a hint from MotoGP

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freight capacity with the Volga-Dniepr Group’s AirBridgeCargo (ABC) operation, which has a fleet of 17 Jumbos all being withdrawn from international operation.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.

46 thoughts on “a hint from MotoGP

  1. Would be nice to see F1 freight vastly reduced. Always wondered how much of it could be reduced as it’s a legacy of the spend what you like era just closed.

    Would also be nice to see cars that don’t need the huge IT infrastructure just to start them too….

    1. I’ve often thought that putting a much tighter limit on the number of track staff, using standard IT hardware and standard pitwall systems would be a big cost saving. Ban the back office strategy centers, ban real time telemetry make the car start on its own. That wouldn’t change the visceral appeal of the sport but sure would save on some costs

  2. It is about time had it’s own dedicated aircraft. There are plenty of 777’s sitting around that could be converted for use. That way they can plan their trips as requierd and no middle man.

    1. Not sure it’s that easy to convert a passenger 777 to freight. Floor beams need strengthening, floors need to be replaced, cargo doors need to be installed, and fire suppression systems need to be installed. Israel Aerospace Industries does this conversion in about 130 days. Dedicating the aircraft to only move F1 would be a revenue suck if the aircraft were not in use, so F1 would suddenly be in the air freight business with blocked out dates for races. Maybe not the best solution. How about limiting the amount of freight for each team, similar to the spending cap? Joe says for the drive away races 300 semi-trucks are used. How about limiting that to some reasonable number for each team? As a plus this would look eco-friendly with the reduced diesel burning…… Compare the amount of fuel burned by aircraft transport, ships, and trucks to the amount of fuel used by the race cars.

      1. Plenty of US Air Force C5 Galaxy transports in the Mojave Desert they could purchase and offer retired USAF pilots & crew a job?

    2. I was watching YouTube video recently on a flight channel. Older planes like MD11’s are now popular with cargo carriers. They are available & not used in passenger service. Companies are reluctant to convert current passenger planes as it will take them out of service too long, the conversion cost is too high, and carriers expect the current shortage to be temporary. So converting a 777 is not seen as a good financial decision. Better to use older planes such as the tri-jets & 747’s

  3. As soon as I read the news about this I thought or your article from a number of days back. Although large by motorbike standards, the MotoGP paddock is far smaller than the F1 world, so it is a warning indeed…

  4. And to think we used to run an F1 car with a small Mercedes van, the car on VW wheels to fit it in the van, and two mechanics who called the van home. For away trips we put it all on a single cargo pallet.

  5. It seems that AirBridgeCargo has been badly affected by the war. The website Simple Flying has more info.

  6. Very interesting! Logistics that the average F1 fan doesn’t think about until told about it. A temporary reduction in the number of F1 races in 2022 may be necessary to successfully get thru this year.

  7. Joe, it sounds like Audi and Porsche will announce their F1 plans next week. Do you have more information?

    1. Well, we could have 23 races in Essex each year and then complain about farting cows or the Tour de France.

      1. To be fair, a street circuit in Southend-on-Sea would probably be more attractive than the surroundings at Jeddah. Not sure about the other 22 though…

      2. Joe, you know very well that Boreham does not have a Grade 1 FIA circuit license. Furthermore, I feel compelled to point out that bulls and indeed bullocks also break wind and that ‘fart’ is a derogatory term for senior citizens. In future, perhaps you could say ‘botty-burping bovines’.

        Your point, however, is taken and I’m off to glue myself to an Aberdeen Angus’ bottom in protest.

      3. Grégory Doucet, M. le Maire of Lyon and a member of EELV, has already complained about the Tour de France, saying in 2020 that it’s sexist, polluting and likely to bring COVID-19 to his fair city…

        I’ve read elsewhere that the Moto GP business was caused by one of the aircraft flying between Indonesia and Argentina breaking down and stranding itself and its contents in Mombasa.

      4. True. But surely there is a middle ground and 160 planes (just imagine looking at 160 747 or 777 freight planes laid out on an airfield in front of you) – is that REALLY necessary ? I’m taking the figures very loosely, but ten european races (not sure of the actual figure, but lets go with ten) x 300 = three THOUSAND trucks. That’s madness.

    2. If Merc, Iveco or Renault were smart, they could do prototype trucks Tesla Semi style and get a huge marketing promotion out of it. Could just do it for the cars and be like the Merc SL Transporter from back in the 50’s.

