they come round our corner and the marshalls’ radio traffic is busy reporting contact between vehicles, cars spinning out and stalling.
The medics’ radio remains silent. Nothing for us to do.
During the qualifying round for the F2 (apparently differing from F1 because…of the number) one car spins out on our corner and comes to a stop across the track. The marshalls report it over the radio, but Race Control have already spotted it on their array of CCTV screens and deployed a safety car to control the rest of the pack and guide them past the stricken racer. It swings past, wide lights flashing red and amber from its rear and a line of racing cars follow obediently behind like hi-octane ducklings.
As they pass, two racers break from the prescribed route and pass on the wrong side of the car. The driver looks understandably nervous and looks left and right before boosting himself out of the cockpit and preparing to run to the safety of the nearby barriers when a final car comes around the bend and swerves at the last moment to avoid a cataclysmic collision.
I’ve spent days preparing myself for the injuries sustained by drivers whose vehicles have crashed, I’ve thought at length about head, neck and chest injuries in particular. I’ve even thought about the risks of flying debris, after Massa’s incident earlier in the year. Perhaps naively, I haven’t considered what happens if one of those speeding bad boys hits a person. I This is especially stupid, since it may well be myself or one of my colleagues who gets malkied.
I ask around later and the consensus comes back, a F1 or F2 car hitting you at speed is the fastest way on earth to develop a bilateral Below The Knee amputation.
With the driver safely on the sensible side of the crash barriers, the marshalls try and push the stalled car off the track to no effect and a voice comes over the radio “Mobilise snatch team, corner 1”.
I’ve heard about snatch teams in discussions, but haven’t really worked out what they’re for. The only other time I’ve heard the term is when talking to cops – a snatch team is a small core of officers whose job it is to penetrate rioting crowds and remove the main protagonists in an attempt to defuse the situation.
Turns out, out here? The snatch squad is the great big digger that’s been parked next to us for three days, its driver resting back in his seat in shorts and teeshirt, the brim of his cap pulled down over his eyes, snoozing in the heat. Suddenly this massive yellow behemoth snorts and grunts and with a speed that is, frankly, terrifying, barrels out onto the track, shoves its loading spikes through a rope the marshalls loop around the car and seconds later is rampaging back to safety, the car swinging wildly its jaws like a downed gazelle.
Oh. That’s what it’s for.
Watching the marshalls at work really opens my eyes to what they meant when they warned us that the track was “extremely hazardous”. At the time it had sounded pat, like a statement they make to everyone to scare them off getting themselves creamed, but watching the marshalls do something as simple as drag a broken car off the track while dodging the safety car and its howling entourage I start to envisage doing my job out there. It’s not like we can just loop a rope around the patient and get the JCB to pull them out. We’ll be out there for ages if we get called.
By the end of the day I’m standing watching Kings of Leon when I suddenly feel awful. My stomach cramps, I’m soaked in cold sweat and every joint aches like I have flu. I make my excuses and get Nina to drive me back to the OV (via an entertaining tour of Abu Dhabi’s new highway intersections).
On arriving home, I search for a medic to hand myself over to. I’m not going to bed sick without alerting someone else to the fact that I’m nae weil, to do so is just asking for trouble. I find another para who gives me a sachet of dioralyte and packs me off to my cabin. En route I bump into Christina who swings immediately into “Desert Mama” mode and fixes me with a great cocktail of sympathy (thankyou, I’m male, I’ll have lots that), brutal honesty (”Honey, you look like shit.”) and a big fat dose of sulphides, just in case I’ve picked up some little wiggling microbial fucker.
She even walks me back to my cabin and surveys the rehydration drinks I have laid out in front of me.
“You have to promise me you’ll drink at least a litre of water with those sulphides.”
“Ok, ok, I promise.”
“If you don’t? I’ll kick your ass.”
“Good boy. Go to sleep.”
It’s sort of like being looked after by a very professional search and rescue spaniel, endless smiles and fun until she hears the word, at which point she’s all business.
I was better in the morning, though.