Tuesday, September 30, 2008

F1 - The Aftermath

I'm on call my first day back from long leave, but feel completely drained due to the hectic weekend.

Am nursing a persistent headache now, but grateful that the queue has finally quietened down, following a sudden surge in ambulance arrivals and drunk patients. Even McDonald's was overwhelmed with orders till 3am ( something I've never encountered before, even during holiday weekends ), so I was practically starving till almost 5am when the food was finally delivered.
What gives eh?

So, read on if you'd like to know what happened on Sunday ( Saturday was pretty uneventful so I'll skip that ). My account is going to be nothing short of effusive, so if a certain someone intends to leave insulting remarks, then I intend to delete them. You've been warned.

The best way to describe my stint is: I really lucked out on this one.

Most of us joined the gig not knowing what to expect, and were assigned roles we never specifically requested. We were then randomized into various posts scattered throughout the circuit, and I can't believe what a good deal I received.

Among all the FIV teams, mine had the most prime positions at the best times. We had access to clean toilets at the track medical centre, while others had to make do with mobile units in the stands. Best of all, we were the closest FIV to the pit lane, where a lot of the action occurred ( like that fiasco involving Massa's pit crew ).

In the space of just 5 hours ( from 6 - 11pm ), the following happened:

1) I literally stumbled upon the entire line-up of F1 drivers strolling out to the pit entry via the medical centre carpark. I'd just emerged from the building after a quick toilet stop, and was wondering why there was a chunk of grid girls standing beside our vehicle. As I crossed over to the car, I realized Felipe Massa was heading in my direction, flanked by a few minders and seemingly oblivious to the mob of photographers surrounding him.
By the time I retrieved my camera from the glove compartment, I spotted Lewis Hamilton coming towards me. He had a huge smile on his face, and was by far the friendliest of the lot, waving to stunned onlookers and giving a thumbs-up to a nurse who called out his name.

Word spread like wildfire, and pretty soon every single medical staff in the area spilled onto the track as the drivers gave short interviews then got into vintage cars for a parade around the circuit. I captured Alonso, Rosberg, Coultard, Piquet, Nakajima and Hamilton on video as the cars pulled away. I was standing just a few metres from the whole procession!

They walked back to the paddock via the same route after the parade concluded, but sadly, I was in the med centre wolfing down some dinner so I missed it. However, those who weren't present during the initial walk-through got their chance to see the superstars, so that was a treat.

2) During the prize-giving ceremony, I sneaked to the pit lane to get a better look, but couldn't venture too far as our driver was pretty strict about the team staying close to the FIV. The atmosphere was exuberant, but the crowd surprisingly orderly. Everyone was packed tight but there was no shoving or stomping -- a fact I attribute to the large group of foreign delegates, who have impeccable manners.
Some of the Caucasian fellows wearing pit lane marshal uniforms even came up to me and asked me to go near the podium. "Come! Come closer!" they kept saying, waving their arms and flashing warm smiles. I was very pleasantly surprised by that nice gesture.

I did manage to get up close to the F1 cars parked at the pit entry. They're really works of art.

3) After the ceremony, the whole lot of us returned to the med centre to change and regroup for a debriefing. As others queued at the toilet, I sequestered myself in the small pantry, dabbing at my face with a wet towel, feeling the fatigue set in after the initial adrenaline rush.
Suddenly, I saw 3 young Caucasian men dressed in bright red pit crew uniforms standing in front of me, in the pantry. Before I could say anything, one of them asked, in a thick European accent ( which might be French / Italian ), "Are you a doctor?"
I wondered why they'd ask me this, since they'd just walked past a whole group of similarly dressed people in the room near the entrance, before encountering me. Plus, I'm one of the few females in an overwhelmingly male team.
"Errr, yes?" I replied, noticing how good-looking they all were -- tall, slender, young, blonde, with flawless complexions and fine features. Looks like they're from Ferrari, I remember thinking.
I received a reply in garbled English. It's so garbled I can't even reproduce it, but I got the gist of what he was trying to say, and when I asked if he wanted to see a doctor, he nodded. I went looking for one of the med centre staff to find a consultation area, then ushered the guys over. I thought they'd followed me, but turns out they'd elected to wait outside the pantry, never once complaining despite the crowds of people brushing past at frequent intervals.
They hurried to me when I waved, then another doctor took over from there. I suppose I could've offered to do the consult, but my brain was pretty much fried at that point, so I decided to take a backseat on this one. Might have been different if one of the drivers had come in. :)

