Australian GP 2014: The journey begins
For a Formula 1 team, the Australian Grand Prix doesn’t so much as burst into life, it slides slowly and inexorably into existence.
That’s not to dismiss the vibrant excitement you get from turning up in the Albert Park paddock on Thursday morning and feeling that giddy ‘first day back at school’ feeling. No, it’s more that the sheer size and scale of a modern grand prix mean that our mechanics, technicians, engineers, marketeers and managers roll slowly through Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport immigration over the course of about 10 days. So F1’s arrival in town is less a bang and more of, well, a whimper.
So how do you transport more than 100 people halfway across the world for a working weekend?
It’s anything but straightforward:
Wednesday March 5
First onto the plane this year were Kevin Magnussen and his faithful trainer, Antti Vierula. For Kevin the early arrival made eminent sense: this was his first time in Australia, and it takes time to adapt the human bodyclock to such a significant shift in timezones. Kevin, who arrived on Friday morning, has spent the past few days training with Antti and getting his body in sync to Melbourne time.
Thursday March 6
Like Kevin, Jenson was keen to get down under after wrapping up his work on Thursday at MTC. He flew on Thursday night with his trainer Mike Collier, the pair arriving in Melbourne on Saturday morning. He’s made the most of Melbourne’s warm, autumnal climate to log some miles on his bike.
Saturday March 8
While team members arrive in Australia in dribs and drabs, it’s the Saturday of the week before the race when the team’s ground staff begins to depart. These are the mechanics, electricians and IT engineers who arrive early sort logistics, the delivery of freight and the initial rigging and installation of the garage – laying wiring and cabling, and painting the floor.
The race team arrives on Sunday night, pitching up in the paddock on Monday morning to begin the installation of the garage – a layout that has been designed weeks in advance, and which varies at every race, taking into account the unique size and shape of each pit garage and the huge amount of spares, workspace and kit that is needed to build, run and service two Formula 1 cars.
The TV cameras fail to show the depth and breadth of work that goes on behind the neat garage paneling that hems in the front of the garage. Behind, there are rooms for composites to build and repair bodywork, sealed areas for engine inspection, racks of spares, bays full of heated and pressure-checked tyres, and offices for engineers.
More in keeping with home life, there’s also a corner devoted to a fridge, a coffee machine and a microwave, so the garage crew can quickly grab a coffee, a yoghurt or a sandwich between sessions.
Sunday March 9
More crew members depart from the UK, streaming into the country at the start of grand prix week. During Monday and Tuesday, the garage-build is in full-swing, partition walls are erected and all the kit and spares maneuvered into position. It’s common during the early part of the week to see flight boxes full of kit sat by the backdoor of each team’s unit, and for forklift trucks to be in heavy use throughout the day (their use is not permitted in the paddock during the race weekend).
Slowly, the paddock glues itself together.
Monday March 10
Our race engineers travel out en masse at the start of the week – their need for deskspace and a working internet connection means they need to step into a garage already fully fitted with desks and network cabling. They arrive late on Tuesday night, ready for an early start on Wednesday morning. Marketing staff arrive around the same time too, some rolling into the city early on Wednesday morning after an overnight flight from the UK.
Tuesday March 11
Senior management arrive in the middle of the week – there’s no time for acclimatisation; many people will get a night’s sleep before arriving in the Albert Park paddock feeling slightly jetlagged but ready to go on Thursday morning. It’s incredible how effectively the adrenaline kicks in – and how much you feel its absence when you wake up on Monday morning feeling exhausted!
Thursday March 13
While it makes perfect sense for the entire team to be on the ground when the weekend kicks off on Thursday, it’s not the end of the production line of personnel stepping from the plane. Late arrivers are designed into the schedule – because they can usefully bring with them last-minute suitcases of components and spares for the car.
Our last suitcases for Melbourne land on Saturday – just in time to make it to the paddock before the parc ferme rules kick in and prohibit their introduction.
Before you know it, it’s time to pack it all up again and move on to Malaysia!