November 2022, Virtual
21 November 2022, Hilton London Metropole
Thousands of miles, hundreds of staff, and destinations spread across the globe – F1 travel is an epic event even before the Grand Prix has begun. Mark Frary reports
IT IS ESTIMATED that each year, teams involved in Formula 1 racing travel more than 100,000 miles between the various races and test sessions. When you consider that the bigger teams send up to 75 engineers, mechanics, marketers, sponsors, managers, owners and, of course, drivers to each race, the scale of the travel challenge becomes clear. Oh, and don’t forget the cars and spare parts. No wonder managing travel in F1 is not for the faint-hearted.
The Formula 1 calendar is based on a series of transit ‘loops’. The calendar, announced in October for the following year, runs from March through to November and starts off in Asia Pacific with the Melbourne and Kuala Lumpur Grand Prix, before returning to Europe for Silverstone and Monaco. It then heads back to Asia before ending up in the Americas.
It is a very different circuit from 10 to 15 years ago, when it was much more dominated by European races. The loops are designed to make it easier for the large volume of freight to be able to get from one race to another smoothly. Getting cars and other kit around is handled by DHL, which has been F1’s official logistics partner since 2004.
Mark Gallagher was formerly head of Cosworth’s F1 business unit, head of commercial affairs at Jaguar-Red Bull Racing and marketing director at Jordan Grand Prix. He is now co-owner of GP3 team Status Grand Prix. He says: “It’s not untypical for a Formula 1 team – and there are 11 – to take 30 tonnes to each race, all of which has to be freighted.”
All 11 current teams have their bases in Europe – eight in the UK (within easy reach of Silverstone), one in Switzerland and two in Italy.
Gallagher says the freight arrangements are one of the most important things introduced to the sport by F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone. “Formula One Management (FOM) awards a contract and then you have a single provider. If the teams have a problem they can go through that one provider. If you have a part you want to ship, you could do it yourself but you are leaving yourself open to getting stuck in customs. DHL has a delivery and pick-up point at each race area and it makes for a nice smooth system.”
The TMC most closely associated with F1 is Worthing-based Travel Places, formerly named Bob Warren Travel, after its founder. “Bob Warren is something of a legendary figure in F1,” says Mark Gallagher. “He really specialised in F1 travel back in the 1980s and I would suggest that there is no team in F1 that hasn’t used him.”
Bob is still managing director of the 50-strong firm but it is now run by his sons, Nick and Matt, and the company has been looking after the Williams and McLaren teams for 35 years.
Mark Gallagher says this heritage is part of the TMC’s appeal: “They know every hotel at every circuit and you don’t have to explain anything. For example, they know that in Malaysia, the race is not in Kuala Lumpur, it is [at the Sepang International Circuit], 45 km out of town.”
Despite appearances, Travel Places is now partnered with American Express. Matt Warren says of the Amex deal: “We are business partners but we act completely independently. We are able to access their licences and fare databases, which is helpful for day-to-day business travel but doesn’t really affect group travel. It is a powerful company to align ourselves with.”
CLASS TRAVELTeam members typically travel out to races in waves. The first out are the mechanics and support staff, who usually travel a week before the race and have the job of unpacking the freight. On the Wednesday or Thursday before the race weekend, the marketing and commercial teams arrive. The senior race engineers, owners, sponsors and guests come out at the last minute.
As far as class of travel is concerned, there will usually be one or two who fly first class – team owners and major sponsors; senior management will be in business; while the rest will be in economy. Gallagher says: “Since the recession, the majority of people are in economy.”
Drivers for the top teams use private jets to get around. “Drivers have a rather jetset lifestyle,” says Gallagher. “They tend not to go home after races as they are doing so much work for teams and sponsors. Their travel tends to get handled between the travel manager of the team and the management company of the driver.”
Part of the ‘prize’ package that teams receive from FOM is a certain number of complimentary flights and hotel rooms. The prize money is calculated from a central pot of revenue from TV and advertising and that is then split up depending on where you finish. Even the smaller teams benefit and the package will include some flights.
