Panasonic Toyota Racing's General Manager F1 Operations, Richard Cregan, explains the intricate procedures behind sending an entire F1 team to Australia for the first race of the season and how the work of the mechanics at the race track can give...
Panasonic Toyota Racing's General Manager F1 Operations, Richard Cregan, explains the intricate procedures behind sending an entire F1 team to Australia for the first race of the season and how the work of the mechanics at the race track can give Toyota a competitive advantage before the TF105 has even turned a wheel at Albert Park.
Q: When do you start thinking about preparations for Australia?
Richard Cregan: Our thoughts turn to the next season as soon as the chequered flag is shown at the final event of the previous season. We have to bring all the equipment back from the last race, in the case of 2004 from Brazil, and strip it down to be sent off for upgrades, improvements and repainting. That has been especially important this year because we have changed the livery of the team. Preparations for Australia begin in earnest from November or December, when we study the notes from last year's event and look at ways of improving the operations for this season.
Q: When does the packing process actually begin?
RC: The actual packing process begins around two weeks before departure to Melbourne. Everything has to leave the factory on the Thursday, one week before the race, in order to be at the airport. Customs and Excise need to know all specific details about the boxes we have, the weights, the quantities, basically a comprehensive list of all materials. It is a very complex procedure, but necessary. What takes most time is actually constructing the equipment that we take. For any new car, the materials and tools that we use can change, so on the TF105 for example, we have different fans, front and rear jacks to suit the new wing profiles, and nut guns. We have to wait until the design of the car is complete before we can finalise the tools. That has a knock-on effect on loading lists.
Q: How does the team begin to itemise all the materials?
RC: We have to list each item by its DYX number, that is a part number, but we have to also include its weight, a brief description and the quantities. We strive to base our processes on the experience from previous years and the consumption of parts at the race track. We take enough parts for both race cars, as well as the T-car and one complete set of items to build up the spare chassis if necessary.
Q: What sort of quantities of equipment are we talking about?
RC: We are talking in the region of seven or eight air freight pallets, but we are always trying to reduce the overall weight of what we send to save money. Some items are actually cheaper to rent at the source, things like copy machines, paper, chairs, tables, etc. Last year we had 38 tonnes of equipment in total. This year we have reorganised our pallet packing process to make packing and unpacking more efficient and quicker. That has actually resulted in heavier freight, but we have tried, where possible to reach our target of 37 or 38 tonnes maximum.
Q: How is the packing organised?
RC: We must first start packing based on our aircraft allocation, whether we have upper deck or lower deck pallets. The number of boxes we use is dependent on this information and will be divided and split between departments accordingly. Then we sit down with all the equipment to find the most strategic way of packing it all. All the freight is packed in the truck hall and departs Cologne in one shipment on a 747 rented by Formula One Management (FOM). FOM allocates and co-ordinates the movements, based on information we have provided them. The TF105 race cars will go in the same shipment, but they are packed directly at the airport onto special pallets provided by FOM, which can fit two or three cars. Packing lists must be ready by Tuesday 22 February to go to customs and excise for approval.
Q: How long does this entire process last?
RC: Physically everything will leave the factory on Thursday and should arrive in Melbourne on Monday. FOM look after all of that and arrange for door to door delivery to the front of our garage. It is a very well organised service.
Q: Is there any competition between teams to unpack the quickest?
RC: Not really between the teams, but I think there is a good competition between the truckies within the team. The chief truckie is always looking to manage the time well so that the guys can leave the track at a reasonable hour. Packing up after the race is tougher because we work to stringent deadlines, especially for the back-to-back races, where all freight has to be packed away within 5 hours after the race. For example, in Canada, which is back-to-back with Indianapolis, we have a 10pm limit for packing equipment. This sort of time pressure is only manageable with sufficient planning.
Q: In what order does the equipment come off the pallets? Is there a system?
RC: At Panasonic Toyota Racing, we have built upon the experience from the last few years and modified our system to improve time management. In the past, we have packed according to space allocation, but this year we have endeavoured to prioritise pallets so they are unloaded in a particular order. We would first get the track shacks into the garage, followed then by the garage interiors, then the telemetry racks and pit equipment, and finally engines, electrics and spare parts. On the Sunday night after the race for packing we have probably saved approximately two-and-a-half hours of work, purely with how we have reorganised our packing procedures.
Q: What is a track shack?
RC: A track shack is essentially a small mobile workshop for storage of tools, spare parts and equipment. One shack is the same size as an aircraft pallet and is made of light honeycomb material, which makes it extremely strong, but light. Gearbox and hydraulics share on shack, whilst the other belongs to main stores for spare parts co-ordination. These are used at overseas races in place of the MAN trucks that we use at European events.
Q: What happens if something is missing?
RC: We always arrange two late freight deliveries for Australia in the event that anything is lacking. There could be changes to the specification of the car, for example, as the team tries to maximise the performance of the race cars, therefore we always have a safety net. Closer the race weekend, this becomes increasingly difficult, so if we do need to send anything over to Australia, we use Wednesday as a deadline to ensure that parts get to the track in time for the first session.
Q: When do the cars go on to Malaysia?
RC: We first do part of the rebuild of the cars after the Australian Grand Prix on site in Melbourne, but the bulk of the work is done in Sepang. Equipment delivery follows a similar schedule and is ready at the track by Monday. The mechanics will have four to five days off in between the races mainly because it is more cost effective to stay in Australia than to fly back to Europe. After that they will go to the circuit to complete the rebuild and set-up the garage ready for round two of the championship.
Q: Is there anything Toyota sees as an advantage over its rivals?
RC: Toyota's approach is based on a Plan, Do, Check, Action philosophy, to look at what happened in previous years and to improve. This is something in which I believe we are very strong. Every year, we must see an improvement, no matter how small it may appear. Anything that saves the mechanics time is a bonus. We have implemented a process which limits the amount of time mechanics spend on set-up to allow them more time to focus on the car and make our team as competitive as possible before the TF105s even turn a wheel at the Albert Park circuit.