F1: Keeping Logistics On Track

Screaming engines, wheel to wheel action, danger at every turn… there’s nothing quite like the spectacle and excitement of F1… But that glamourous sheen hides a lot of hard work, detailed planning and occasional logistical nightmares that enable the F1 Circus to operate around the globe.

Location, Location, Location

With most teams located in Europe and many in the UK, moving people, cars, spares parts, tools, IT infrastructure, Catering and in a lot of cases, huge mobile Pavilions around the world creates challenges that are unique in sport.

The FIA F1 schedule of races means that sometimes races are close together in time frame, but geographically diverse and this means that planning takes place far in advance of the races themselves. Many teams utilise sets of identical equipment and use different methods of transport for different locations. For instance, races in Europe mean that road transport is the preferred method due to cost and ease of use with fleets of trucks moving huge amounts of equipment and parts across Europe.

As an example, McLaren use 7 trucks, in various configurations, to transport well over 30 tons of equipment, cars, engines, tyres (well over 100) to and from races on journeys that can last up to 36 hours. For the more far flung destinations, non-critical items (tools, some garage equipment etc.) are sent well ahead of time and usually by sea where timing isn’t so critical.

These items can then be either sent back to team HQs after a race or moved on directly to another location in the case of back to back races. In some cases, identical kits would have already been transported to subsequent races ahead of time to make thing easier.

Critical items (cars, engines, aero packages, IT equipment) are normally flown to the “fly away” races under a contract with the F1 management company and a major logistics carrier. These are the items that can’t be replaced easily in case of delay and that need to be carefully looked after at all stages of transport. You don’t want to be in a position where your cars are floating through the Suez Canal when they are supposed to be on the start line at the race in Abu Dhabi.

Home from Home

One major element of a team’s presence at a race are the mobile pavilions that many use as their race HQs. These are used for a variety of purposes including marketing, hospitality, press events and core office space.

These normally arrive a week before the race as they take a significant amount of set up time. for the larger pavilions, the teams will have to transport their own set up equipment including fork lifts, hoists and generators, along with all the other elements of the pavilion that need to be put together or installed. This includes, furniture, IT equipment, catering, basically everything the teams and drivers need to function not only technically as a race team, but commercially, as a business that wants to attract and retain sponsors.

These are normally moved directly from race to race rather than being shipped back home in between events.

The Nuts and Bolts

After the pavilion’s crew, the next group to arrive will be the garage builders – and as the name suggests they create a fully functioning garage to house the cars, diagnostics, tools and spares that the team will need for the event. Depending on the location, this team can arrive up to a week before the event and leave a day or two after.

The cars, engineers and their paraphernalia generally arrive on the Wednesday before the race and the garages start to look more like you see on TV. The cars are reassembled after being stripped down for shipping, engines are installed, new aero packages are attached prior to testing the following day and the business of racing begins.

The engineers and mechanics for their part, will have been booked into hotels many months beforehand and will pretty much only see the hotel, track and road between them for the whole time they are there.

Whilst it may seem glamourous, the role will involve being away from home for a large portion of the year, being on your feet for 20 hours day and only seeing your family for brief periods during the season; so it’s no surprise that many tend to move into roles allowing more family time after a few seasons.

After the Chequered flag

Once everything has arrived, the logistics team have done their part and those involved can take a small break… Apart from allowing time for double checking to make sure that everything is ready for either the return journey or onto the next race in case of back to back races.

Once the race is over and the winners are able to celebrate into the early hours, the tear down begins right away for the logistics experts. The cars are stripped down on Sunday, crucial equipment packed away, garages dismantled and most of the team are on their way by Monday.

If all of this seems incredibly complex and difficult… That’s because it is. This is, however, something that the teams have been doing for years and they have mastered this process to a fine art. So, next time you see a driver being interviewed in that lovely shiny pavilion or see the cars tearing round Melbourne or Baku, spare a thought for the logistical experts who had to pack them, get them there and, build them.

Written by Julian Maynard – Recruitment Consultant, Shipping and Logistics at Alchemy Global Talent Solutions.