  8. NASCAR also had more than one race team and a lot of cars. One set of trucks off to one race while another returned to base from the last race.
    Many teams flew the pit crew from race to race but the mechanics didn’t do every race.

    F1 was a lot more work when testing was allowed but here again eventually there were different cars, mechanics and trucks for testing with only one person doing both races and tests – sadly usually me.

    In the early days the race team did tests as well, that was hard work but whilst it was possible to get 10 people prepared (daft enough) to do it (a full travelling team when I started) not likely in this day and age to get enough people to cover all the days away and travelling.

      1. 10 years ago, when I worked in NASCAR, the same crews attended each race and test, They didn’t fly home for the race day as, in those days, several cars had to be stripped for post-race inspection while at the track. However, it was fly in on Thursday, fly back Sunday and several races could be driven to from base. Not as bad as intercontinental trips,

  9. At what point do you think races start to be ubiquitous Joe? 24 or 25 races? There used to be an exclusivity, but now it appears less so?

    1. I think we are already there. I’ve been a F1 fan for over 30 years. Used to plan my weekends around watcching a race on a Sunday. Now there are so many I’ve given up trying to watch them all live. Sometimes real life gets priority.

  10. I’m sure there are plenty of ex military transports at the Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Tuscon, Arizona. They have quite a few C5A Galaxy & C141 Starlifter military transports just sitting there. Perhaps F1 can do a deal with the USAF and lease them and crews to fill the gaps? I’m sure Uncle Sam wouldn’t mind?

  11. Triple 7 freighters have the main deck door behind the wing,toward the empennage and less than ideal for loading oversized pallets.

    As far as MGTOW is concerned,both ac would cube-out before hitting design weight limits..

  12. Given the 7 mile queues at Dover at the moment, there must be a slight concern at getting everything from Silverstone to Austria on a back to back weekend.

  13. As an expat, who knows Europe fairly well, for the 2021 season, the logic of having two races in Austria, and not factoring in the only apx 420 Km away Hungaroring baffled me a bit. That’s about 260 Miles.
    The British GP in Silverstone took place 2 weeks later on July the 16th, followed on Aug 1th by the race in Hungary.
    The following 3 races in 2021 were Belgium, Netherlands, and Italy
    Filling the race calendar during Covid must have been quite a challenge.
    Bio fuel is a good catch phrase, but F1,s actual carbon footprint leaves a different message

  14. Pretty sure the freight issues are down to shipping monopolies and profiteering… there’s a dude at the American prospect called David Dayen that writes about it all the time.

    1. There is a war that has caused more pressure in the business. There may be other pressures but the war has made things worse.

    2. An acquaintance told me before the pandemic he used to pay 1,400- $1,500 per container from Shanghai to Los Angeles – Long Beach harbor. Shippers are asking more than $20K now.

  15. Thank you Joe for the fast and free information on this topic. On an other motorsport website (not to name it) there is a report in the Prime section that cover the same subject…2 days later…

  16. Joe, just looking at your F1 pass I see no starting grid or pitlane access. Is that because of COVID? I’m pretty certain I’ve spotted on Martin Brindle’s grid walks on the grid before COVID. The time I recall you had a greenish cap on

  17. And F1 thinks the answer to its environmental issue is “sustainable fuel” for F1 races? It must be approaching the biggest carbon footprint of any sport. Surely it should be looking at the scale of operations involved in multiple tyre options, huge numbers of people localised and inefficient scheduling amongst other issues.
    Some time someone is going to point out “the emperor has no clothes”

  18. Joe would know what is genuinely sustainable from a human perspective as he travels the races on a budget, 23/24 races means half the year effectively as we have to consider Christmas and the summer break.

    It would probably be achievable without human fatigue if the calendar was half sensible and perhaps continentally grouped. But part of the fee is to first or last race etc and not too close to a neighbour. I think only the flyaways would have trouble with that,. But I’m guessing that corporate guests are a consideration too.

    Personally I would like to see a race in Africa and less in the middle East, in fact the perfect number of races in the middle East would be zero, let them sportwash with other sports. More races in Europe and a South American double header. China should not return to the calendar any time soon too with their human rights record. An ideal calendar well planned would be something like

    South Africa
    San Marino
    Las Vegas

    But we can only dream of a calendar which is where people tend to follow the sport.

  19. Freight bring shipped to Melbourne got delayed and had to taken off the ship in Singapore and flown in on 777’s. Another lucky escape! How long will the luck hold?

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