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Farewell Europe

September 9, 2012

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F1 bids farewell to Monza with another exciting Grand Prix, and with it the European leg of the annual tour.
The remaining seven long haul races are shoe-horned into an action packed 9 weeks which will take in many thousands of miles zig zagging across Asia first, before heading to North America and on to the season finale in South America’s Brasil.
The last race in Europe is actually the very last race of the season for some members of the F1 fraternity. Long haul, or ‘fly away’ races mean teams can no longer use their enormous fleets of trucks to transport everything from the race cars to motorhomes to each circuit. Of course I say motorhomes, if you’ve seen the Formula One paddock recently you’ll know that the term no longer really applies to the extravagant and luxurious feats of engineering in which the teams and their sponsors base themselves. The days of a converted bus, fitted out with tables, sofas and tv’s are long gone and the paddock’s now a place where the top teams compete for bragging rights of the fanciest palaces as much as they compete on track. Ron Dennis used to justify, probably accurately, the millions spent on the ‘Brand Centre’, by citing the hundreds of millions in sponsorship deals completed within it.
The upshot of all this is that the numerous staff working inside these constructions up and down the teams, along with truck drivers, assembly technicians and many support staff don’t travel to fly away GP’s and so their travelling season’s affectively over. The teams will often say a big thank you and goodbye on Sunday evening in Monza in the form of some sort of party or team event for these important members heading home.

With no more trucks everything now travels by air or sea for the remainder of the campaign. Race teams have to significantly change their approach and the logistical systems they use to get all of the essential tons of equipment to the other side of the world and beyond.
Only ‘essential’ kit’s taken, which is almost all of it, however most people substitute some items like garage chairs or tables for lightweight versions to reduce freight costs.
The race cars, which would normally be rolled into the back of the race transporter trucks fully built, have a very different method of travel from now on.
FOM transport each team’s cars in specially designed frames or open sided pallets and it’s up to the teams to package them as they see fit and deliver them to the airport at the designated time.
With the greatest respect, you can’t just hand over two gleaming, freshly built Formula One cars to freight handlers at Heathrow and expect to see them undamaged and still in tact on the other side of the world. With straps through the roll hoops, the cars get roughly forklifted around and loaded into the frames where they’re then stacked on top of each other and lifted into cargo planes for the journey.

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For both security as much as protection, each team devises its own tailored ‘travel kit’ for their own cars. The cars are built up to a certain rolling chassis level and then fitted with a very sturdy ‘bumper’ framework going all the way round the outside. No front or rear wings, nose cones, barge boards, antennae, dampers or even steering wheels. A dummy wheel is locked onto the steering column in order to steer the cars through a small hole in the heavy weight, substantial fitted cover which stretches over the entire frame and protects the whole thing from damage. Cockpit openings are sealed water tight and normally fitted with metal plates protecting everything inside, mirrors are removed and a set of old travel wheels and tyres complete the look.
Even with all of this, I’ve arrived at race tracks in the past and unpacked the car to find bits missing and bits damaged after it’s travels.
The tons of equipment normally housed inside the relative comfort of the state of the art trucks has to be transferred over the course of this week into special freight containers known as ‘track shacks’ or ‘igloos’ due to their unique shape. The containers are fitted with bespoke loading systems, often furnished with lighting and power and some double up as workshops or offices and are kept within the garages at the race track.

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The whole operation, as you can imagine, is incredibly sophisticated and efficient with teams even coming together to share sea freight containers, a way of transporting some consumables and equipment over longer time frames, but at greatly reduced cost. Most teams have a few sets of sea freight which set off to different venues often months in advance of the race itself. This means only equipment specific to certain destinations or equipment which won’t change with car development can go by this method, but with teams working together, its a great way to streamline the operation.

The other feature of this closing part of the season, and particularly significant for all of the guys and girls involved, is the sheer amount of time spent away from home and on the road with this travelling circus. Most people will not now get a weekend off until the weeks before Christmas and race teams need a strong bond to hold things together as patience wavers, emotions run high and everyone generally gets sick of living in each others pockets by December.
With the championship so open and finely poised, the team that pulls together, continues to develop and makes the fewest mistakes, will likely be victorious in 2012. For that team, the personal sacrifice each individual makes over the entire year will be forgotten and justified before they all have a couple of weeks off to open prezzies and eat cake and return to do it all again in January.

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From → Formula One

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