Our job is moving people
From the comfort of your armchair, it all looks so easy. You probably watched the Monaco Grand Prix, saw the champagne corks pop, caught the post-race interviews and switched off. Next time you turn on your television, the F1 paddock will be 6000km away, happily up and running on a small artificial island on the St Lawrence River, on the outskirts of downtown Montreal, Canada.
You probably barely registered the difference; yet, for McLaren Racing’s busy team and travel department, ferrying a grand prix team from race to race is a year-round job, quite literally.
And that’s no exaggeration: indeed, as soon as the last person checks out of the team hotel after the last race, the travel department immediately begins planning and negotiating rates and rooms for the following season.
In part one of a two-part series, we look at just what it takes to ferry the team’s most precious asset, its people, around the globe:
All logistical bookings are somewhat chicken-and-egg in the F1 world. Flights and hotel bookings need to be provisionally made – often before the official calendar for the following season has been rubber-stamped.
Sometimes the team operates a long-term contract with a key hotel in order to keep costs down and to ensure availability. Of course, our preferred hotel partner is Hilton, so we stay at Hilton whenever we can.
For the Monaco Grand Prix, the team required 116 hotel rooms, spread across four hotels in both Monte-Carlo and France. For Canada, we’ll need 83 rooms, based out of three central hotels in downtown Montreal.
Flight bookings start 11 months before the race. Why 11 months? It’s the longest advance window from which airlines will accept bookings, that’s why. Still, without a confirmed calendar, our travel staff are largely working in the dark. They begin receiving lists of all the available flights to each destination – thousands of details – and gradually piece together the logistical process on a huge spreadsheet.
Intuition, experience and common sense allow them to slowly put the puzzle together as more and more races are confirmed, or slot into place.
In general, grands prix in Europe are easier to plan for: there are more, regular flights across Europe, and the flights themselves are shorter and quicker, meaning it’s easier to fly last-minute parts and personnel out on Saturdays or Sundays.
On the flipside, European races – particularly those held close to big European cities such as Barcelona, Budapest and Milan, tend to attract many more regular travellers, so there’s often less availability on those flights, which can make planning trickier.
Long-haul flights are more difficult – few fly direct, and successfully linking connecting flights on different airlines is a difficult management feat. Connections, particularly involving different airlines, will always make losing baggage a more likely occurrence.
The Australian Grand Prix is probably the hardest race of the year to plan: there are no direct flights, meaning baggage has the opportunity to go missing in at least four different countries (Dubai, China, Malaysia and Singapore) before it arrives in Melbourne, and it’s also the farthest from base, so the vast time difference makes solving logistical problems tricky and time-consuming.
For the Monaco Grand Prix, we required 146 separate flights. For Canada, it’ll be 78.
The team sources its hire cars from four different suppliers, but works with an agent at a number of European races in order to streamline the often-lengthy process of signing off a car from an international airport.
Car rental is a tricky business – any team member can be called upon to ferry additional hand luggage (usually containing last-minute spares or new components) to the track: if you suddenly find yourself weighed down with four additional suitcases, then the pre-booked four-seater car, which was innocently booked for you and two colleagues, simply isn’t going to fit your recently acquired mountain of baggage.
Given the closeness of the hotels to the circuit in Monte-Carlo, we required only six vehicles for the duration of the Monaco Grand Prix. For Canada, it’ll be 17 – and many of those will be large minibuses for ferrying the mechanics and engineers from the Hilton Bonaventure to the paddock. Grands prix with adjoining tests further add to the complication – in Barcelona recently, we needed 36 vehicles!
Team & travel – the best part of the job
Our travel department has to deal with everyone – from drivers, trainers, management, race team and marketing, to Mercedes-Benz High Performance Powertrains. The sense of achievement in making things work is incredible, as is the relief when there are no early-morning phone calls from team members left stranded without a connecting flight, a hotel booking or a hire car.
Team & travel – the worst part of the job
Races where the time difference makes it logistically hard are always difficult to manage. It’s frustrating when something or somebody further down the chain lets you down – because it’s out of your control, and can be difficult immediately to resolve.