• The Power of Logistics


13 April 2018

Visually, Formula 1 is a stunning sport. Some of the most technically advanced cars in the world racing wheel-to-wheel at over 200mph in 21 different locations around the world - it’s a spectacular sight.

In many senses, it is a show. And it takes a huge amount of effort, planning and organisation to put on that show at least every other week. Sometimes the calendar throws up races on consecutive weekends, and the most challenging of these from a logistical point of view are the pairs of races outside of Europe, known as the flyaways.

Flyaway races are those that the iconic transporters and motorhomes can’t drive to, so all equipment is moved either by air or by sea.

Last year we introduced you to our Logistics Manager Graham Smith - you can read more about his role and history in F1 here - and he explains just how much work goes into moving the Honda set-up from Bahrain to China.

“Normally we go from here in China to Bahrain but for some reason this year it has changed round,” Smith says. “Going out to Bahrain is just the normal procedure- the equipment arrived from Australia, we flew back to England from Australia and then after a few days at home we flew out to Bahrain, and unpacked like normal on a Monday morning.

“But after Sunday’s race in Bahrain it all becomes a massive rush because the schedule is so tight, to come here to Shanghai.


“The official time to finish for us in Bahrain was midnight after the race but it’s a twilight race and it finished at 8pm, so there’s no way we could meet that deadline. We actually finished at around 2:30am, as did most of the teams.

“By the time we got back to the hotel and had a quick shower we had to leave at 5:15 in the morning to get a 7 o’clock flight which was a special charter coming to Shanghai. So I got 45 minutes sleep, as did most people I think, and then we got to the hotel here in China around 10:30pm on Monday evening.

“Tuesday morning we were here at the track by 10 o’clock, unpacking our sea freight which had already been delivered here. The air freight didn’t arrive until 3 or 4 o’clock in the afternoon. We managed to open that up about 5 o’clock in the evening and the mechanics did some maintenance work up until about 9:30pm and then we went back to the hotel.”

The sea freight Smith mentions had been sent directly to Shanghai from the UK, with each of the opening four race locations receiving its own specific delivery of Honda items.

“The Shanghai one left at the end of January. Australia is the first one in the first week of January, followed by Shanghai, then Bahrain is the first week of February and Baku is the second week of February. So it’s been here a while.

“In it we have our two clean rooms - the engine clean room and the ERS clean room - which we build up in the garage. We have some cabling, an engine lifter, worktops, air conditioning units, just bits and pieces to make our working area workable. All heavy stuff. But we have to wait for the tall boxes and all the spare parts which are all on the air freight.”


The air freight movements are more flexible, with the power units themselves and associated parts all arriving via plane from the last race. The four sets of sea freight, however, moves at a different pace.

“The sea freight has to leapfrog ahead if you like. The majority of it only does two events every year because we have the first four in the first half of the season, Canada is always covered by the Australian sea freight which goes straight to Canada. All the rest go back to the UK.

“Then when we get to the last seven races, they all go off for the first four flyaway rounds - Singapore, Russia, Japan and Austin - and then a couple leapfrog after that for the final three races in Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi. So some of them only do two trips and a couple of them do three, whereas the air freight does everything.”

Of that air freight, a lot of it is pit equipment and tools that have been on the road since the Australian Grand Prix. Teams and power unit manufacturers are given a slot to deliver their pallets to an airport ahead of the opening race and then the sport’s owner moves it to each venue where Graham will receive the equipment and start to unpack it.

“It’s controlled by Formula 1 and DHL as well. They tell us when the flight is due to depart and when our delivery time is. It’s always to East Midlands Airport - which is quite easy from Milton Keynes - so we’re governed by that and we just work backwards from there.

“It’s the same from Japan when they’re sending engines to the circuit. They have all the information that we get and we have late freight dates as well from DHL - from the UK and from Japan - and they work from that, sending stuff direct to the circuit, which I will pick up when I get here.”


The power units themselves travel by air, but these are moved around more than the rest of the pit equipment as vital maintenance needs to be carried out on a regular basis. That sometimes requires a brief return to Milton Keynes or Sakura, or in the case of a back-to-back such as this one, work can take place at the circuit itself.

“As soon as it arrives we just all rush in together to get everything unpacked out of our pallet and our container and a few loose boxes that we have. It was just six pairs of hands all on deck, getting everything out, put into the garage and arranged how we want it. Then immediately the guys got the engines and started working on them. That work went on throughout Wednesday, too.

“We had four extra mechanics fly in from Japan specially to help with the maintenance, as well as just the normal guys, which made it a little bit easier. Because of the time restraints, that’s the way we have to do it.”

Having only arrived in China late on Monday, the back-to-back races condense the time Graham and the team has to get everything prepared, with his usual schedule seeing him working a full seven days before the next round.

“If I start work on my own normally on a Monday, if I have a full day, I get quite a bit done. Tuesday the mechanics turn up and there are still bits and pieces to do, but really they will start working on engine preparation and on Wednesday our engineers will turn up.

“By Thursday everything is done by then. Then I get in the office and start planning for the next race and get office work done while I’ve got the chance!


“When it comes to leaving here on Sunday, it will all go together. The only constraint is the certain times we have to get paperwork done by for customs. Sometimes it’s by Friday but nine times out of ten it’s after the race. It’s just a lot of paperwork to do for sea freight, air freight, dangerous goods, that sort of stuff.”

And what of the man making sure everything is in the right place at the right time to let the team go racing?

“I’m going back to the UK and I’m going to have a few days off! I’m flying out to Azerbaijan on the Sunday…”

Got to keep that show on the road.