The MotoGP Gran Premio Michelin de la Republica Argentina, to be held this weekend at the Autodromo Temas de Rio Hondo, has been forced to cancel the first day of practice because freight has not been delivered on time. MotoGP has 21 races a year, of which 12 are in Europe and, by all accounts, has less freight than Formula 1, so if the motorcycle world is having problems, then F1 needs to be aware that it could also run into trouble. F1 has 23 races, of which 11 are in Europe, so it is a bigger challenge.
Last year’s F1 had near-misses in Brazil and Qatar, and there was also a very close call in Mexico that went unreported. Thus, these sort of problems were coming because of disruption caused by COVID-19 restrictions. Now they have the added problem of the war in Ukraine. And that makes it difficult because sports don’t seem to understand that there are limits of what can be achieved and are trying to cram too much into their schedules. Even the most efficient freight operations are struggling to keep up.
Things have got far worse since the war because this has reduced the world’s air freight capacity with the Volga-Dniepr Group’s AirBridgeCargo (ABC) operation, which has a fleet of 17 Jumbos all being withdrawn from international operation. Other airlines have been forced to reroute their flights to avoid flying over Russian air space and so fuel costs have gone up and delays have increased. This means that keeping to tight schedules is not easy and so deadlines have started slipping and no-one will give guarantees. F1 cannot cope with flights that might be a day or two late. There are no margins of error and as F1 is only an intermittent customer with the freight companies, and not using the same routes week after week, they do not get priority. The biggest problem is what happens if a freighter suffers technical problems, because these days there is no capacity left to find replacement aircraft. It is the same with climate problems. It also does not help if customs officials slow down the process, which often happens in countries that have complicated bureaucracy.
Formula 1 needs a lot of aircraft, with around 160 planes required in the course of a year, as each long-haul race requires seven 747s to take equipment to a race, and another seven to take it away afterwards. The sport uses 747s, which are old but efficient. It can also use 777s which have a bigger freight capacity but have a much lower take-off weight than the 747s, and consequently a smaller fuel capacity, which means that thay need to make more stops on the long-hauls. The diversions around Russian air space means more stops, more crews, more potential for delays and so on…
The solution to the problem is for F1 to find a carrier willing (and able) to give F1 priority over other customers. That might be possible with some kind of partner programme but right now, things look very risky. Some of the longer hauls, such as Australia and Brazil, are particularly troublesome as freight companies do not want to send their planes that far, unless they have freight booked for the return. And they do not want to have planes sitting around for a week, waiting for the sport to do what it has to do, as they can be used to earn money.
We will see if F1 can juggle successfully this year, but there remains the possibility that there will be delays at some point and delays might possibly be serious enough to impact the races, which would be a serious blow to F1 both financially and in terms of prestige. Another solution to the problem would be to stop trying to jam in more events, and try to generate more revenues from existing events. There is plenty of scope to do that but bosses seem to think that F1’s miracle-workers have no limits. They do… and not of their own making.
NASCAR can do 36 races a year because it is all in the same country and it is all done by truck. The equipment hauled here and there is far less complicated than F1 (which is good thing). There are no customs questions and no need to book big freight planes, so it is relatively easy.