Behind the scenes of F1, an army of Ferrari technicians fights a constant logistics battle. With no room for error
The peak of activity of the 2018 F1 season came on the eve of the Summer break, with five Grand Prix coming in just six weeks, including the first ever three-in-a-row on consecutive weekends. For all European destinations the material is transported from Maranello in a fleet of eighteen lorries: eight for the hospitality structures; three for the telemetry area; four for the work areas; three for the pit lane, catering area, and paddock club. Plus the racing cars themselves. All told, it amounts to fifty tonnes of material, supplemented by another eighty tonnes for the motorhome. It is an enormous feat of logistics, involving 125 people.
And at the heart of it is Sergio Bondi, Ferrari logistics manager. “It is a significant volume” he says, with huge understatement. "Everything has to be ready according to strict deadlines, and there are virtually no margins of error.” Usually, the first part of the material has to be already ‘in loco’ on the Sunday preceding the race weekend. “The following day what we call our ‘squadretta’ - ‘little team’ - arrives at the race-track so that on the Monday morning they can begin the assembly of all the structures needed, the pits, the kitchen and the motorhome,” says Bondi.
The rest of the support team leaves Maranello on the Wednesday, catching a chartered flight so as to be operational on the Thursday morning. In the case of ‘back-to-back’ race weekends this means starting the process as soon as the chequered finishing flag is waved out on the race-track. The motorhome alone needs fifteen hours to dis-assemble, and two whole days to re-assemble. Over the years there has been a significant increase in the number of inter-continental legs beyond Europe.
So Ferrari has developed an inter-continental transport 'matrix', aimed at efficiency. “We buy multiple examples of the relatively low-value material, creating five identical kits that travel by sea according to a journey plan”, explains Bondi. This is cheaper than flying them. These include "chairs, tables, kitchens, the hospitality suite interiors, garage panelling, the engine trolley and the extraction booth (used to extract unclean air when mechanics are working hands-on with an engine on the work bench).” For example, the material sent by ship to Melbourne last March then returned to Maranello to be later sent on to Suzuka; the kit sent to Bahrain in April was then sent to Russia in October; the Montreal material will re-appear in Singapore. And so on. It is one huge matrix to keep everything running like clockwork.
High-value elements instead travel by cargo plane. When the non-European calendar produces two back-to-back races, the race car is dismantled in the box at the end of the first race, transported by air inside a specially-designed container, re-appearing on the Tuesday at the next circuit. “The costs are optimised,” insists Bondi, “and for this reason we have sourced suppliers for each of the legs of the World Championship, for our catering service.” That means quality is guaranteed and transportation costs are eliminated. Sometimes, however, not everything goes to plan. “Once,” recalls Bondi, “due to a storm that went on for over a week, we learnt that a cargo that had left Genoa by ship would not have arrived in time in Shanghai."
They intercepted the ship in the Middle East, prepared the material ready for air transport, and filled a Boeing 777 out of Abu Dhabi. "On these occasions it’s clear how important it is to have a plan B ready to be put into action: and you’d better watch out if you don’t have one”.