Why 2016’s schedule could be knee-buckling for teams

As the last notes from Davey’s Crocodile Rock guitar riffs lucidly slid across the Circuit of the Americas and lodged themselves into the crevices of the Formula One paddock, the reflectivity of those pentatonic scales were ever increasing because the garages were nearly empty. What had once been fully outfitted with gear, people, cars, equipment, hospitality, chairs, tables, advertising hoardings and more was now a vacuous garage area as barren as they day prior to F1’s arrival in Austin Texas.

Just a few hours early, a US Grand Prix had just finished and Sir Elton John took the stage at the COTA amphitheater. Now it was paddock nearly packed and tagged for shipping to Mexico. This isn’t unique to F1’s presence in Austin, it happens every single grand prix weekend and it requires a tremendous amount of work from team personnel to set the entire operation up, run the race and events and then tear everything down again. It is a side of F1 fans rarely, if ever, see.

As I walked through the media center, F1 journalists were pummeling laptop keyboards trying to capture the essence of what had been a terrific USGP. Mark Hughes, James Allen, Jennie Gow, Ted Kravitz, Jason Swales, Will Buxton were all folks I saw plying their skills with a distinct element of precision due to the champion skills gained from frequency of tasks. Joe Saward was working feverishly going hither and thither for information and I noticed that in particular because I am always impressed at how quickly he is able to get his signature piece, GP+ e-magazine, online and ready for fans to consume. Joe, among other F1 journalists are an impressive, professional bunch of folks who travel and work tirelessly to cover the sport. Perhaps the difference is, they don’t have to wash and clean a wheel or tear down and entire garage at the end of the race nor do they build the complete façade a few days prior. Point is, it’s incredibly hard work for F1 journalists and I have to believe that is compounded for team personnel with all the physical labor they perform on a race weekend.

This is why the thought of a 21-race season is slightly daunting to even the most financially sound teams. It’s no surprise to me to hear Mercedes boss Toto Wolff have concern for his team personnel with the new, extended schedule:

“We need to have a look at the organisation – everyone is getting pretty tired at the end of the season – and I am not sure we can actually cope with 21 races in the current structure,” Wolff added.

“We have to be looking at maybe having second shifts, rest times after the race weekends. It’s quite a complex thing to do for next year.”

As fans, we often think that all of these folks make millions and they have to work a little for it but that’s not the case. Sure, the drivers may make millions but the team personnel do not. They work very hard for industry average wages. Putting more races on the calendar means that the wear and tear on the human element of a team is great and Toto feels his team will have to be intelligent about that.

Take Shell for example. When I spoke to Guy Lovett, who is the main brain behind Shell’s trackside lab inside Ferrari’s garage, he shared with me some of the details of how challenging all of the travel and logistics can be. All of the details that can offer challenges and have to be sorted in order to be a tactical and strategic supplier to Ferrari. It’s astounding what Guy and Shell do week in and week out and I imagine the teams are even more taxed with all the complications and logistics involved in moving their operation from paddock to paddock.

Austin presented an even more complicated situation as the entire show had to be moved quickly in order to make the back-to-back race weekend’s of Austin and the Mexican Grand Prix. In 2016, that becomes even more complicated and the back-to-back scenarios are what really tax the system:

“It’s definitely a lot for the travelling team,” Wolff said. “19 races already was a lot this year and next year back-to-back races are quite difficult.”

From Sunday night’s Elton John encore, the gear had to be staged for shipping out and into the Mexican paddock for assembly Wednesday through Thursday for Friday’s practice. Then the process starts all over again to ship to Sao Paulo in Brazil. In 2016, there will be six back-to-back races and that’s a lot! Not even Elton John can make that process any easier although I did notice a few team personnel working with a pep in their step as they sang along to I’m Still Standing whilst packing up the enormous panels that make up the garage walls.

Hat Tip: Motorpsort

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