Out of the car, but still in driving seat

Ronan Morgan has seen plenty of track time in his racing career, but now he looks after the well-being of the men who will do battle in their Formula One chariots at the weekend.

DUBAI // Not many people in the world can brag that they hold a valid "super-licence", the certification required for Formula One drivers, but one of the few will be putting his to good use this weekend.

As clerk of the course, Ronan Morgan will be responsible for ensuring that the big race at Yas Marina Circuit is as safe as possible.

The 55-year-old Irishman has seen his share of chicanes as a competitive driver, and has had a passion for motorsport since he was seven years old.

As an amateur co-driver on Ireland's rally circuit, he worked during the week as a sales manager for Toyota early in his racing career.

After a run of success, he felt confident enough to give up the day job. "I've never looked back," he says. "Sport has been very good to me. I'm one of these lucky people who started off competing in a very amateur status in Ireland and progressed through the ranks."

From 1984 to 1988, Mr Morgan was co-driver with his boyhood hero, Billy Coleman, in the Rothmans Porsche rally team.

Then he teamed up with Mohammed ben Sulayem, and was co-driver for 10 of the Emirati driver's 14 Middle East Rally wins.

On the pair's last race together, in 2001, something went terribly wrong. "The car caught fire while it was racing. I got very bad burns on my face and you can see from my hands - they are a bit withered and get sore every now and again. If not for the rest of my gear, I would have been burnt alive."

Ronan stayed in the sport, though, running rally events in Europe before coming to the UAE in 2008. Now, as the sports project director of the UAE Automobile Touring Club (ATC), the sport's governing body in the country, he is running a race with a somewhat higher profile. Still with him is Mohammed ben Sulayem, now the president of the ATC.

"We've continued that partnership and like to think we progressed and made a good transition from competing to organising the sport in the UAE."

Ronan's job now is to make sure other drivers in the UAE can race in safe environments.

"We license everything from the very top right down to karting. We check for safety and send a steward to every meeting. Everything has to come through this office.

"The FIA would depend on us to organise all the sporting elements of the F1 Grand Prix and work in conjunction with them to actually put it on. We are like the FIA agents here - we do everything on their behalf."

When officials from the FIA, motorsport's international governing body, arrive today, Ronan will work alongside them to run the race, along with 650 ATC race marshals.

Among these are 54 technical scrutineers, who check that the cars comply with F1 rules, and 18 race officials. There are also 66 medics and 16 rescue specialists. Another team of 27 has the job of pulling any crashed cars off the track and out of the path of other drivers, and the remaining 469 will be track and flag marshals, dotted around the circuit.

Ronan will watch the race from the control room, sitting next to the FIA race director, Charlie Whiting, in front of a bank of 32 screens. "If there is an incident, he'd say he wants something cleared up, or get the recovery team there, and I'd carry out his instructions."

The marshals act on their own initiative and wave the yellow flag if they see danger.

"We'd tell them they are good to go if there was debris and we'd know from the CCTV if they were safe to cross the track. The marshals are the key communicators with the drivers."

For now, though, he can do little but wait; he compares the anticipation to preparing for the firing squad.

"There is massive tension, but that's what motorsport is all about. There's huge adrenalin before and during the race. When it's all over, it is a massive anticlimax."