The race to the track - logistics in Formula One racing 13 Jul 2007
Formula One racing is, at heart, all about on-track action, but away from the frenzied 200 miles every other Sunday, a different kind of race is fundamental to the workings of all teams.
For the Toyota teams logistics department, there is a constant race against time to get the cars, and hundreds of spare parts and pieces of equipment, to the track on time.
And the challenge doesnt stop there - once on location, around 90 team members need food, transport, hotels and suitable working conditions. This is no simple task and at Toyotas headquarters in Cologne, Germany, team manager Richard Cregan and his staff work ceaselessly to ensure everything runs smoothly.
For millions of television viewers around the world, a Grand Prix begins when the red lights go out on a Sunday afternoon, but for the logistics department, each race starts a lot earlier - before the season has started to be precise.
As soon as the next seasons Formula One calendar is confirmed, Cregan and his team get to work on booking flights, hotels and, crucially, on planning how the cars will make their way to race tracks on five continents, with barely any time to catch breath in between races. This race against time is a characteristic of motorsport at the top level and for Cregan, experience counts when making such intricate plans.
I believe the groundwork that people have to have to achieve good logistics is experience of the business of motorsport, not necessarily in Formula One, he says. You have to set very clear targets for yourselves. We have our plans for the year because we make plans at the start of every season. Once the calendar is finalised from the FIA we sit down with the different departments, look at the dates of the trucks leaving, when we want the equipment there and basically we go away and arrange that.
For flyaway races away from Europe, the cars, spare parts and equipment is shipped by air but for European races, which make up nine of the 17 races in 2007, everything is taken by truck from Cologne across the continent. Seven truckies are dedicated to filling the four trucks with everything the team can possibly need at the track, with the emphasis being on making sure nothing - from light bulbs to spare engine parts - is forgotten.
Two days are spent ensuring everything is in working order and loaded on to the trucks. All packed and ready to go, the truckies drive their cargo across whole countries, covering 30,000 kilometres in a race season.
Markus Burger is the team leader in charge of pit equipment and trucks and he explains: We take about 38-39 tonnes of equipment to each Grand Prix, even a bit more for European races because then of course you have all the equipment loaded in the trucks themselves, like work benches and all sorts of extras for offices that are completely kitted out..
But the hard work is only just beginning when the trucks roll into another race track. Once at the circuit, the high-pressure job of unloading and building the garages begins. The perfectly formed garage interiors, with computer stands for telemetry, neat tool boxes and all the equipment necessary to go Formula One racing take around eight hours to build and vary in size from 120 to 180 square metres.
This is crucial work as any problems in the infrastructure of the pits could have serious consequences when the action begins on track. As part of this, all the spare parts are set up ready to be called upon at a moments notice. This is not just a spare tyre and a few replacement light bulbs as you would find in most motorists garage, in a Formula One garage there is literally a car waiting to be built.
Cregan reveals: You normally have enough parts in the truck to build another car. So effectively you have four complete cars, one in spare parts and three complete. Thats more difficult at the beginning of the season because you have a new car and new specification but thats the target we have.
Of course, not every eventuality can be prepared for - sometimes more spares than expected are required or parts go missing en route. But every part has its own unique serial number so replacements can be rushed from the factory to the track with no time lost.
For Richard Cregan, the challenge of Formula One logistics is not in making the car itself perform to its best, but ensuring the Toyota team behind the car are given everything they need to work to the maximum of their ability.
We cant influence so much the performance of the car from the logistics department itself but certainly in terms of creating the atmosphere for people to do there job and perform, that is something we can do, he says. Quite often you have very, very long days, people working late into the evening. It is a very important to make sure those people have the right environment to work in and thats our challenge.
Challenge is the right word, for nothing in Formula One racing is easy - least of all coordinating a whistle stop world tour with the most advanced racing cars on earth.