In Formula 1, the start of a new calendar year is always a breathless rush.
The production cycle on the new car hits its stride, with the manufacturing and assembly departments working flat-out to ready the MCL32 for its track debut. Meanwhile, the marketing team works tirelessly to seamlessly pull together not only an integrated digital launch, but a huge physical event, which was viewed by no less than 1179 guests on the day.
From there, the car and operational team flies immediately to Barcelona, for two long, difficult weeks of Formula 1 testing. With barely a pause for breath, the whole operation then returns to the McLaren Technology Centre as the wheels are once again set in motion to transport the race team and cars to the other side of the world, for the first race of the year, in Melbourne, Australia, next weekend.
If MCL32’s debut has not exactly gone to plan, that’s not been due to a lack of effort – far from it. In fact, hundreds and hundreds of people have worked hard, often staying late or working through the weekend to go the extra mile, in order to prepare McLaren-Honda for the season ahead.
So if you think Formula 1 is glamorous, take a look at the logistical effort that goes into readying a grand prix team for the first race of the year…
With the bulk of testing complete, we’re able to send home some of the garage support crew and mechanics – it gives them a bit more of the weekend at home before the ramp up to Melbourne.
The shutters come down on the garage at the end of the final day of the Barcelona test. The MCL32 won’t turn a wheel again until FP1 in Melbourne.
Debriefs complete, our engineers jump in their hire cars, navigate the Barcelona rush hour and head back to London Heathrow.
The first member of our team departs for Australia – he’s flying home via Brisbane first, which explains the early flight.
With the garage pack-up going on late into the evening, the remaining mechanics and garage crew stay overnight at an airport hotel and return home on the Saturday morning.
The MCL32 chassis and spare tub, which have been transported back onboard one of our Volvo Trucks transporters, arrive back at MTC.
Stoffel flies home and begins a few days of training before heading to MTC for pre-Melbourne briefings.
A day of rest.
The first job of the day is to unload the race transporters which arrived back from Barcelona over the weekend. The two tubs will go straight to the racebays to be serviced and prepped, but other components will be packed into stillages ready to be air-freighted to Melbourne.
Stoffel carries out some final physical training in the week before flying to Australia.
The race team and garage support crew load up pallets of air freight. The factory floor is full of stillages, flight cases and boxes and boxes of spares. Slowly, they’ll be funneled to the back door of the factory, from which they’ll be put onto transporters and driven to the airport.
The three race-weekend chassis, which are still being worked on by the mechanics, are among the last items to be packed for transportation.
Air-freight loading and pack-up continues.
The first members of the event support crew leave for Heathrow for their flight to Melbourne. They’re the first team members to arrive at Albert Park, and their job is to paint the garage floor, start unloading sea freight supplies and equipment, and erect the paneling in the garage.
Stoffel is at the MTC for simulator work and briefings with his engineers.
Air-freight loading and pack-up continues.
Stoffel concludes his pre-season work at the factory.
In the morning, we transport 30 tonnes of air freight to East Midlands Airport near Derby for the flight to Melbourne’s Avalon Airport, from where the freight is transported by road to Albert Park.
The race drivers begin the day-long journey Down Under.
Meanwhile, in Melbourne, the event support crew arrive at the circuit to begin unpacking sea freight (nine large stillages and 30 smaller containers and pallets) and building the internals of the team’s hospitality units.
With the cars already en route, it’s time to freight out all the car bits left behind – that usually includes last-minute aero components, such as floors and wings, and any new-specification bodywork.
In the Albert Park paddock, the event support finish building the engineers’ office and unpacking the table and chairs for the team hospitality. They’ll also start unpacking and building up the team’s grid trolleys, which will be kept in our on-site storage units until the race team arrive.
Stoffel begins his final training preparations in Melbourne. He’ll probably be able to squeeze in a few runs and a bike ride along Melbourne’s Beach Road.
The bulk of the race team loads up and heads to Heathrow. They’ll land on Monday evening in Melbourne.
In Australia, the event support can begin building the garage – in essence, this means erecting the team’s fixtures and fittings inside the garage space; walls, dividers, paneling, the overhead gantry that sits above both cars.
McLaren Marketing’s advance crew heads to the airport – they’ll arrive on Tuesday morning, and will be responsible for building up the paddock marketing office, paddock hospitality suite and readying Wednesday’s partner and media events in the city.
The second and final heavy freight shipment leaves.
Following the mechanics, our race engineering team leave the UK for sunnier climes. They’ll land in Melbourne on Tuesday evening.
With all the big freight having either already arrived or in transit, the team switches to getting the very last-gasp parts to the track via ‘hand luggage’ – supplying boxes and suitcases to each departing group to check in and deliver to the track. It’s a well-used solution, and one that every team adopts in the days leading up to a race.
The event support crew finish building the garage and start unloading the team’s air freight – the empty garage space becomes steadily populated with tools, equipment and car parts. One member of the crew switches to the nightshift to provide on-site overnight security.
The whole team begins to assemble in Melbourne as more and more people arrive in the city. Stoffel, who has been in Melbourne for several days, is still enjoying his training.
Zak Brown and Eric Boullier are two of the final team members to depart for Oz. They’ll arrive on the Wednesday evening.
The second drop of hand luggage leaves MTC.
At the track, it’s the race team’s first day in the paddock. With the chassis rolling in this morning, the garage will effectively be fully functional by Tuesday lunchtime.
Fernando and Stoffel head to an out-of-town marketing event for the majority of the day. In the CBD, McLaren Marketing also hosts a media screening of the new Bruce McLaren documentary movie.
More hand luggage gets pushed through the system.
Event support start returning from Melbourne to LHR. A separate crew will already be gearing up to travel to Shanghai for round two of the championship.
The final ‘hand luggage’ allocation gets dispatched – due to the long flight Down Under, this is the last opportunity the team has to release new parts and spares. At a European round, hand luggage comes thick and fast – with the last suitcases often arriving at the circuit (carrying replacement parts) on race morning.
FIA scrutineering – which ensures the legality of the cars at each and every event – kicks off at 1000 local time in Australia.
The first FIA press conference of the year kicks off at 1500. At the same time, drivers don boots and overalls for their traditional start-of-season individual photos – undertaken for the benefit of the dozens of accredited photographers who attend each race.
The race weekend ‘proper’ gets underway with two sessions of free practice at 1200-1330 and 1600-1730.
Friday is typically a late night for the mechanics, who spend the evening switching both cars to race engines and gearboxes. The mandatory curfew begins at 0300, ending at 1100 the following morning – during this time, any operational team member on the premises earns the team a penalty.
The race weekend is in full flow: the one-hour FP3 session runs from 1400-1500, with qualifying taking place from 1700-1800. Both drivers have events in downtown Melbourne on Saturday evening.
Melbourne’s now-regular late start means a slow start to race morning, with the drivers’ parade and pre-season group photo not taking place until 1430. The Australian Grand Prix starts at 1600, concluding around 1800.
As soon as the chequer falls, there’s frantic activity to reverse all the preparatory activity of the past week. Incredibly, garage pack-up only takes about six hours on Sunday night, with the whole paddock a frantic blur of activity as team members sporting hi-vis jackets and driving forklifts whirl around the paddock.
With pack-up completed, the team flies home – every single member of the travelling team will have left Australia by Monday evening.
Almost unbelievably, the first event support team members will be departing for Shanghai in less than 48 hours. The cycle continues…