How F1 Racing Teams Travel the World

How the 2012 Season Changed International Race Logistics

Pit crew changing tires on Formula 1 race car, elevated view.
Hans Neleman/Getty Images

While the first thing that comes to most fans' mind with Formula 1's grueling travel schedule around the world might be the tiring job the drivers face during that period, the heroes behind the wheel laugh it off.

''For a driver, it's not that difficult — only in the sense that you are more days outside your home and if you have a family, it is tougher — but the real heroes here are the teams,'' said Pedro de la Rosa, a driver at the HRT team. ''Because a back-to-back for us means two weeks; but for the team — the mechanics, engineers — it means maybe one month. Or for some people even two months, because they stay in between and do two back-to-backs.''

Indeed, for many of the team personnel, there will be a period of almost continuous travel over two months, away from their families in Europe, living in hotels, especially after the 2012 F1 Racing Series, which added seven races in nine weeks to its tour. The final Grands Prix were run in Asia, the Middle East and in North and South America, and the logistics of the travel of the biggest racing show on earth were perfectly choreographed.

''It will be very challenging physically for the mechanics,'' said Monisha Kaltenborn, the Sauber team director at the time, which is based in Switzerland; the Sauber team's logistics are typical of how the teams move from race to race and from continent to continent.

Demands of the Job in Europe

While in Europe, where the teams are based, the teams handle their own transport in team trucks that crisscross the Continent. But for the other races, the 24 cars and all of the material from the 12 teams' motorhomes and garages are sent around the world in six jumbo jets and in hundreds of sea crates.

Beat Zehnder, the Sauber team manager, has been in charge of the team's logistics for more than 20 years. He explained that there are five different shipments moving over the seas to cover all the races. In other words, for much of the less-important material such as the cooking utensils, chairs and tables and appliances and things that the team uses in the hospitality areas at a race, there are five different replicas that go around the world.

After the race in Monza, the cars and computers and all the garage materials were packed up in crates by the mechanics, truck drivers, and hospitality staff and sent back to the team's base in Hinwil, Switzerland; once there, the cars were worked on and disassembled and sent to Milan for transport on Sept. 13 to Singapore.

In Singapore, at the track, the advance crew then began setting up the temporary paddock and the team garages on Monday, Sept. 17, while another group arrived in Singapore on Wednesday, and then, after Singapore, the materials will be flown to Japan for the race there on Oct. 7 and then on to Yeongam for the Grand Prix there a week later.

''It's tougher this year because there are so many races,'' Zehnder said. ''The majority of our team after Singapore is staying in Asia. We go to Thailand, 75 percent of the team; we are going to a nice hotel there for a week of relaxation. It would not make sense for especially the first group of mechanics to go back to Switzerland, they would arrive Tuesday after Singapore and have to go out again on Saturday, spending just four days at home and traveling twice through the time zones.''

Multiple Destinations Mean Multiple Months of Work for Teams

In a typical year, the teams supporting F1 racers travel all around the globe, but in the second half of each season, they do the most traveling — from Thailand to Japan and then to South Korea and then back to Switzerland.

"And so it's a lot of work," said Zehnder. "It's a lot of people involved, basically our whole race team, all the mechanics, the truck drivers, which is about 28 people involved in setting up, in packing and unpacking, plus the eight people in catering. There are 47 operational people traveling to the races, but that excludes marketing, press, catering, so in total here we are, 67 people, going to the races."

Additionally, each team carries with it 30 people just to help with preparation loading the freight — about half the team at the race. Zehnder describes their days as long, regularly starting at 8 a.m. and ending at 10 p.m., "so it's a very intense half of the season."

For some drivers, nothing will have prepared them for so much travel and racing in their careers.

''Never in my dreams,'' said Jean-Éric Vergne, a rookie driver at the Toro Rosso team. ''I trained a lot in the summer and I have a good group of people working behind me with my physio, basically like how you would speak to a kid: 'Go to sleep, go to eat, eat this, don't eat this, don't do this, do this.' And in the end it will make a big difference, I think, during such a period. So I'm pretty relaxed about it.''