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With five weeks between the Hungarian And Belgian Grands Prix, a number of fans have questioned why teams need so long, and what the shutdown actually means. Hopefully, this will give you an idea.

First of all, the shutdown isn’t five weeks, it’s only two – and for the teams the scenario is exactly the same as for races where there is a three week gap between races. Last year, the gap was only four weeks, which basically meant the schedule was something like this:

  • Sunday: GP, then pack down and load trucks
  • Monday: Drive Trucks to UK: Approx 1200 miles (at truck speed) across Austria, Germany and Belgium
  • Tuesday: Arrive at the factory and unpack cars
  • Wednesday/Thursday: Work on cars, fit minor upgrades, build up new assemblies (front wings, floors etc) for any parts damaged during the Hungarian weekend. Check and replenish stores.
  • Friday: Make sure trucks are loaded with everything needed for Belgian GP, with a deadline of midnight when Factory closure starts.
  • Two weeks’ break: Breathe, sleep, remind family who you are.
  • Saturday: Back to work, pick up trucks and commence drive to Belgium
  • Sunday: Arrive at Spa, paint garage floor, begin to unload trucks.
  • Monday: Build Motorhome, get IT systems up and running, assemble garage layout according to plan
  • Tuesday/Wednesday: Car preparation
  • Thursday: Drivers arrive, track walk, final engineering talks, car setup etc
  • Friday-Sunday: Grand Prix weekend.

So although four weeks sounds like a long time, only two of those weeks are actually rest days, and there was no weekend in there for some of the guys to nip down the pub and enjoy a pint with their mates.

When we mortals think of working weeks, we tend to think of five days, something between 35 and 42.5 hours per week as a basic in Europe (42.5 is Switzerland btw – which is why I mention it). If F1 engineers only worked 37.5 hours in a week, they could have four days off. And it’s not unknown during testing to work nearly fifty consecutive days, so I really don’t begrudge them the extra week’s “break” in the factory – they’ll still be working, but near their homes, friends and families.

Fine, but was the shutdown actually mean?

Typically, the factory will be closed down, tools locked away, machines switched off and local electricity companies will start to wonder what to do with all the excess power they have to dispose of. Seriously, I know of an electricty sub-station in Bicester that used to trip out  when a certain CFD facility was being used flat out…

During the break, engineering and operational staff are not allowed to access email servers, but there is of course nothing to prevent two engineers chatting on their private mobiles or exchanging ideas via gmail. It’s their holiday – they can do what they like!

Commercial and PR staff can still work though, although finance is an area that is affected, as suppliers are not supposed to be working either. So why are commercial staff exempt? Simply because the sales pitches tend to be aimed at people who work on a more normal time scale: at banks, phone companies and drinks manufacturers.

And during the season, as  the marketing and comms people are not working on the cars, instead of flying Melbourne-London-Kuala Lumpur (for example) just to do a few days work  it can be easier, and cheaper for both them and the team, to take a week or so’s break in Thailand or on an island in the Andaman Sea. I’ll confess to having done that myself.

It’s also worth remembering that it’s not only the teams that are affected. FOM staff, journalists and snappers, they all need a break too. And while it might seem like a glamourous life, flying economy day in, day out can be a very tiring business. That’s not to say that they don’t enjoy it, but their batteries do need recharging. Like pretty much everything else that goes on in F1, it’s all so far removed from our daily lives that we have little idea of what it’s really like.

In general you can work on the theory that F1 people will always do what’s best for the team – and they know that taking a break (very) occasionally will also help them function at a higher level. And stop their families from killing them.

Which is why the break isn’t rigidly enforced – not just because F1 teams are better at getting round regulations than rule makers are at writing them.

So don’t be surprised if you see a few updates on the cars in Spa, or parts in wooden crates arriving to Red Bull at the paddock on Friday night. It’ll just be the physical manifestation of Adrian Newey’s holiday sketches, possibly inspired by the flow of water over a piece of driftwood on a beach.