Will Gray

Gray Matter: Making F1 move

Will Gray

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The one-week gap between last weekend's Japanese Grand Prix and this weekend's race in Korea is tight — so with increasing numbers of fly-away races how do teams stay on schedule?

Every time F1 moves on, an entire village of infrastructure must be packed up, transported and rebuilt at the next destination and it's not just team equipment that needs transporting - it's also the support cars, the entire television, timing and communications operations and the hospitality facilities.

From team press officer fax machines to racing drivers' helmets; VIPs' champagne chillers to fan merchandise stalls - everything must be meticulously logged, tracked and transported in an incredibly tight timescale. This is the 16th move this season, and by the end of the year the total distance travelled will be close to 140,000km — equivalent to three-and-a-half times around the world.

The increasing number of races on the calendar coupled with the shift from European-focused racing is increasing pressure on the logistics required to keep the sport moving. There are now 12 different fly-away races on the calendar compared to eight Europe-based races, so there has been a sway away from road travel to ship and air freight.

For the fly-away races, the equipment that will not change from race to race — such as fuel rigs, office and hospitality equipment and consumables - is sent by sea, months in advance of the race weekend. There are several identical sets of fixed equipment packed up and sent on different shipping consignments, moving between the different fly-away races throughout the year.

The air cargo — parts that change during the season and can not be part of the slow-moving shipping freight — must be packed nine days before each fly-away race to be sent from either London or Munich in a fleet of planes chartered by Formula One Management (FOM).

Teams have their own specially designed cargo crates to precisely fit all available space in the planes' holds and the cars get extra special treatment to protect them in transit. The engine and gearbox remain fitted but the front and rear wings are removed and replaced with ram bars, a frame of aluminium honeycomb is rigidly fixed around the chassis and the whole car is covered with a waterproof sheet.

With consecutive flyaway races like this weekend, there is not enough time to send components home to be serviced so teams must take more. In total, about 20,000 individual items are typically taken by air to each overseas race — but there is always something that needs sending last minute.

A late freight box will head over to Korea on Wednesday or Thursday with final deliveries but if that is missed either teams needing extra items will make do, send parts as hand luggage with team members or use a 24-hour DHL courier service, where an on-board courier accompanies the package and takes it by helicopter directly to the paddock.

At the other end, each destination airport must be ready for a quick turnaround. Ahead of their first race, for example, Delhi Airport had to spend nine months preparing a plan to manage the rapid movement of 600 tonnes of cargo on 40 pallets from seven aircraft.

The teams' support and set-up crew will have flown straight from Japan to begin unpacking the sea freight — a different consignment to that used in Japan - and then catch-up with the airfreight once it arrives.

Once at the track, it takes up to eight hours to fit out the pits and, with garage sizes varying between 120 and 180 square metres, there is no standard solution to fit it all in.

Once the race weekend gets going, the team works long days and late evenings and it is vital that the working environment is as familiar as possible. Equipment for the mechanics needs to be in the same position at every race, so in the heat of battle they know exactly where a specific part or tool can be found at a moment's notice.

So while the move between races is almost un-noticeable from the outside, the behind the scenes logistical challenges can sometimes be as nail-biting and fascintating as the racing itself.

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