Four races down, 17 to go, and Formula 1 is set for a return to familiar territory with the Spanish Grand Prix.
Held at the same venue as pre-season testing, the first race of the European season heralds a return for the motorhomes and trucks that make up the more recognisable F1 paddock. But in terms of going racing, the parts required to run an F1 car remain the same wherever we are in the world. And this year, there are four cars to power.
After four years supplying one team, this season is the first time since returning to F1 that we’ve had two partners here at Honda, with Toro Rosso being joined by Aston Martin Red Bull Racing. That means more equipment, more power units and more work behind the scenes for our head of logistics Graham Smith.
“I try and keep myself independent of each team,” Smith explains. “I’m neutral between the two teams and I have my own car and personnel so I’m available to do whatever for either team.
“Having two teams has definitely made my job busier! Obviously there’s a lot more paperwork as well, invoicing and documents for races and dangerous goods notes. There’s a lot more of manoeuvring things around, too.”
As he talks, Graham has just packed up a number of Honda trucks in Milton Keynes to transport power units and equipment down to Barcelona for this weekend’s race. There was even a late change of plan as extra items were added to the cargo late on, but it’s exactly those sorts of challenges he’s employed to deal with.
“It has actually gone very smoothly so far, to be honest. The first two tests and few grands prix, we had no problems with anything at all. It felt like one team; it ran so smoothly. That’s all down to planning. I mean there’s obviously a lot of planning but really we haven’t had any major problems with any components or engines or anything like that either, so it’s made it a bit easier all round.
“From a logistical point of view, having two teams is actually as simple as doubling up on parts in the main. We’ve absolutely replicated everything equipment-wise and tool-wise and parts. There’s a few bits and pieces the two teams can share but most of the stuff is just doubled up.
“We started ordering all the equipment, parts etc, in August and September last year. We had to get the budgets in place and a lot of the flight cases, pallets and other things that are specialist items have got quite long lead times, so we had to get the orders in early.”
As well as carrying several engines and ERS packs, there are also six other flight cases carrying items such as toolboxes, water heaters and the fuel analysis rig. Add in at least another four plastic flight cases with spare parts coming in from Japan, and two aircraft pallets containing more garage equipment that weigh 4000kg each, and it’s a massive amount of equipment to move around.
But it’s not only the pool of equipment that had to be expanded, with personnel numbers growing too and both Red Bull and Toro Rosso treated equally. “Both teams have got identical structures from the Honda side, so we’ve got ten people focused on each team and I work with two truck drivers.
“We already had staff in place in the middle of last year, so they came to the circuit to see how we operate, Last year we had two tests after races in Europe, so we had the opportunity to bring them to those sorts of events to train them up if needed and see how we work trackside.”
On top of moving the larger number of power units and equipment between races, Graham now has to do the same with Honda staff, who have different shift patterns at the circuit but all come together in hospitality at certain meal times or for meetings.
“As a bigger team, we have different leave times from hotels at each venue. We have had two or three different hotels this year because there’s more people. We have a lot more hire cars obviously to deal with that. It’s not too bad, we’ve got small groups of people in each vehicle, we all know when we’re leaving, and we all know roughly when we’re finishing. It’s not all at the same time.
“When it comes to using the motorhome at the track this weekend and feeding everyone, it is a bit tight now! It does get busy and pretty full when there’s a meeting, which is when you notice how many more people we’ve got now.”
The calendar has at least been a little more favourable from a logistics point of view, with no back-to-back flyaway races to start the season, and the first pairing not coming until the French and Austrian GPs in late June.
That schedule has made it easier sending the power units and spares back to Sakura for maintenance in between races, with Milton Keynes used for that work ahead of this weekend’s race in Spain.
While his workload has increased, Graham says the atmosphere within Honda is also positive, with both teams looking competitive and the partnerships working well.
“Everything is going in the right direction, it’s really good. Everything is positive, just different really from last year and the year before. Red Bull I must admit are really easy to work with.
“They’re really helpful to us, particularly on the logistical stuff. They’re based in Milton Keynes too and have vans going to European races every day of the week, so they don’t mind sharing. That side of it is really effective.”
While off-track the Red Bull partnership is going smoothly, on-track has also yielded encouraging results. Graham admits the first race supplying two teams was tricky from a logistical standpoint, but also a clear indication of expectations within Honda and its teams this year.
“It was a difficult pack-up after the race in Australia, as it takes place in the evening. I think we finished at three or four in the morning! It was our first fly-away pack-up with two teams, so we were finding our feet.
“We got our first podium with Red Bull in Melbourne, but we didn’t really celebrate; we didn’t even have any champagne. We only have that if we win.”