How does the Formula 1 circus move its equipment around the world between races?
This all depends on the type of race. In Europe we use trucks to transport all our equipment, spares and, of course, the cars themselves. On top of this we have to transport and erect the ever-more gargantuan hospitality units that are now a familiar feature of the F1 paddock.
At race venues such as Australia, the Far East and the Americas, it is not possible to transport everything by truck, and we term these races as ‘flyaways’ owing to the fact that the majority of the equipment has to be flown on specially chartered cargo aircraft. Of the 100,000 or so miles of travel that the freight does these days, over 85,000 miles is done by air.
Presumably it is much more difficult to transport everything to flyaway races?
Not so much these days. There was a time when most races were in Europe and the flyaway races were the exception, but in recent years we have increased the proportion of overseas races and consequently become much more adept at handling the challenges they present.
All teams now are fully equipped to handle airfreight and have ‘palletisation bays’ at the factory that allow the freight to be loaded onto aircraft pallets, and approved containers that are specifically shaped to fit a 747 cargo hold. These areas are also ‘bonded’ to conform to air cargo security regulations. In all, around 120 containers are carefully packed, Each one has a detailed inventory so items can be located quickly. Since all the teams carry similar amounts, five Boeing 747-400F freight aircraft are chartered for each leg of the journey.
The larger containers are generally arranged such that they don’t just become empty shells when they arrive at the circuit and are unloaded. Instead, they are fully fitted with electrical power and computer network circuits, and transform into mobile ofces that sit within the garage. Of course, in Formula 1 we have an irreverent name for everything, and these highly specialised constructions are generally known as ‘track shacks’.
As the complexity of the cars and the sheer professionalism of the operation has increased, so too has the amount of freight that needs to be carried. Since air freight is becoming increasingly expensive, more and more of it is being sent by sea. For this part of the operation, standard containers are used and they will be filled with any parts that are low in value but high in weight or volume. That includes everything from chairs and tables for the hospitality suite to boxes of paper roll and even electrical generators.
When does freight have to leave the factory?
The air freight will generally leave on the Friday, just one week before first practice. The teams are responsible for transporting everything to the airport for departure, but once unloaded there it becomes the responsibility of F1’s logistics partners, DHL, to get it to the point of being offloaded in the teams’ garages at the overseas circuit.
The journey of the sea freight is even more complicated, owing to the more sedate speed of travel. The loading of sea freight for the race in Melbourne is one of the first jobs the logistics team tackle on their return from Christmas.
How much freight is there to transport?
In simple terms, the answer is between 30 and 40 tonnes, but some teams have hit nearly 50 tonnes including engine supplies. However, airlines charge not just by normal weight but also by what is termed ‘volumetric weight’. You can imagine that a large box carrying maybe a couple of chassis and a few floors would not weigh very much, but would be occupying a large area of the cargo hold. Airlines recognise this and calculate that 6,000 cubic centimetres of box volume is charged as one kilogram irrespective of the fact that it may weigh less. If it weighs more, then they will charge on true weight.
We’re all used to huge charges for excess baggage when we go on holiday. How much does F1 freight cost?
We are not immune from excess baggage charges for the last-minute parts that we send out with the mechanics but, for our scheduled freight, typically we will spend just under £3.5million over the course of the year. This would be even more expensive were it not for the fact that FOM subsidise a certain weight for each team. Sea freight is much cheaper and a container with around five tonnes in it will cost around £6,000 to ship – although it involves a capital outlay of around £150,000 per set of equipment, and these days five sets are needed to keep up with our expanding itineraries.
Returning to European travel, how many trucks are there in a typical F1 fleet?
Five articulated trucks are sufficient to carry the cars and all the pit equipment, although one of these is a dedicated office for the engineers. The motorhomes, however, are a different matter. The days when these could be serviced by three trucks are long gone. Now, for the bigger constructions, as many as 20 trucks are needed.
How many people travel with the team?
We are limited to just 60 staff who are directly involved in the running of the car. On top of this, we bring our marketing and PR team, as well as those who cater for and look after the wellbeing of the team. It’s close to 80 people in all.
F1 teams transport 30-40 tons of freight per race, by air, sea and road, at a total cost of around £3.5million per year