Eric Silbermann visits Red Bull Racing to find out about the race which goes on within a team factory between the end of the final test and the start of the first race of the F1 season
From Barcelona to Melbourne via Milton Keynes
We’re just days away from the opening round of the season but there’s a race in progress already - call it Race Zero if you will - covering a much bigger distance than the 302.271 kilometres involved in the Australian Grand Prix.
After eight days of winter testing, the eleven teams are currently busy getting everything back to base (the UK for eight of them) from Barcelona and then on to Australia. It’s a very tight schedule, even tighter for Milton Keynes-based Red Bull Racing who stayed on at the Circuit de Catalunya for some filming over the last weekend. “It meant we packed up on Sunday afternoon, the trucks left Sunday night and arrived back in Milton Keynes around 6 o’clock on Tuesday morning,” explains Race Team Logistics Manager Gerard O’Reilly.
Red Bull Racing therefore has just a few days to turn everything round and hit a deadline of a mid-morning slot this Friday for a flight to Melbourne from East Midlands Airport, which thankfully is only about 90 minutes up the M1 from the factory.
“The three trucks with the most important equipment got back here Tuesday morning and a further three arrived later that day,” says O’Reilly. “The race car we used for testing was stripped in Barcelona after we finished filming with it on Saturday and then it came back in vans, because a van can get back quicker than a truck. The chassis went straight to inspection, after which it goes to the carbon shop to have a few bits and pieces done, then it goes into the paint shop. The chassis was back with us on Wednesday.”
O’Reilly works with a team of seven who are tasked with the unloading and reloading: “They ensure everything goes to the right departments, paint shop, machine shop and so forth.
“Once it gets spread around the factory, we have people who chase stuff all the time, making sure it goes from one process to another, knowing it has to be with me by mid-afternoon Thursday. That way we’ve got a fighting chance of getting it back Thursday night and off to the airport Friday morning.”
A Formula 1 team does have a parts department, but it’s not exactly on a par with your local franchised car dealer.
“Obviously we have very limited stocks of parts at this time of year,” says O’Reilly. “Therefore, car part-wise probably every bit we had in Spain will also go to Australia. Bodywork will have been inspected, repaired and painted. We probably won’t take all of it with us on Friday and there’ll also be parts coming over in the early part of next week.
"Going to East Midlands, we will use three artics, carrying 12 aircraft pallets, which is in excess of 30,000 kilos or 30 metric tonnes. That includes the two race cars, while the spare chassis will be ready by the middle of next week and will come out later. Once the main shipment has gone, things like a spare chassis can go a bit later as there is no running on track until the Friday of the race weekend and hopefully we won’t need it at all!”
If O’Reilly sounds unfazed by it all, that’s because he’s unflappable, possibly because he’s seen it all since he started in Formula 1 in 1992 with the Jordan team, before joining Red Bull Racing in April 2006. All the same, Red Bull has a reputation for having a lastminute.com attitude to race preparation, often bringing what seems like an entire car in cardboard packing cases into an F1 paddock on a Friday or Saturday of a race weekend.
“It’s the way we’ve operated for quite a few years. Some people think it’s a bit last minute, but we are constantly updating the car and putting new stuff on it and we will do that again this year. You can’t say it’s a bad method as we’ve won eight world titles with that system. It keeps us on our toes.
“Most people think it's a big rush but we are actually quite good at it as an established team. I can imagine that a new team like Haas will be having a busy week, as it’s the first time they’ve packed it. We haven’t had that much new equipment over the winter, everything’s got its place and the guys know where everything goes."
Once the precious Red Bull cargo is delivered to the airport, the next time the team sees it will be this coming Monday, when the bulk of the team will find it all lined up in the pit lane in Albert Park – a door-to-door service. A smaller advance party will have been working on setting up the garage since Saturday. I put it to Gerard that Melbourne is quite a way from Milton Keynes if you realise you’ve left something behind…
“I believe there are several flights a day,” he replies with a smile. “I’m the one who normally has to make the phone call in that situation, which means there are times when I’m not so popular back in the factory.”