During a Grand Prix weekend, the race itself is obviously going to be the focal point of the weekend for most Formula 1 fans. However, one thing you probably haven't thought about is what it takes for a Formula 1 team to transport all of its cars and equipment from one race location to the next.
Successfully transporting a Formula 1 team's cars and equipment is, frankly, a pretty insane feat of logistics, especially when teams need to travel overseas for a race. A Formula 1 car alone has over 5,000 different parts, and all of these parts need to be accounted for every time a team packs up and travels somewhere else.
In this article, we'll be going over everything you might have wanted to know about the logistics of transporting Formula 1 cars between races and what it takes for each team to pull this off successfully.
Generally, Formula 1 cars are transported via three ways: by road, by air, or by sea. Each of these transportation methods has its own advantages and drawbacks, as we'll explain.
For the most part, Formula 1 cars are driven to different races by purpose-built container trucks. With the exception of the Haas Formula 1 team, which is currently based in the U.S., all of the present-day Formula 1 teams are based either in Europe or the U.K.
Since many of the Grand Prix events in a Formula 1 season take place in European countries, transporting their cars via truck is the easiest and most cost-effective means of transportation for most of the teams. Of course, this isn't possible for international races like the United States Grand Prix, which is why other methods of transportation are also needed.
Jean-Pierre from Cosne-Cours-sur-Loire (Nièvre, Burgundy region), France, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Air transport is, as you might expect, much more expensive than transporting cars by road or by sea. However, transporting cars via plane is usually much faster than the other two methods.
Equipment that is being shipped internationally is generally divided into two categories: critical and non-critical. Critical equipment includes stuff like car chassis, wings, tires, engines, computers, and other things that are going to be essential for completing a race. Critical equipment usually gets priority in terms of air transport.
Non-critical equipment, on the other hand, consists of things like tools, car jacks, and other stuff that is handy to have but isn't essential for completing a race. Non-critical equipment is, for the most part, shipped via sea.
Transporting cars and equipment by sea is the slowest way to get stuff around between the various race locations, but it's also the most cost-effective. Teams mainly use sea shipping as a means of moving spare parts or equipment around, but they may also use it to transport cars during the off-season when things are less time-sensitive.
It's worth noting that each team has multiple sets of non-critical parts, which are kept in different locations around the world. This makes transporting non-critical equipment a lot easier since teams can ship a set of parts to somewhere well in advance before they'll need it and still have a good supply of spare parts on hand.
At this point, you know by what means Formula 1 cars are transported, but how do the teams make sure all the parts get where they need to without breaking? It's not like they can just stick a whole car in a shipping container and call it a day; Formula 1 cars have a lot of delicate parts and need to be shipped with care.
When being shipped by road, Formula 1 cars are left mostly intact but have all of their aerodynamic equipment removed. Within the trucks, the cars are stored on elevated, cushioned platforms to prevent the car from moving around inside the trailer and from getting bounced around too much.
These trucks also carry tools and spare parts for the cars, but things like tires and fuel are transported separately.
For air and sea transportation, however, the cars are totally stripped down. Aside from the aerodynamic equipment, the cars also have their engines, gearboxes, suspension components, and even their mirrors removed. All of these parts are packed into custom-made crates for each team.
Each team is entirely responsible for transporting all the stuff they'll need for each race; this includes not only cars, equipment, and spare parts, but also stuff like fuel and other automotive fluids, food for their team members, and the stuff needed to prepare that food for everyone. On average, a Formula 1 team needs to move about 40 tons of stuff between each race.
Because there's so much stuff that needs to be packed up and transported after a race finishes, packing is a near-constant process. Teams will pack up whatever equipment they don't need anymore as they go along, but even while doing this, it can still take a team up to 8 hours after a race ends to have everything cleared out.
Once the race ends, the cars are disassembled and packed into their containers. If the cars don't need to be immediately transported to another race, they're often sent back to the factory to be given a once-over before the next race.
When a team is travelling to a race location from an airport or travelling to an airport to fly somewhere, the roads to and from the airport need to be checked to make sure that there are no delays. If the cars are being transported by trucks, these trucks are often manned by two or even three drivers to ensure that the trucks don't have to stop for breaks.
Races are only held one weekend apart, so teams have only four days each week to disassemble their stuff, pack it up, ship it where it needs to go, and then reassemble everything in time for practice day.
Even though most people don't really think about it, the effort each team goes through to ensure that each race weekend goes smoothly is one of the most impressive aspects of the sport as a whole.