F1 track intruder had ‘crazy look in his eyes’, says witness
Eyewitness recalls seeing F1 track invader reach inside his pockets
He first saw the man standing in a trackside restricted area meant for media photographers and noticed that there were no security personnel in that area at the time.
Then the man smiled, had a "crazy look in his eyes" and slowly walked to the cage photo area.
This cage-like structure, attached to the safety barriers, lets media photographers take photos through a small opening. Race marshals may also use it to access the track.
It worried Mr Damien Hepworth, a 34-year-old bank manager from Australia who was watching the Formula 1 Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix on Sept 20 with his wife.
He yelled out, but said no one was near enough to stop the man.
For a moment, Mr Hepworth and his wife said they feared for their lives as the man reached inside his pockets.
He told The New Paper: "I was worried because I thought he was getting a bomb or a weapon out of his pocket. At this point, my wife screamed.
"We then realised it was his mobile phone and he started taking photos. The first car he took a photo of was really close, we were worried he would take his life and jump in front of a car."
The man, British national Yogvitam Pravin Dhokia, 27, was yesterday jailed six weeks for his rash act.
Mr Hepworth said that race officials were on the other side of the safety barrier, shouting to Dhokia to get off the track, as race winner Sebastian Vettel and others whizzed by him at speeds of up to 270kmh on the 36th lap of the 61-lap race.
"He slowly walked to the other side of the track and got through the other press photographers' section," said Mr Hepworth.
"He had a weird look in his eyes. I am not sure if it was because he was drunk."
Ferrari driver Vettel, who led the race at the point of the intrusion at Turn 13 along Esplanade Drive, was the first to see Dhokia on the track and exclaimed on the team radio: "There is a man on the track! A man on the track!"
A safety car was deployed, following Dhokia's intrusion, which Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo said put paid to his hopes of winning the race.
Mr Hepworth said: "After this (the intrusion), track officials were walking along and I told them where and how he got onto the track. They then placed a policeman in front of the section."
The incident has not stopped Mr Hepworth from wanting to return to Singapore to catch the race again.
His trip to Singapore in September and the chance to catch the race was a birthday present from his wife.
He said: "This was our first time at the Singapore Grand Prix. We would love to come back for another race."
The first car he took a photo of was really close, we were worried he would take his life and jump in front of a car.
- Mr Damien Hepworth, 34, a bank manager from Australia
SOME POINTS LEFT OPEN TO ASSIST DRIVERS, OFFICIALS
Safety egress points (EPs) are intentionally left open and unlocked to provide access in and out of the track in the event of an incident.
"This allows a driver to quickly escape from the track following a crash or mechanical failure, or for a marshal to access the track to retrieve debris or vehicles," race organisers Singapore GP said in a statement in September following the incident on Sept 20.
There were about 174 trackside access points at the Marina Bay Street Circuit, "all protected with a layer of secondary barrier for crowd control''.
"Approximately half of the EPs located within Marshal Zones around the circuit are manned by race officials," the statement added.
"The remainder would have security personnel patrolling the areas and/or crowd control fences as an additional barrier, as has been the practice over the past seven years, as well as in other circuits.
"In addition to the marshals in this vicinity, roving security officers were also deployed at this section of the track."
The Singapore race organisers have also set up an internal task force to review their security plan for track access.
He wanted to film fast cars in slow motion
Rash, selfish and foolhardy.
That was how the court yesterday described the man who had wandered onto the track during the Formula 1 Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix in September.
And all because he wanted to film the cars up close in slow motion.
On the final day of the Race Weekend on Sept 20, Yogvitam Pravin Dhokia, 27, had climbed over a barrier, walked into the escape cage and climbed out of an outlet onto the track.
Just so he could be near the racing cars and film them as they drove past him, he told authorities.
But in doing so, he endangered the lives of the drivers, who were travelling at speeds of up to 270kmh.
His intrusion also disrupted the race as the safety car was activated - the race had to be slowed down and no overtaking was allowed.
Yesterday, Dhokia was jailed six weeks for his rash act.
The court heard that Dhokia, a British national, had flown in to Singapore for this year's Grand Prix and was present for the final race on Sept 20.
The Grand Prix consists of 61 laps around the Marina Bay Circuit, which uses public roads that are specially closed and then refurbished just for the race.
At about 9pm that day, as the race was into its 36th lap, Dhokia breached the perimeter fence to get to the race track on Esplanade Drive - a relatively long and straight section for race cars to speed up for overtaking.
The race was in full swing when Dhokia crawled out of the escape cage and began to cross the track.
As he reached the middle of the track, he noticed that the race cars were fast approaching him and jogged across the road - just as the cars sped past him at speeds of about 270kmh.
He then recorded a video of the car from the Manor Marussia F1 team speeding past him using the slow motion recording function on his iPhone.
One of the drivers, Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel, noticed Dhokia on the track and immediately shouted over the radio: "There's a man on the track!"
The race cars that were nearby had to drive closer to the right side of the barrier in order to keep a distance between the track intruder and themselves.
By this time, race marshals had also noticed Dhokia. They shouted and whistled at Dhokia but he continued to walk down the track against the flow of traffic.
Dhokia eventually exited the track via another escape cage on the left side of the track.
Two marshals then pulled him to safety and instructed him to sit on a bench, before he was arrested by police officers.
Yesterday, Dhokia pleaded guilty to one count of committing a rash act that endangered the safety of the race drivers, with one other charge of criminal trespass taken into consideration for sentencing.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Marshall Lim said Dhokia's actions put the drivers at risk because the roads were expected to be cleared of pedestrians for them to drive at high speeds and overtake aggressively.
While Dhokia's actions did not cause any accidents, his actions had a significant impact on the race, he added.
DPP Lim said Infinti Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo had stated that his plan to overtake Vettel, who was the eventual winner, was hampered due to the activation of the safety car.
Defence lawyer Shashi Nathan said in mitigation that Dhokia regretted his actions.
He added that Dhokia had taken anti-malaria and other medication at that time - a point that was also earlier highlighted by the prosecution.
District Judge Chay Yuen Fatt said in sentencing that it was not a case where Dhokia had somehow wandered onto the race track.
The judge also noted that Dhokia had continued to walk on the track even as marshals were calling out to him, adding that it was not a lapse in judgment by the accused.
As a result, he posed a tremendous risk to the race drivers who were going at extraordinary speeds and required high levels of concentration under such intense racing conditions, the judge added.
Judge Chay also backdated the sentence to Oct 16.
After sentencing, Judge Chay ordered that the video taken by Dhokia be deleted before the mobile phone was returned to him.
Dhokia could have been jailed up to six months and fined up to $2,500.
- RONALD LOH
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