The Logistics of Formula 1: Transporting 1000 Tonnes around the Globe

Supply Chain and Logistics 9 min read
The Logistics of Formula 1

Formula 1 is one of the most watched and most expensive sports ever to have existed and when you consider the size of the events, the multimillion-dollar race cars, and the spectacle we all get to enjoy, it’s a real feat of skill and engineering that the races are able to take place each year.

Formula 1 2021 kicked off in Bahrain on March 28th and the races will continue around the world, with 23 rounds taking the event everywhere from Portugal to Azerbaijan and Uruguay to Russia, finishing in the United Arab Emirates on December 12th. That’s a huge amount of travel and when you consider the amount of equipment, tech, and of course, cars themselves, traveling around the globe, Formula 1 has got to be one of the greatest feats of logistically planning that takes place annually.

In 2019, more than 1000 tonnes of equipment was transported to each race when all teams were combined, and moving this amount of cargo around the globe is a huge task for any industry but when you consider the time constraints due to the racing calendar, there’s even more pressure on to get things right. The larger race team usually has 100 personnel and 50 tonnes of cargo with them at each race, so planning and organization is absolutely key for there to be any chance of race success and a seamless transition from race to race for all involved.

How Popular is Formula 1?

Formula 1 Logistics

The first ever world championship race was held at Silverstone in May 1950 and the sport has gained worldwide acclaim and interest since then. The TV viewing figures have gone from strength to strength in recent years, with records from 2019 showing a total global cumulative TV audience of 1.922bn people. The sport’s popularity is increasing in new markets too, with Poland and the Middle East and North African Region showing huge growth in viewing figures of +256% and +228%. Millions of fans around the globe not only make the sport lucrative but add pressure to ensuring every race runs without a hitch.

Why is Formula 1 So Popular?

The popularity of Formula 1 seems to be due to a number of factors. Fans love having their favorite driver to root for, as it is primarily an individual sport, based upon individual talents. However, fans may also have a preferred team and the whole team is integral in ensuring the success of their drivers. The excitement of the race itself is also a huge pull for fans, as it combines the perfect level of danger and spectacle, as the high octane speed draws in millions of fans and keeps them on their toes as they watch right up until the dramatic conclusion.

Straight from the Logistics’ Experts’ Mouth

Formula 1 has worked closely with their chosen logistics partner, DHL, for many years and they have compiled a range of interesting and fascinating statistics which show just how much work goes into the planning and travel involved in each race. They include:

· Each Formula 1 team ships the equivalent weight of approximately eight elephants every race.

· An estimated 50 tonnes of cargo is transported by each team every year, costing at least $8m.

· As many as 300 trucks travel from race to race. If they traveled in convoy, they’d stretch over 5km.

· 6 to 7 Boeing 747 cargo planes are used per event, with the cargo tram traveling almost 132,000km over the race period.

· Teams ship over 660 tons of air freight and 500 tons of sea freight to ensure they’re ready for the races

· Around 100 people are directly involved in the logistics team, including DHL professionals, individual team personnel, and local organizations and experts helping on the ground in their countries.

The exceptional volumes of cargo involved in Formula 1 makes every stage of transportation and logistics a serious event and careful and specific planning is essential to ensure successful events can be held in every race location.

The Planning Stage

The planning for the transportation of everything for the Formula 1 races around the world will begin at some point in January. This is when the organization releases their official season calendar and the hard work really begins. When the season starts, every team prepares to ship the containers of non-critical materials they need. This will include everything from office materials to chairs, kitchen materials, and some of the promotional elements of the pit boxes. These containers are then shipped by boat as they aren’t the most critical, but they are still necessary for each race. All non-car related equipment should be shipped by ocean freight as the sport is also being encouraged to find ways to cut carbon emissions and consider the sustainability of their logistics planning.

The number of containers varies by the budget and size of the team, but looking at averages from 2018, teams took 3 x 40ft containers by boat to each race. Ship freight is the slowest method of transportation, but it is also cost effective and so the teams will prepare five sets of containers for the first five locations on the season schedule to ensure they are there on time. Other elements will be transported by appropriate means depending on their importance and time sensitivity for the races.

Europe vs. The Rest of the World

Europe Formula 1

The European racing season is usually the easiest for teams when it comes to transportation and logistics. There is only one race a week and most teams (excluding Haas F1) have their home base in Europe, and this makes it easy to transport everything between races by truck. Transportation by truck is the most cost-effective method for Formula 1 teams and it allows them to bring as much stuff as they need, without limitations, which can often be the case for races in other parts of the world. Some teams even take whole transportable buildings for the European part of the season. These buildings are officially classified as “motorhomes” but can be huge in size and incorporate luxury features including pools and private bars.

The logistical difficulties in Formula 1 are often most pronounced when it comes to races outside of Europe. There are 10 scheduled races at locations outside of Europe and for almost all these races, teams have two weeks to get from one location to the next. On rare occasions, the two-week wait is not possible and only a week is allowed, giving the teams just a week to get to the new location and be fully operational on the Thursday morning prior to the race on Sunday.

Getting Equipment to Races

We’ve already looked at how the non-critical equipment and cargo is shipped by sea, but when it comes to the car-related and most important equipment, planes are used. Car parts can even be flown out as late as Saturday for race time on Sunday and it has been known on more than one occasion that team members will fly out from the factory with vital replacement parts if needed.

For every race, the team prepares priority pallets. These are packed with the essentials needed to put together the garage, the first thing each team needs at the circuit to begin putting together the F1 paddock ready for when the rest of the equipment and personnel arrive. With fairness in mind, no team can begin building at flyaway races until all their cargo has arrived. This ensures everyone has the same amount of to prepare, firstly when their priority pallets arrive then when the rest of their equipment follows.

As well as the team's individual cargo, there is also a substantial amount of other equipment required for the event to go ahead. This includes everything needed to equip and build the broadcasting center, including over 60km of cabling to transmit footage from 126 cameras ensuring those millions of fans from around the world are able to enjoy their favorite sport. Everything that takes place at one track has to be replicated and moved onto the next with exacting precision, ensuring everything is properly transported, kept in top condition, and in place, on time.

Packing up before the Chequered Flag Falls

While fans are enjoying watching each race to the very last moment, the logistics and other team personnel are already involved in the pack-up operation, ensuring the team is ready for their next event. Known as the “tear-down plan”, each team puts this in place on Thursday morning before the race begins so they can act quickly and ensure everything is packed and ready to go in time for the next event.

Lots of things can usually be packed up in advance so teams can be prepared for the next event. Generally, spare engines are good to be packed up ready for transit on Saturday or Sunday, as there is never enough time to change a whole engine between the end of the Parc fermé and the start of the Grand Prix.

The time available to get everything operational for the next venue when there are back-to-back races is just three days and, on some occasions, it can be even tighter than this. There have even been occasions where circuits have been fully clear of all Formula 1 presence within just eight hours after the Grand Prix ends, a testament to the hard work and industriousness of the teams and logistics experts involved in ensuring no race is ever running late.

Almost every member of every team will be assigned a role when it comes to packing up the garages. The walls need to be deconstructed and the computer racks including the cabling need to be packed away carefully Engines and tires are usually returned back to their manufacturers and the cars have to be carefully dismantled. Dismantling can only take place once the FIA has fully finished their inspections and checked the legality of the cars. Back-to-back weekends are the busiest time of the season and can see teams on the road almost constantly.

When there’s a break from the back-to-backs then many teams go back to base and give their car additional maintenance and attention. The cars will often be repainted, have their suspension and wiring checked too. Once all is fixed and back to its best, the machinery is then packed up again and driven to the airport for the next event. They’re handed over to the official Formula 1 logistics partner and safely transported via cargo plane to the next location.

The Power of Planning

The sheer scale of Formula 1 and the nature of the sport means perfect planning is near impossible. The teams are constantly innovating and trying to find ways to make their cars faster and more effective. As race day approaches teams inevitably find tweaks to improve their vehicles or they’re missing an essential spare part needed before the race begins. When this happens, everyone springs into action, and flights are scheduled to ensure the essential part makes its way to the track in time.

Formula 1 races are measured to the nearest thousandth of a second, so the teams are well-versed and experienced in slicing the smallest slivers of time from all aspects of their work, including the packing up and tearing down their garages and cars. This is only possible with step-by-step planning and a commitment from every team member to play their part.

To this date, there has never been a single instance where a Formula 1 car has failed to reach the racetrack and this is something the sport is understandably proud of and is committed to maintaining year on year. Formula 1 teams and their logistics and transport partners work together closely to ensure everything runs on schedule and fans can enjoy their favorite sport without delay at every single race location.

Supply Chain and Logistics