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Handle with care: the logistics of Formula E

Move 400 tonnes of high-tech gear from Europe to Asia, and back, within a few weeks. Don’t break anything, make sure it’s on time and be green about it. That’s the clean cargo challenge of Formula E’s logistics partner DHL.




Thomas Neiszner 16 9 01

Formula E is a travelling circus. And Thomas Nieszner’s job is to keep the all-electric racing series on the move. As President of DHL’s Motorsports Department, he’s responsible for shifting all of Formula E’s kit to and from 12 venues over eight months. And not just that, he does the same for three other racing series: Formula One, World Endurance Championship and MotoGP. Everything, from door to door.

Logistically infallible
Nieszner’s 50-person team works to a simple rule: failure is never an option. Ordinary cargoes might have a bit of leeway, but you can’t have cars or bikes arriving after the race. So their Formula E challenge is to shift some 25 vehicles for 12 teams across five continents to races in 12 cities – and always on time. With the spare batteries and race infrastructure that also tag along, the load sums to about 400 tonnes per shipment. DHL shoehorns this into three 747 freighters and another 30 containers that go by sea. When those arrive, the Motorsports team unpacks, sets up and, after the race ends, does the reverse. Timing is tight: after the Jakarta E-Prix on 6 June, for instance, there are only two weeks until the next event – halfway around the world in Germany.

All in a day’s (complicated) work
Their consignment is much riskier than moving, say, sacks of beans. A single Formula E racer costs an estimated USD 250,000, so don’t drop it! Learning to handle the gear ever-so-carefully has become a speciality of the team, Nieszner says, one that they’ve shared among their non-Motorsports DHL colleagues. Adding to the complication is that Formula E contests are held in the middle of cities: congested, constricted and inaccessible until shortly before the start. (Most motor races, by contrast, are held at dedicated tracks distant from clogged downtowns.) As in any job, there are inevitable glitches. One of Nieszner’s biggest pre-race headaches happened in China, when an oncoming typhoon made offloading of sea-borne containers impossible. The ships had to call at other ports and the cargoes swapped to airplanes.

Down with emissions!
While the move raised that specific shipment’s carbon footprint, DHL’s general policy is cut air-pollution drastically. By 2050 the company aims to reach zero emissions. This is to be done through a combination of a) increased energy efficiency, and b) a switch to greener fuels. Already by 2025 the target is cut carbon emissions (per freight-kilometre) in half. Meanwhile, 80 per cent of DHL’s employees will be schooled in environmental knowledge to become ‘GoGreen Specialists’.

New moves
A major part of getting to carbon zero will be to use novel modes of transport. That includes a fleet of 16 just-ordered Boeing 777s, which Nieszner describes as “the eco-friendliest airplane on the market.” Also it means a switch from fossil-fueled vans to a variety of cleaner-fueled vehicles for pickup and delivery at homes and businesses, the so-called ‘last mile’ of each shipment. Scooters, bikes, rickshaws and Heath-Robinson-style buggies are all being trialed, not to mention airborne drones. There’s even a robotic, electric cart that helps humans assemble and dissemble shipments. Called Effibot, it debuted in public at Montreal’s 2017 E-Prix. Racegoers were amused and delighted by the wagon as it followed human minders and obeyed their orders to stop, go and turn. Although on the day Effibot was a publicity gag, it actually is part of a serious mission to automate and de-carbonise transport. Before long, you can expect to see such delivery innovations not just at the track, but at your own door.

Formula E people

Every racing driver will tell you that it takes an entire team to make sure he and his car are ready to hit the track on race day. The same is true of Formula E. We take you behind the scenes to meet the engineers, mechanics, team managers, logistics coordinators, track engineers, PR managers – and many more – who make it possible to race in over ten city circuits each season.

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