The logistic challenge of flyaway races The 2010 Formula 1 season is now reaching its climax, with only four races remaining and it is not just the fact that the fight for both the Drivers' and Constructors' titles is balanced on a knife edge...
The logistic challenge of flyaway races
The 2010 Formula 1 season is now reaching its climax, with only four races remaining and it is not just the fact that the fight for both the Drivers' and Constructors' titles is balanced on a knife edge which makes it such a tense time, as the teams prepare to tackle the Japanese Grand Prix. In the same way that a driver who takes a bad line through Suzuka circuit's famous "Esses" section can still feel the negative effects of this several corners later, so too, a team that is not well prepared going into this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix, will feel the effects of that in the following final three rounds. Adding to the complication of the task from a logistical point of view is that this last quartet of races all take place a long way from home. It is a very different challenge to the one faced during the European part of the season.
After the Suzuka weekend there will be no chance to return cars and equipment to Maranello in order to press a theoretical "Reset" button on everything. It will be necessary to stick closely to the pre-arranged programme and all aspects that need to be managed on the car and in terms of parts and equipment. Some components will inevitably need to be flown back to the factory, either to be repaired or to be updated, so an assessment must be carried out to decide what work the race team can handle itself, carrying out workshop duties at the race track of the following venue. "It's a very complicated procedure, you need good management skills and you must be on top of every situation," affirms, Diego Ioverno, Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro's Head of Track Operations. "The main job, which has to be carried out on Sunday night after each race outside Europe is to strip down the race cars and carry out an initial check on all its component parts. In fact, we do this in Europe too, but it is more critical for the flyaway races. It is a fundamental process, because it is possible that some problems on the car did not show up on the telemetric data during the race itself."
Once this preliminary inspection is carried out, a decision is taken as to which parts do in fact need to return to Maranello. Everything else, including the cars themselves, is packed and air freighted to the next venue, where the rebuild job is resumed, sometimes using components that have been flown out from the factory. This is necessary, because in a season as closely contested as this one, the Scuderia along with the other teams in the title chase, are still updating their cars for every race. It is not just the cars that have to be prepared under different conditions, once Europe has been left behind. "These flyaway events are a bit more challenging in terms of how the pit garages are prepared," continues Ioverno. "Clearly, we do not have the car transporters and trucks, which in Europe serve as a workshop and parts department during a race weekend. Therefore, here we have to find space in the garages to create a workshop area, a parts storeroom and so on. You also have to create space for the engineers and drivers to hold their regular debriefing sessions." At circuits that have featured on the calendar in previous years, this task is easier as the logistics crew knows what to expect and all the circuits provide each team with a scale drawing of the space that will be available to them, so that some of the planning can be done long before the race, back home in Italy.
If all the teams will miss the convenience of their trucks this weekend, in another respect, Suzuka is more than adequate, as it has very wide and spacious pit lane for the pit crew to carry out their task that can be so important to the final result on Sunday afternoon. It has one anomaly, in that in some areas it slopes very slightly downhill in the direction in which the cars travel. One month ago in Monza, the verdict was that Fernando Alonso took that famous win thanks to the brilliant performance of the crew during his pit stop, while two weeks later in Singapore, the tyre changing routine failed to make the headlines. "In fact I think then crew performed even better in the Singapore pit stop," reckons Ioverno. "In Monza, we were in second place and managed to take the lead thanks to Fernando's pit stop. But in Singapore, he was in the lead before the pit stop, so the guys had to cope with the greater pressure of knowing that they could actually lose the race for Fernando and in terms of time taken, it was just two tenths longer than the Monza stop, but enough to keep the lead ahead of the Red Bull. We should not forget that Felipe also had a good pit stop, if not quite as good as Fernando's. However, you have to consider that for strategic reasons, we brought Felipe in on the first lap, which is complicated as most of the guys have been on the start grid and so they had to rush back to the garage in more of a hurry than usual, in order to take up their positions for the pit stop. It was similar to what we did with Fernando in Monaco, except slightly easier as the Singapore track is longer, thus giving you a bit more time."
Suzuka is very different to the last two venues in several ways, mainly because it has many high speed corners. In theory, this means it is not that well suited to the strengths of the F10, however, recent races have shown the car to be versatile and adaptable to most types of track and there will be further technical updates arriving in Japan, aimed at making it even more competitive. No updates are required on the human side, because everyone in the team; drivers, engineers and mechanics is very motivated to go for a hat trick of wins if possible, with the main aim of closing down even more the gap in both championships.
In the past, the Japanese Grand Prix used to be the penultimate or final round of the World Championship and on eight occasions, the Driver's crown was assigned at the end of the Suzuka race. This track has hosted the event twenty one times, with the Mount Fuji circuit accounting for the other four in its history. Ferrari's record in Japan is excellent, with a total of seven wins out of the twenty five editions of the Japanese Grand Prix, with six of them coming courtesy of Michael Schumacher, with Gerhard Berger taking the Prancing Horse to victory in the first ever Grand Prix held at Suzuka back in 1987. As for our current drivers, Felipe Massa has not raced here since 2006, his debut season with the Scuderia: he took pole position and went on to finish second and while this was a good personal result, it was not a great day for Ferrari as a certain Fernando Alonso won that day, which was enough to secure him that year's Drivers' title. Two years later, Fernando also won at Mount Fuji.