The Insane Logistics of Formula 1

This video was made possible by the Crew 2—a
new open world racing game from Ubisoft. More about it after the video. No sport is as logistically challenging as
motorsports. While equipment matters in any sport, in motorsports
the human is only half the athlete—the vehicle is the other half. The performance of a motorsports vehicle is
directly tied to having the right components in the right place at the right time so the
logistics are part of the competition. Racing may be a sport but it’s not all fun
and games. Teams are businesses—businesses that are
expected to make money. The most valuable Formula 1 team—Scuderia
Ferrari—is worth over $1.3 billion. This means this team is valued at about as
much as tech companies Discord, Bird Rides, or DoorDash. The wealthier teams, like Ferrari, are able
to spend more money on transport to bring more equipment and spare parts which can make
the difference between winning and losing when things go wrong. Formula 1 is by many measures the most international
sports competition. Over its 21 yearly races the teams traverse
five continents with as little as a week between events.

A chaotic ballet of trucks, boats, and planes
transports this show across the world each year. Ten teams compete in Formula 1 and despite
it taking place worldwide it is by all measures a European sport. Eight of the ten teams are registered in and
operate out of Europe. Only the Indian and American teams are from
elsewhere although, the Indian team is actually based in the UK while the US team, based in
North Carolina, operates a secondary forward base in the UK so that its staff doesn’t
have to travel all the way back to the US between each of the European races which in
recent years have been held consecutively, with the brief interruption of the Canadian
Grand Prix, in the middle of the season over summer. Thanks to this, the European leg of the season
is, compared to the rest, relatively easy logistically because within Europe you can
drive. The cost of shipping by truck is so comparatively
low to shipping by plane that teams bring whole buildings with them to the European

These buildings are what are modestly referred
to as “motorhomes” but can be as large as Red Bull’s three story structure that
includes offices, bars, and a restaurant with a complete kitchen. All of that packs into a number of trucks
and can be assembled in less than two days. Along with all the other equipment including
cars, spare parts, and electronics, convoys of dozens of trucks per team criss cross the
continent before each European race. Typically races are held every two weekends
on Sunday which gives teams plenty of time to relocate before activity begins on the
Thursday before the Grand Prix but from time to time the schedule is crunched and races
take place two weekends in a row.

This proves a more daunting logistical challenge
as teams only have three full days to break down, transport, and reassemble their equipment
at the new race site. Even worse, for the first time ever the 2018
season saw three weekends with three races in a row. On June 24 the French Grand Prix took place
in Le Castellet then the next weekend the Austrian one was held in Spielberg finishing
off the following weekend with the British Grand Prix in Silverstone.

The Austria-UK transfer was the most difficult
one as it involved driving nearly 1,000 miles including through the choke-point of the channel
tunnel. For this trek, each truck was manned by three
drivers so that while one drove the others could sleep in an RV that accompanied the
convoy. That way, the trucks could drive continuously
only stopping to refuel. But again, these races are easy logistically
compared to the ones outside of Europe—the ones known as flyaway races. Just like with the European races the majority
of flyaway races occur with two weeks between them but from time to time races are scheduled
on back to back weekends thousands of miles apart. These back to back flyaway races are the most
logistically difficult weeks of the Formula 1 season. On Sunday April 8th, 2018 the Bahrain Grand
Prix was held in Sakhir, Bahrain then seven days later, the following weekend, the Chinese
Grand Prix was held in Shanghai, China.

Over 4,000 miles separated those two racetracks
and yet, just like with every race, everything came down on Sunday night in Bahrain and had
to be operational by Thursday morning in China. Even worse, Shanghai is five hours ahead of
Bahrain which is effectively five hours fewer to do the work but in reality, the planning
for this transfer began months before. Around January 2018, three months before the
first races of the season, each of the ten teams packed up five sets of shipping containers. Each of these sets held their sea kits carrying
things like chairs, tables, appliances, cooking utensils, and some elements of their garages. They send these bulkier and less expensive
pieces of equipment by sea as it’s massively less expensive than sending them by plane. The number of containers per team varies as
the wealthier teams like Red Bull will take more but in general each team takes about
three 40 foot containers. Of course ocean shipping is slower, but since
there are five sets there is always one at the right place at the right time.

