Alfa Romeo team manager Beat Zehnder spoke about the amount of logistical hoops through which teams have to jump on a regular basis, which has been exacerbated even more during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Zehnder is responsible for booking flights and hotels for the team’s travels, including up to 80 employees for each race weekend, and arranging transport for the team’s freight from circuit to circuit.
Perhaps surprisingly, he says that preparing for races in Europe can be more difficult than the ‘flyaway’ races across America and Asia – especially in double or triple header race schedules.
“Normally, at the beginning of December, before you go on Christmas holiday, you make all the flight and hotel bookings until the end of September of the following season. Now I’ve just booked all the way to Barcelona,” Zehnder said to Auto Motor Und Sport. “In the past, that would have hit me terribly in the stomach that we booked so little. Today you have to live with it.”
With the pandemic ruining normal plans of booking hotels and flights well in advance of the season beginning, the changing nature of the current calendar means the teams have to be much more last-minute in their approach, which adds to the already high stress levels of travelling around the world.
But rather than booking standard economy flights for his team this year, Zehnder and Alfa have found a canny way around it: “We work with Edelweiss, a subsidiary of Swiss [Air], and charter a complete aircraft each time. The charter is currently not much more expensive than normal economy flights.
“It’s a win-win situation between the provider and us. We need flights and they need flying hours for their pilots and crew to keep their licences. But we don’t do it just because it’s convenient, but also we’re in a bubble in Covid times.
“The plane to Bahrain [for winter testing] was an A320, which of course was completely filled with economy seats. Normally, certain employees are allowed to fly business class with us. So in the end the charter was no more expensive than what scheduled flights would have cost us.”
Moving between races in Europe presents further challenges by having to move the cars by truck and, with a double-header coming up in Portugal and Spain, the shortened timescales mean that the teams have the added expense of hiring more drivers to move their freight.
“In principle, double and triple headers are worse in Europe than overseas,” Zehnder explains. “In overseas races it’s because you travel a bit longer, but in Europe you need several drivers for the trucks because you have to go through without a break.
“The distance between the two circuits is 1,300 kilometres. You need three drivers each to drive through without breaks. So with 20 trucks you have to employ 60 drivers, all of whom have to be Covid-tested.
“But there can only be two drivers in a truck at a time. So you organise sleeping busses with cabins that drive in parallel. Logistically and organisationally, Europe is a much bigger effort.”