However, they also need to book their own. Travel Places’ Matt Warren says the biggest challenge when getting air tickets is working so far in advance. “You need to wait for the calendar to be confirmed [in October] so there is a fair bit of manoeuvring. For most of the newer races, such as Singapore, there is a huge amount of capacity in and out of there. For Austin, however, you are going to have to fly via Dallas. Destinations such as Sochi [the Russian city on the Black Sea which is due to host a Grand Prix in 2014] could be a challenge, because it is not a very well-served airport.”
The online world has proven to be a challenge for many working in business travel and F1 is no different, says Matt Warren. “Teams with smaller budgets would certainly book Easyjet to Nice and Barcelona and take the gamble that there won’t be changes. We have people on-site at many of the races to make sure things run smoothly. Most of our clients think it is worth it. There are a lot of changes to itineraries all the time – maybe someone has to come out with a nose-cone on Saturday at five o’clock.”
Monaco is Swainston’s speciality. “We have amazing relationships with Monaco hotels. This year I had a hotel ring me to say two people hadn’t checked in and did we have two people needing rooms that night? Of course I did. This year we worked with 18 hotels in and around Monaco and we accommodated everyone from the people who drive the transport for the sponsors right up to peers of the realm and captains of industry,” she says.
Where various members of the team stay varies. “In Monza, the engineers will stay as close to the track as possible, yet the sponsors will stay in Milan so they can give guests a better experience than putting them in a hotel in Monza,” she says.
Hotels in some of the newer destinations try it on with pushing up rates, says Travel Places’ Matt Warren, but it is not usually successful. “There are typically 2,000 to 3,000 people who will be working at the event coming from all over the world. Yet the reality is that there is going to be a lot more room-stock in the destination, and a lot of hotels are quiet over the weekends anyway,” says Warren.
“In the older cities, like Budapest, Barcelona and Kuala Lumpur, the hotels realise they need to offer more to encourage people and teams to stay with them – for example, extra laundry or free internet, because they know there is always capacity in the city over the weekend. If you are somewhere like Spa [in Belgium] where there are no hotels near the circuit, then [the nearest] hotels [further afield] can charge whatever they want,” he says.
Swainston says new destinations have other problems – Sochi’s track, for example. “It’s an hour on a rough road and there is only one hotel by the circuit, which will immediately be snapped up for the teams. For sponsors, journalists and trade people, it is going to be a nightmare,” she says.
There are also certain favourite hotels, says Gallagher. “Sometimes you see venues where everyone, for historic reasons, will stay together. The Transamerica hotel in Sao Paulo, for example. It’s on the right side of the city for Interlagos, and you really want to avoid that traffic jam...”
GREAT F1 HOTELS...as recommended by Lynden Swainston“The Columbus in Monaco is the ultimate destination hotel because the staff are fantastic. We had quite a big car client there this year. The hotel is a little bit tacky, but the staff and the service are so good. It is also the most convenient for the paddock, and they are such a delight to work with.”
“Abu Dhabi has lots of wonderful accommodation. We work closely with the Traders Hotel – they look after our clients so well and nothing is too much trouble. With so many hotels there now, they have to work so much harder.”
“We really like working with the Hotel Arts in Barcelona. It has a ‘wow’ factor and the best breakfast in the world. When I am in Barcelona, I wish I could stay there all day.”
NOT JUST F1IN THE SAME WAY that football is not just about the Premier League, motor sports is not just about Formula 1. Battersea-based Media Travel handles travel management for teams in other parts of motorsports, notably teams on the touring car circuit.
“There is a lot that goes on in motorsport that goes beyond F1,” says Media Travel boss Fran Green. “F1 is already looked after by the likes of Travel Places but there are many support teams, the GP2 andGP3, and race series and rallying.”
The company’s motorsports business is headed up by Fiona Rees, former travel co-ordinator for the RML Chevrolet WTCC team. It now handles four teams on the touring car circuit as well as KSO, the promoter of the FIA WTCC series.
One thing that is different about the other motorsports is money – none come close to matching the millions involved in F1. For some teams, it is the drivers themselves who are providing the money, says Green. “Everyone is watching costs,” she says. “They tend to spend less time at the race weekend.”