That January shipment sent the first five
kits to the first five flyaway races—Melbourne, Australia; Sakhir, Bahrain; Shanghai, China;
Baku, Azerbaijan; and Montreal, Canada. Then, as each race was completed its kit was
packed up and sent to the next flyaway race destination without a kit—the Australian
one went to Singapore, the Bahraini one to Russia, the Chinese one to Japan, the Azerbaijani
one to the United States, and the Canadian one to Mexico, and then towards the end of
the season, when there are no more tracks to send kits to, they’re sent back to the
teams’ home bases for the winter. At the racetrack, the Formula 1 logistics
team’s main downtime is actually during the race itself but for the Bahrain to China
transfer real work began the Thursday before the race.

That’s when each team’s logistics manager
started making their tear-down plan—deciding in which order and into which containers their
different pieces of equipment should go. Once that was completed there was really not
a lot to do until Sunday. On Sunday morning, before the race even started,
the pack up began. Many of the spare parts can’t be used during
the race—they’re not going to replace an engine during the Grand Prix—so they’re
the first pieces of kit to be packed into their containers. Not much happened during the race itself but
within 15 minutes of it ending the main pack up began. The cars, the most important pieces of equipment,
were subjected to a post-race inspection to be sure no illegal modifications were made
but everything else was immediately ready for packing. All the equipment that the teams wanted at
the destination first were put in one of three priority pallets.

Together each team’s priority pallets filled
up the first plane to Shanghai. As soon as these were packed they were driven
directly to the airport only a few hours after the race ended to be prepared for an early
morning flight to Shanghai. As that plane took off the final pallets were
being packed up back at the racetrack. Only about six to eight hours after the drop
of the checkered flag, all pallets were packed up and on their way to the airport. By midday Monday, all six of the Boeing 747’s
used to transport the teams equipment to China were in the air. These planes were chartered by Formula 1 but
the teams still pay for the space. Also on Monday all the staff started their
journey to Shanghai. Many of the lower level staff just flew on
normal commercial flights while some of the higher profile drivers flew private between
the two countries. After nine hours in the air the first plane
touched down in Shanghai around early evening local time. The freight was unloaded and brought to customs.

By midnight, all the priority freight was
on its way to the racetrack. Overnight, logistics workers arranged the
different teams’ freight into their respective paddocks. No team is allowed to touch their freight
until all the other teams’ freight has arrived both for fairness purposes and safety to assure
that there aren’t many people around as pallets are being unloaded and moved.

By Tuesday morning, it’s game on for the
assembly crews. At this point each team had their three priority
pallets and their sea kit. In their priority pallets teams didn’t put
the highest value or most important cargo, they put the things they needed to assemble
first—the bare bones of their garage. That includes the wall paneling, the core
of their electrical system, and the majority of the IT and communications equipment. By Tuesday evening that build was done and
the track was once again made inaccessible to the teams as the non-priority pallets were
delivered overnight. Early Wednesday morning around 6am the teams
arrived back at the track and began work on the final assembly of the garage. Only after about four hours, by late morning,
all the different teams garages were operational. All in all, ten Formula 1 teams successfully
packed up, shipped all their equipment 4,000 miles, and reassembled their paddocks in 58

Thanks to careful planning and practiced workers,
Formula 1 pulls off this impressive feat every year without a hitch. Earlier in the video I mentioned how the short
7-day Spielberg, Austria to Silverstone, UK transfer is the hardest race transfer in Europe
but interestingly, about a month ago Ubisoft brought me out to the Spielberg Formula 1
track to try out their new racing game—the Crew 2. This game is open world meaning they actually
recreated the entire US and you can drive and race through all of it not only in cars
but also motorcycles, boats, and planes. Even as someone who doesn’t play video games
much, I enjoyed the Crew 2 a lot and it seemed an accurate recreation of the actual racing
I did that day on the Spielberg track. If you think you might be interested in playing
this, there will be a link in the description where you can check it out. Thanks to the support of the Crew 2 and Ubisoft,
this video is an extra one so there will be another Wendover video out next week.

As found on YouTube

The Insane Logistics of Formula 1

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Animation by Josh Sherrington (
Sound by Graham Haerther (
Thumbnail by Simon Buckmaster

Big thanks to Patreon supporters: James McIntosh, Braam Snyman, Harry Hendel, KyQuaan Phong, M, Robin Pulkkinen, Sheldon Zhao, Kenneth Johnson, Nader Farsan, Juan Rodriguez, James Hughes, Ken Lee, Victor Zimmer, Dylan Benson, Etienne Dechamps, James Prior, Qui Le, Chris Barker, Andrew J Thom, Keith Bopp, Alec M Watson, Chris Allen, John & Becki Johnston, Connor J Smith, Arkadiy Kulev, Eyal Matsliah, Joseph Bull, Hank Green, Plinnio Correa

Music by Epidemic Sound

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