The sea and logistical issues are no problem as teams ensure cargo travels around the world without a hitch, reports Gary Meenaghan.
Formula One logistics: the smooth operators behind a moveable feast
The sea and logistical issues are no problem as teams ensure cargo travels around the world without a hitch, reports Gary Meenaghan
As the world witnessed this weekend during the Volvo Ocean Race, the sea can be unforgiving territory.
Yet for Formula One, a sport that requires transporting several tonnes of substantial, invaluable material every other week, shipping often proves the only efficient means of transfer.
The result is, despite the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix taking place on a Sunday in the middle of November, cargo containers carrying team essentials have been on route to the capital for the past 10 weeks.
Franco Massaro, the race team co-ordinator with Force India, is in charge of ensuring the necessary equipment arrives in the capital from the team's base in Silverstone, England, in time for the weekend's first day of activities on Thursday. He said a 40-foot container filled with cabling and panelling, and weighing around five tonnes was dispatched in late August. It arrived at Mina Zayed last week.
"We have been doing this for years, so it's a very smooth operation," said Massaro, adding that the team have five identical kits allowing several freights to be in transit at any one time.
"The catering side works in the same way: they sea freight equipment such as tables, chairs, ovens, fridges and so on."
Graham Watson, the team manager at Team Lotus, arrived in the capital last night. Today he will head to the Yas Marina Circuit, where he will find his sea freight cargo.
"DHL transport all the equipment from the docks to Yas," he said. "It's the same logistical crew as at any other race: five DHL truckies and four Team Lotus truckies."
With such large shipments constantly being dispatched, unpacked in new countries and reloaded, it would not be surprising if issues arise.
Yet Massaro said such is the experience of the transportation teams that issues are almost always restricted to delayed flights for air-freight.
"I've been doing it for nine years and never had any problems - never lost anything," he said.
"Sometimes you get the odd delayed flight, but for the sea freight most of the stuff, if it didn't turn up, we could source replacements locally. We could survive."
The equipment that is carried by plane is not quite so easy to replace.
Immediately following the Indian Grand Prix in Delhi last weekend, each of the 12 race teams dissembled their cars, garages and temporary motorhomes and packed them into cargo freights. The containers were then left in the paddock for collection by Formula One Management (FOM), the company overseen by Bernie Ecclestone.
"We pack up in India and leave the boxes placed in front of our garage," Massaro said. "When we arrive at Yas Marina the boxes will be there waiting for us."
Watson elaborated. "Everything that was flown to India was afterwards packed up and flown to Abu Dhabi," he said, adding that the cars travel together in one container and are fully built-up minus the front and rear wings.
"We fly nine pallets to each race with about 10 containers on each one. The combined weight of all the pallets and containers is around 27 tonnes. Then we have the shipped equipment, too, which we dispatch two months beforehand."
Richard Cregan, the chief executive at Yas, said freight started arriving as early as last Wednesday, with gear turning up at both Abu Dhabi International Airport and Al Ain International Airport.
"When the freight arrives, it's seamless," Cregan said. "It's all road freighted from the airport to the circuit and it's literally here within a few hours of getting off the aircraft.
"We get great support from the Municipality, the customs, the visa people, the airport staff and Etihad Airways. The service that FOM get here is, they say, second to none, but we hold project meetings every year and it just gets smoother and smoother."
Team Lotus have never experienced any issues with customs in the UAE. "It's always been good in Abu Dhabi," Watson said.
As expected, with the cargo arriving, the personnel are not far behind. Staff from Red Bull Racing, their sister team Toro Rosso, Mercedes-GP and McLaren-Mercedes all arrived in the UAE direct from Delhi. The Force India staff who construct the team garages arrived on Sunday, and have spent the past two days building the garages, Massaro said. Engineers, mechanics, management, press relations and marketing personnel will arrive tomorrow. Drivers will trickle in over the next two days. Heikki Kovalainen, the Team Lotus driver, and Esteban Gutierrez, Sauber's reserve, are already in the capital.
Cregan said not all the car equipment arriving by plane will be coming from India, however. With both the drivers' and constructors' championships decided, and Abu Dhabi hosting the season's penultimate race, the majority of the teams are now focusing on developing next year's car.
"Teams are starting to test bits and pieces for next season," Cregan said. "So there is a load of stuff coming from the UK, Italy and Germany."
Everything will be fully operational in the Yas paddock by the time the gates open to the media and guests on Thursday.
Yet by Sunday evening, even before the race has finished, the logistical operation will start all over again as the 27 tonnes of equipment is dissembled, packed up, left for FOM and bound for the season's final race in Brazil two weeks later.