Poulomi (left) and Soumi Sarkar in Calcutta. Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya
Sisters Soumi and Poulomi Sarkar have found the best seats in the house to indulge their love of Formula 1: the pit.
“Maintaining eye contact with (Fernando) Alonso was part of my job,” says Soumi of her first stint as a grid marshal at the Buddh International Circuit in Greater Noida last year.
It’s an experience the Tifosi (a Ferrari fan) will be reliving at the 2013 Indian Grand Prix this weekend along with younger sibling Poulomi, who was a pit marshal at the 2012 event.
The Sarkar sisters have F1 adrenaline racing in their veins, thanks to their father Sushobhon, a founder member of Calcutta-based Just Sportz Management Pvt Ltd.
“We have been attending and organising time-distance-speed (TSD) rallies since childhood,” says IT professional Poulomi. “Oh! I have been watching F1 races since Class III,” chirps Soumi, a professional photographer.
The siblings are no motor-sport ingenues. “As kids, we marvelled at the modified cars. F1 is a different ball game and the mechanics of the sport is mind-boggling,” Poloumi says.
Poulomi recounts how they graduated from slow-mo TSD rallies to F1. “We were at the inaugural Indian GP in 2011 as spectators. We badgered Tamal Ghoshal (a member of the pit and grid team then) to tell us how to apply for F1 marshals. Then we registered online at the Indian Marshals’ Club and soon we were called for training. In 2012, we were made pit and grid marshals.”
Soumi, the marshal stationed near the pit wall, had to primarily “maintain eye contact with Alonso”. “If Alonso faced a problem, like his car not starting after the crew left the grid at the start of the race, I was his contact person. My duty was to wave the flag to alert race control.”
Poulomi at the pit exit kept a log of all the cars that vroomed their way out after refuelling or tyre change. “You have to be on your feet from 7am to 6pm. You are expected to be on your toes all the time.”
They also had to deal with the fans because those at the hospitality box above the pit lane leaned over the railings. Worse, they spilt cola and beer on to the pit lane. Sometimes, plastic cup missiles too.
The “pitfalls” — the irritations in grid girl language — were forgotten when they brushed past Vettel, watched Michael Schumacher cycle down the circuit, eyed on the sly Alonso change his shirt and grabbed an autograph from Felipe Massa near the paddock.
Scrubbing off rubber dust from the skin is just a small price to pay after breathing and living F1 for three days.
A contingent of marshals from Calcutta has joined the sisters at the Buddh circuit this year. Veteran Ghoshal, who headed marshals’ team last year, is there along with Soumyajit Dutta and three rookies — Indraneil Mallik, Arup Kumar Dey and Sanjay Maheshwari. Kaushik Ray, another F1 veteran, will drive a fire safety car.
Raj Kapoor, a Calcuttan based in Delhi, is the chief of fire and rescue. He leads a team of 140 marshals, trained to react within “sub-seconds”.