x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

End of F1 race starts another to be ready for Brazil

Once the checkered flag falls, the race to breakdown garages and pack equipment for shipment to the next event begins.

End of one race. Start of another. The F1 is packing up for its next destination. The operation is a multi-day affair that requires lots of manpower and long hours.
End of one race. Start of another. The F1 is packing up for its next destination. The operation is a multi-day affair that requires lots of manpower and long hours.

From searching for a missing gearbox amid suitcases on an airport runway to freight falling off the side of supertankers, the logistical challenge of transporting the Formula One circus around the world is not plain sailing.

Before the chequered flag had even stopped waving, announcing Lewis Hamilton as the winner of the 2011 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the 12 F1 teams had begun the arduous task of packing up the paddock and directing its contents towards Brazil.

Yet such is the scale of the operation that five days later, the pack-down at Yas Marina Circuit continues apace. Because of the three-day Young Drivers Test that finished Thursday, the pack-down has had to be completed in stints.

This is known in the industry as "trickle packing".

"Having the test after the race means there is less pressure to get the equipment out on Sunday and Monday," said Geoff Simmonds, the race coordinator for Lotus-Renault. "That makes a pleasant change, but we still have to be structured because obviously we have to get as much away as possible without jeopardising the test in any way.

Catering, hospitality and sponsorship infrastructure was all dispatched immediately after Sunday's race, but the testing programme resulted in much of the equipment within the team garages remaining in the paddock.

The transportation of these contents, including the cars, is handled by Formula One Management (FOM), the company managed by Bernie Ecclestone.

"Teams bring a lot of gear with them that is for events going on around the race," Mark Hughes, the operations director at Yas, said. "So all the sponsors' equipment, promotional collateral, hospitality, all of that is gone pretty quickly - either on Sunday or Monday."

As Yas Marina uses its own medical vehicles during the testing programme, the two F1 safety cars were dispatched earlier in the week. FOM took them to the airport on Tuesday evening.

By 11pm Thursday, containers filled with exhausts and engines, nose cones and steering wheels were ready to be sent to Abu Dhabi International Airport, where they will be dispatched today by air to Sao Paulo ahead of the Brazilian Grand Prix, which takes place next weekend.

Shipments will continue to be sent by air for the next three days, said a staff-member at FOM, who asked to remain anonymous.

"We take care of the entire air operation and it is our responsibility to safely transport the cargo from Abu Dhabi to Brazil," he said. "But exactly how we do that, we would rather not say.

"It's a private issue."

On arrival in Brazil, the freight is taken by DHL to the circuit at Interlagos.

"The big pressure is to get all the equipment to Brazil," Simmonds said. "Brazil is a lot different from Abu Dhabi in that there is no space in the paddock. It's extremely tight and the garage space is small, which presents more problems and slows down the unpacking process as that end."

A large paddock is not the only reason operating at Yas Marina is made easier. With the airport only a 15-minute drive away, it cuts transportation time.

"It's great having the circuit so close to the airport - that helps us and the freight-handling people considerably. It's a far cry from Korea, where it takes six hours to get from the circuit to Seoul airport," Simmonds said.

As well as air freight being sent to South America, an Etihad flight packed with used equipment - hydraulics, car parts, suspensions - departed in the early hours of this morning bound for England. It will reach the team factories this afternoon, where it will be quickly serviced before being turned around and sent to Brazil. It will be in the paddock at Interlagos by Thursday.

At Force India, five identical 40-foot containers weighing roughly five tonnes spend the majority of their existence at sea, floating from race to race. One of them, filled with sponsors' material, ovens, fridges and other equipment, left the UAE by sea earlier this week.

The container, which arrived direct from Singapore, has been sent from Abu Dhabi's Mina Zayed dock to the UK, where it will arrive in six weeks' time. Here it will be unpacked, loaded onto a DHL lorry and transported to the team's headquarters in Northamptonshire, said Franco Massaro, the team's race co-ordinator.

Such is the never-ending operation that shortly after it arrives in England it will be sent off once more, bound for Shanghai ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix, scheduled for April 15, 2012. With so many kits constantly on the move, it would not be a surprise if the odd container goes missing.

While Massaro said he had never experienced any issues, Simmonds acknowledges it is not always trouble free.

"There is nothing worse than packing up in a wet paddock," said Simmonds, who added Renault usually operate with four sea freights, but have been forced to utilise a fifth this season due to the length and global footprint of the calendar.

"Some of the freight here is badly damaged because it rained in Singapore when we were packing up. Obviously, we don't have time to dry it before it goes in the boxes."

Once on the ship, however, the freight travels the cargo equivalent of business class. "We pay extra to have our containers stored under the ship's deck," he said. "It's a well-known fact that in rough seas containers can just fall off, and we obviously can't afford to take that risk."

The image of a Lotus-Renault fridge washing up on the shore of the Corniche would almost make it worthwhile and yet it would not be the first time a piece of equipment has been lost.

"It doesn't happen very often, because everything is meticulously accounted for," Simmonds said, adding that if modified parts or updates need to be transported to a race immediately, they travel with a passenger as excess luggage.

"We lost a gearbox in Madrid airport for four days. In the end we had to go out on to the flight path and find it among a load of suitcases."

While Formula One will be packed up and gone by Sunday, the officials at Yas will continue the clear up as they aim to return the circuit to its pre-race state within 10 days of the chequered flag. Some staff were still working at 4am on the evening of the race as they cleaned the media centre and awaited the last journalist to leave.

The following morning, on-site signage was being stripped down.

"By Wednesday you won't know the grand prix has even taken place," Hughes said. "That's the aim - then we shift focus to our next event."

That would be the Adnic (Abu Dhabi National Insurance Company) Yas Run, which takes place on November 26.

 

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae