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  • Author James Roberts
  • Published May 19, 2014

Anatomy of… a Formula 1 race

It’s the Monaco Grand Prix this weekend – for many, the highlight of the season. The scenery is spectacular; the track, amazing. The cars? Out of this world. But how does it all come together? F1 Racing magazine’s James Roberts goes behind the scenes…

motorracing

It’s the Monaco Grand Prix this weekend – for many, the highlight of the season. The scenery is spectacular; the track, amazing. The cars? Out of this world. But how does it all come together? F1 Racing magazine’s James Roberts goes behind the scenes…

 

Twenty-two drivers from 11 Formula 1 teams are in the middle of a logistical nightmare. Over the past nine weeks they have criss-crossed six time zones and traveled an exhausting 42,000 miles.

 

From Australia, to Malaysia and Bahrain – then back home and out again to Shanghai – the sport has been putting on a show at various far-flung sites around the globe. In the past three months drivers, mechanics and engineers have each spent 80 hours flying and we’re only a third of the way into the season.

 

The travelling contingent is about to descend on the glamorous setting of the Côte d’Azur for this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix. But for those working in the sport, the yachts bobbing on the Mediterranean harbour are only a pleasant backdrop. In reality life is, literally, the pits…

 

Each team will take around 70 personnel to the race. That includes mechanics, engineers, senior management, physios, PR gurus, marketing folk, hospitality staff and chefs. And if you think organising transport and hotel accommodation – not to mention visas – seems a complex task, then the freight is an even bigger logistical nightmare.

 

Getting to a grand prix
Top teams will take over 40 tonnes of equipment to every race. For the European events three trucks will drive from the UK (or Italy for Ferrari and Toro Rosso) a week before the race. One will take two monocoques, spare parts, tool kits and engines. A second truck will take the car’s bodywork (such as front and rear wings), computer racks, hydraulics and sub-assembly.

 

The third and final will take a spare chassis, fuel rigs, the pitwall stand, the garage gantry and wheels. Meanwhile the team’s motorhomes, (which were once a few tables and chairs next to a truck and are now three-storey superstructures) can take another ten articulated lorries to transport…

 

Travel is managed by F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, whose company also oversees the extensive electronic timing equipment, safety and medical cars, plus the TV cameras and mobile TV compound that is built up at every event. On Sunday night in Monaco, everything will be de-rigged and set up again across the Atlantic in Montreal, Canada less than a fortnight later. It’s a brilliantly run military-style operation.

 

In the garage
When the crews arrive in Monaco, the first job is to set-up the garage. The layout is always exactly the same. Cars front of house, fuel containers, tyres, gearboxes, engines and spare car behind screens at the rear.

 

In each team, one driver is based on one side of the garage and his crew concentrates on his car, with a mirrored crew working with the other driver. Each car has seven mechanics. One deals with the front end, two work on the rear and there are two for the bodywork. Another looks after the hydraulics and the final one the gearbox.

 

The checklist of jobs for the mechanics includes checking water levels, hydraulic pressure and gearbox oil; ensuring the gearshifts work and checking the exhausts and wiring loom are in good condition; tightening brackets and bolts; and giving electrics and seals the green light in case anything has broken in transit.

 

Once the cars turn a wheel for the first time on Friday morning, then a new job list comes into the view. This comes via a chain of command from the driver to his race engineer, who communicates with the chief mechanic on his car. They will order changes to wing angles. Or fit new tyres, change brake materials or gear ratios and fettle the suspension to ensure the driver is comfortable with his setup.

 

Engineering a winner
At the back of the garage are the engineers. These are the boffins who study the streams of data that flood off the car every second it runs. If you consider that every chassis is formed of thousands of components (11,000 in the chassis and another 6,000 in the engine), then there’s a lot of things that can go wrong.

 

In total 150 sensors monitor up to 500 parameters, including tyre wear, fuel consumption and hydraulic pressure. This information is transmitted back to the computers at the back of the garage. A massive 750 million numbers are logged every weekend, and it’s up to the engineers to decipher the data and alert the pitwall if there’s a problem.

 

On the pitwall
At the helm is the team principal; such as Frank Williams or Red Bull’s Christian Horner. His right-hand man is the team’s technical director. Together they oversee the whole development of the car that races, from design stage, through construction to on-going development.

 

The team principle is also responsible for weighing up the resources and budget between the current car, and designing and building the next year’s model. He will also consult with the heads of various departments, from the engine partner to the head of aerodynamics, the head of electronics and the chief designer.

 

On the other side of the pits is the hospitality units, situated in the paddock. This is the domain for the PR departments, marketing staff and commercial managers. They work with journalists (TV, print and radio), sponsors, corporate guests, VIPs and celebrities to do what they can to help publicise the sponsors that bring in all those millions of dollars. Working out a Formula 1 team budget, how much is spent, where it goes and how it’s generated through sponsorship, prize money and TV revenue… well, that’s as complicated as the logistics of managing the team’s air freight!

 

So as you watch this weekend’s race in Monaco and another in Montreal a fortnight later, hopefully now you’ll have some appreciation of the amazing effort and manpower it takes to get 22 drivers just to the starting grid. After that, it’s down to them.

 

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