The chore of feeding the F1 circus
An Interview with Nick Haworth, Operations Director, MSL Global
Qu: Nick, catering for a Formula One team is a tough task. How do you plan for a season?
NH: We know how many races there are in advance and we usually start the season with three fly-away races. We begin planning in November and prepare the freight to be sent out by the middle of December. We send three identical sets of kit, namely our ovens, refrigerators, tables, crockery, everything we need to set up a traveling restaurant. These are shipped to Australia, Malaysia and Bahrain in the SUPER AGURI F1 TEAM sea freight. We rent some elements locally, such as the televisions that we have in the hospitality units. There are also two types of fly-aways to consider when packing the electrical goods; the 110 volts and the 220 volts power supply countries.
I plan the food supplies three races ahead. For the Australian Grand Prix, for example, I will start calling our local contacts in January. Our contact will then supply all of the food that we require directly to us at the circuit. For the European races we have central distribution base in Stuttgart. There is an MSL Global staff member who maintains our supply of fruit, vegetables, tractor units etc. We carry out a stock take in the motorhome on a Sunday night after the race and then on the Monday our man in Stuttgart receives an order from us for the next event. The order arrives on a Tuesday at the circuit of the following Grand Prix weekend and we then prepare the menus. It is quite involved, but we have been doing this for many years now and so we have the routine down to a fine art!
Qu: There are over 50 people on the race team, of differing nationalities, how do you cope with this scale of catering?
NH: We are an international caterer so even though the majority of the race team is English and we are a Japanese team we have two chefs who can turn their hand to any dish. We make all of our own Japanese food and it is in some ways easier than making the Western cuisine. If Taku gives it the thumbs-up we must be doing something right! We talk to the drivers and team physio to ensure that we produce what they want and also to the team to ensure that they are happy, as they are away from home for a long time. We also like to provide an individual and personal touch if someone in the team has a specific request, for example Daniel (Audetto) likes to eat a certain type of spaghetti dish, so we have to be flexible to accommodate for these requests.
Qu: How do the logistics differ for European based races?
NH: We have five trucks that altogether weigh an average of 160 tones. They piggy back each race whilst our refrigerator truck drives back to Germany to pick up the new supplies. We are quite lucky that we have one of the simpler motorhome set-ups in the Paddock when it comes to the back-to-back races. This makes it a lot easier for us to turn around the motorhomes in a short period of time. All in all, European versus fly-away races is much more complicated logistically.
Qu: You prepare approx 13 meals over a race weekend, 17 times a year, how do you decide what to cook?
NH: We prepare the same breakfast menu every morning as this is the main meal of day. There is never a lot of time for the team to eat lunch so we provide a light meal such as a pasta dish and salad. We have two types of evening meal; the ‘grab and go’ and the working dinner. For the ‘grab and go’ we would chose almost the opposite of the local dishes, because it is highly likely that the team ate one of them at a restaurant the night before we start catering for them in the Paddock. We vary the menu at every race to accommodate for this and also have a particular theme for the late Friday night working dinner, for example a curry night, medieval feast with hog roast, a Chinese take-away, it makes dinner time fun after a hard day. We are constantly asking the team what else they may want and if it is shepherd’s pie or lasagna then we will make it. We try not to over complicate the food, just make it wholesome and nourishing. Generally speaking I believe that they are happy.
QU: And how do you decide on the team Guests menu?
NH: We have two chefs with us at SUPER AGURI F1 TEAM. Mike Smith is the Head Chef and he is primarily focused on the team’s Guest menu. Scott Young is our team chef in Europe, but when it comes to the fly-away races they work together on all the catering. They have very diverse talents and are extremely good at what they do.
For the Guest menu we cook a local dish of the day. Mike is incredibly creative and adaptable. He sometimes decides, on a daily basis, what the Guest menu will be. If it is hot weather he will develop a cool dish, for example. We obviously have to use the supplies that we have ordered for that particular race, but we can be very flexible with the menu over the weekend.
Qu: How do you source your food supplies in China?
NH: When China was announced as a new race on the calendar, I traveled over to China for a ‘recce' with the chef at the circuit. We traveled around looking at hotels, sourced directions to the best supermarkets and introduced ourselves to the managers. They then gave us a list of their produce, which we use as our basic shopping list. Our contacts have kept a note of everything that we ordered last year and so this week we amended those lists to our current requirements and sent them back to them. The goods were delivered to the circuit on Tuesday morning.
Qu: Is there anything peculiar about the race in Shanghai for you?
NH: The driving! We work extremely long ours setting up and packing away the catering everyday and so it is nice to be able to get into our bus and be chauffeured too and from our hotel so we can sleep en route! The style of writing the Chinese language makes shopping more difficult than say in a European country. As the characters are so different to ours, we require a translator for our ordering needs. But as we have been to China a couple of times now this is getting easier and I now know what we require. The next exciting race for us of course will be Singapore and I will travel there for a recce soon after the 2008 Australian Grand Prix. But it is quite formulaic, after you have done one race, you can tick it off and go on to next one.
They are a great bunch of people at SUPER AGURI F1 TEAM and we are very much included in the team. This is very important, especially for the front of house crew, and means that we enjoy our work.