So, I decided to register on the official website and join the F1 bandwagon not knowing that I was probably going to have one of the best weeks of my life. A seven-day holiday during peak business season may never have been justified to an employer, but I did have an ulterior motive which was to keenly observe the event as a marketer and an event manager.
The First Phase
After training in July and September, which included a trip to the track with our trainers and officials from the Bahrain Motor Federation, my role had become clear. I was to be a Chief Post Marshal or an Intervention Officer for the weekend. I eventually became the Intervention Officer.
The key job of the Intervention Officer is to communicate with race control and report incidents on track. Once an incident takes place, the Incident Officer orchestrates a recovery in a matter of seconds which includes removal of debris from a track and securing the driver. The Intervention Officer is assisted by marshals, a fire team, a crane and a medical team. Training is crucial because judgments can actually save the life of an injured driver.
The Week of the Grand Prix
On the afternoon of Oct. 23, Sunday, a briefing for all Chief Posts and Intervention Officers, a refresher course on the do's and don'ts of rescue, intervention and flagging was held. Along with over a 1,000 volunteers, we moved into a very average accommodation in Greater Noida, about 15 kms away from the track. Volunteers for the event comprised of engineering students, corporate big wigs, and businessmen, as well as rally and racing drivers, current and veterans alike. Roles taken on by the volunteers were that of fire marshals, medical officers, recovery truck drivers or part of the welfare and logistics team, ensuring that marshals receive food, water and equipment on time. A mini army created overnight.
Monday morning was an early start at 5 AM and we headed off to the track in buses. Our training began with a quick refresher course on various elements from hand signals to incident reports, but what was most interesting was the use of KERS gloves to ensure that one is still alive after touching a car. A 10 km track walk was in store under the October sun, an exhausting thought, but once we were on the track, the adrenalin took over and distances were forgotten. The day ended early with another session of training back at camp and a chance to watch the movie, "Senna".
Tuesday was an interesting day. The track had begun to look festive, with Airtel and Pirelli branding going up, teams starting to unpack, and spanking new SLS AMGs driving around the track. We did radio and training simulations, and a shakedown event to familiarise people with the track.
Ten days prior to us moving in, Red Bull had done an event. We were deployed on track as marshals. I noticed dog chasers wearing safety jackets with ‘Dog Chargers' written on them and thought to myself, why would dogs come on track, I'm sure this would be handled.
Friday morning, we were given our first red flag instruction by the race control due to canine intervention! The morning was eventful with cars running off at my post. We seemed to be on with race control all through the practice, including an intervention that we were commended for completing in less than 40 seconds. Our supervisors and trainers from the Bahrain Motor Federation had taken tight control of supervision. I'm glad that we had such amazing trainers who guided us to run a successful race. The BMF team were a crazy lot and they would start singing and dancing every time they were together, this energy of theirs was contagious and soon it filtered down to all of us.
Saturday morning was the moment of truth, as practice rounds were in a few hours. All fatigue had been forgotten, the entire contingent moved onto the track like an army. We were ready to take on the world.
A walk in the pits on Friday and Saturday got me a picture with my idol Bernie Ecclestone, President and CEO of Formula One Management. For the first time in my life, I was actually dumbfounded. I gathered the courage to mutter, "Thank you for making my dream come true". He reached out and hugged me, and said "Thank you for having us here!"
Sunday - Race Day!
The energy was awesome, the drivers parade, two support races, a morning qualifying round, the Ferraris getting loud cheers, the roar of the engines was way louder than most had imagined them to be. Every marshal wishes that he gets an intervention, and I had my moment. A deep breath, a quick run through of all what we had trained for and finally race control on the other end of my headset saying, "Good job 16.1..."
Finally, the race had ended with a very predictable outcome. The sprint to the podium was amazing as all of us had this sudden burst of energy and the party began on the starting grid. A quick change and a race to the Heritage Club got us there in time for the marshal's party. About 1,000 marshals came together and partied the night through.
David Guetta, Lady Gaga and Boy George all performed live for us and we didn't have to book a table, the tent house ensured we all had a table.
Marketing Lessons from the Pit
Lesson - 1
When the branding on the track had begun, two foreigners were seen putting up sunpack material on trusses created for branding and vinyl stickers being pasted directly on walls. Ironically, this was done only in front of camera points. This would have given an Indian brand manager a near death experience because we like to paste every inch of space with logos in lieu of a raise at the end of the year. This branding rule of only putting branding in front of camera points seemed unbroken and fantastic.
Lesson - 2
What really caught my eye was the attention to detail that makes this an expensive sport. The branding on T-shirts, paddocks and signage, the accreditation is flawless and of brilliant quality. While the TV gets ‘minimalistic branding' to the spectator, the branding and detail completes the festive look of the event. In India, we would spend huge amounts of money on the build up of the event and then keep a measly Rs. 150 aside for a screen printed round neck T-shirt. I do hope we change by learning from the world's greatest and glamorous sporting event. It's not about spending more money but allocating your budget wisely.
Lesson - 3
A poster of the movie Ra.One, with actor Shah Rukh Khan's picture, was on a Force India car. There are reasons why people put logos. Honestly, who of the five million viewers would have actually seen Shahrukh's face on the 46th lap at 312 kms per hour? If that was the case, then Amul would have used its new advertisement on the rear wing instead of just a logo and Bajaj Allianz would have painted a policy on the floor of one of the turns including all terms and conditions of the policy for people to see.
The F1 is the best event in the world. If all of us marketers were to actually imbibe and implement something from this, we may see better results for our brands. Finally, like all marshals, it's time to hang up the overalls. This is Arjun Chopra, Intervention Officer from Intervention Post 16.1, signing off until 2012.
Right Stuff Events Pvt. Ltd., Right Stuff Real Estate Pvt. Ltd. and Launch Control Motorsports Management Pvt. Ltd.