4) This last incident came as a complete shock. Mostly because I'd already experienced more than I could ever hope for, and was on my way out to catch the bus shuttle back to the hospital. An orthopaedic registrar, a fellow A&E colleague and I were allowed to go through the backlane of the paddock as most of the pit crews were packing up at this time and all the drivers ( we assumed ) had retired elsewhere.
The 3 of us looked out of place in our T-shirts and bermudas, especially since there were quite a few snappily dressed figures moving around the same area.
Out of nowhere, we heard a commotion behind us, and turned just in time to see Ferdinand Alonso striding in our direction! He was still in his racing suit ( or perhaps something which looks similar to it ), wearing a cap. I'm quite surprised we could even see him, considering the HUGE throngs of journalists and fans running after him. He came within 1-2 metres from me before the crowd caught up with him and he disappeared into the sea of frenzied activity. He wasn't smiling, but gamely signed anything that was shoved in his face. He then entered a building nearby with the sign "Renault", which I suppose is for him and his team.
The video footage I have is, unfortunately, of the back of his head. The ortho reg was very sweet to grab my bottle of water so I could hold my camera more easily. He looked extremely amused when I returned with a stupid grin on my face. I couldn't help it -- I just saw the race champion up close!

Aside from these unforgettable encounters, I'd also like to give kudos to all my fellow medical team colleagues, who hail from many different departments and institutions but established a strong camaraderie within this short period. Perhaps it's the result of shared suffering -- there were times when we grouched incessantly -- though we also enjoyed tonnes of racy jokes and swapped endless stories about personal encounters with F1 drivers ( one track post doctor practically rubbed shoulders with Kimi Raikkonen as he stood next to her while waiting to be picked up by his crew ).

The medical team leaders did a fabulous job keeping morales high and ensuring that we received sufficient training. F1 officials at race control were very impressed with our radio communication skills, and the FIA medical instructors ( 2 lovely Frenchmen with white hair ) bestowed female team members with kisses on both cheeks after the last medical inspection lap concluded.

It's absolutely true that we were all "taken out of our comfort zone", as one of our leaders aptly remarked. But I think I speak for everyone when I say that there're no regrets, and we'll gladly do it again next year if we're able to. Some of us may not be around for the next race ( I, for one, will be away on overseas attachment ), but others will learn about the amazing time we had, and I hope more will come forward as volunteers in 2009.

In closing, I'd like to relate my gratitude to my FIV driver, Ron, who taught me everything there is to know about F1 races. I also had a great time hanging out with 2 team members for 2 days each. I'd never met them before this, but we clicked well and I'm happy to have made a couple of new friends ( one male, one female ).
The guy is one of the nicest people I've ever worked with. I think he's rather cute actually, but have no idea whether he's single. Since I have no energy left for going out, maybe I'll set him up with a nice girlfriend of mine. Just say the word. :)

And if this spiel doesn't sell, bear in mind that future plans include training medical team members to drive the FIVs in subsequent races. This means you get to zoom around in those BMWs, and maybe transport stranded F1 drivers if you're lucky.
I'm interested in assuming this role, but have no idea whether females will be entrusted with the task. Plus, I don't think my mom would be too thrilled about it, since she hates it when I speed.

Haven't downloaded the photos yet, but will post them once available.

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