F1 big top rolls into town

F1 big top rolls into town
TOUCH DOWN: A truck (above)carrying the teams’ containers arriving at the paddock at Marina Bay.

There are the precious multi-million dollar cars to move, of course, along with kilometres of wires and cables.

The high-tech computers, monitors, tyres and the rest of the stuff in the garages also have to be packed up for transport to the next location.

The whole Formula 1 operation requires detailed planning and much precision, but Alan Woollard does not get all the fuss.

"People look at all the stuff we bring in and sometimes wonder how we do it," the logistics director of Formula One Management (FOM) told The New Paper last week. "But it's all just down to good planning."

The 65-year-old is the man who oversees FOM's operations as they move tonnes of cargo from city to city, race to race, across continents over the oceans or through the sky.

And they have done so again, as the paddock at Marina Bay begins to get busy today ahead of the Formula 1 Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix which revs off with practice on Friday.

Maybe Woollard is just used to it after 38 years in the job.

But, make no mistake, what Woollard and his band of 20 men do is nothing short of remarkable.

Between every Formula 1 race - a break which could last between one to four weeks - they transport over a million kilogrammes of cargo over seas and through the air.

All in all, over 20,000 individual items, from the tiniest screw to whole engines, make the trip.

Items that are not urgently required, like furniture, cutlery, gas cookers and generators, have already been at the Marina Bay circuit for days, brought over by sea freight.

Those items weigh about 500,000kg.

The "VIP goods" - like the engines, tyres and various car parts - arrived yesterday on six Boeing 747-8 planes, which are the wide-body sisters of the popular 747s.

STRIPPED DOWN

After the Italian Grand Prix on Sept 7 in Monza, the 11 teams went back to their respective bases all over Europe and their mechanics immediately began tearing the multi-million dollar machines apart.

"There, they break the car down to spare parts," explained Woollard.

"Maybe three years ago, we'd have 20-odd cars to fly over, but now we carry them in spares.

"Once the parts reach the pit, the mechanics start putting it together again."

About 700,000kg of equipment is flown into the country.

There are a mind-boggling mass of items to work with, but Woollard said: "Everything has to be light. Because if it's not light, it costs more."

To cut down on weight, the FOM designed special containers to store the parts of the cars before they are transported.

These containers are made to specific sizes to ensure no space wastage and are also made of lightweight material.

Travelling through the air, the Pirelli tyres have to be housed at a temperature of 15 deg C to ensure they don't degrade due to the changes in the atmosphere.

Naturally, security is also a concern.

Every package is sealed and a porter is on every flight to make sure nothing is tampered with.

Once the planes touch down, Woollard and his team are at the strip to unload all the equipment.

"It's like a military operation," he said, with a chuckle.

"It's well drilled, everyone knows exactly what to do."

Woollard has a particular worry with Singapore because of the lack of space around Marina Bay, including the paddock area, of course.

"Many years ago in Mexico, we had a big problem," he recounted.

"One of the truck drivers didn't take the route he was supposed to, and the truck hit a bridge and the engine of one of the teams, BMW, was damaged.

"Luckily, it was after the race and BMW managed to sort it out before the next race. It just goes to show how important it is to stick to the routes and details that are set out." Woollard made three trips to Singapore, before the first GP was held here in 2008, on a recce mission.a

"We checked routes, noted the heights of all the bridges to see if our trucks could go under them, made sure there was enough turning space for our trucks... Everything had to be perfect." With that amount of planning, one could be forgiven for thinking Woollard is on edge most of the time.

But he insists nothing could be further from the truth.

"My son, Adam, works for me now (as FOM manager of operations) so it's very much a family affair. I enjoy it. After all, it's just planning."


This article was first published on September 15, 2014.
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