The race behind the race: the logistical pressure of an F1 triple-header

A delay in air freight ahead of the São Paulo Grand Prix revealed the logistical challenge of a triple-header.

Formula 1 is currently racing at the last event in this season’s final triple-header, with back-to-back weekends in Mexico City, São Paulo, and Qatar. The logistical challenge such a period presents is enormous, yet the human effort behind the scenes that keeps the wheels of the sport turning is rarely seen. Only when freight delays threatened to disrupt the schedule of the São Paulo Grand Prix did we get a brief glimpse into the importance of the race behind the race.

After the chequered flag drops on Sunday and the Grand Prix finishes, another race begins. Team crews rush to pack away all the equipment and strip down the cars into each individual component, ready to be sent to the next track as early as possible the following week.

Fog in Mexico City delayed the departure of three cargo planes, meaning their cargo arrived late in São Paulo. With such a distance between the races, and such a small interval between them, the margin for disruption to the schedule is very narrow.

To ensure fairness between teams, building cannot start until all cargo has arrived at flyaway races. This rule was waived so that at least some teams could avoid working until long after dark. The usual Thursday night curfew was also abandoned, as the worst-affected teams were forced to work through the night to prepare the cars in time for Friday’s FP1 session.

Although every car was ready to hit the track on Friday morning with time to spare, for the likes of Haas, this was far from ideal preparation which served to make an already intense event even more trying. This is especially punishing given that there is no respite for team members before the rush across to Qatar and the jet lag that comes with it.

That something as simple as fog could have such an effect on the build-up to the event demonstrates that this race is perhaps just as finely balanced as the on-track competition. So much rides on the quality of the sport’s logistics and organisation due to the sheer scale of the operation.

Each team carries around 100 people and 50 tonnes of cargo around the world, contributing to around 660 tonnes of air freight and 500 tonnes of sea freight. Everything critical and car-related is flown from race to race, while other bulky, low-cost freight such as office furniture, garage building equipment, and catering and hospitality equipment is sent by sea to reduce costs and enhance sustainability. There are five different sets of this non-critical sea freight which essentially play a game of global maritime leapfrog to ensure that a set arrives at each race well in advance.

If the global nature of F1 presents a challenge for the people working in the sport, it takes a much greater toll on the environment. Despite efforts to increase sustainability, logistics contributed to 45% of F1’s emissions in 2019, while business travel represented 27.7%. To put that into context, the beasts that pound round the track each weekend burning up to 110 kg of fuel each made up just 0.7% of F1’s emissions. This is hardly surprising given that in the 2018 season, a total of 131,995 km was travelled by air using six Boeing 747 planes.

Globetrotting can also be difficult for the drivers, who must constantly deliver during a triple-header. They have to recover from any setbacks from the previous race, debrief, process and bounce back from disappointment, ready to perform just a few days later. In this instance, drivers need to remain fresh enough to arrive in Qatar, dealing with the jet lag, ready to learn the Qatar circuit which has never hosted an F1 race.

As the final stages of the season play out, the race behind the race will continue to rumble on in the background, having its effect on the racing in minute ways, always present but rarely seen.

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