When does the season end? There's probably an armchair consensus that it's over when the chequered flag drops on Sunday evening – but it doesn't really work like that in the paddock...
Granted there are a few who will head for the airport on Sunday evening, for everyone else there's the small matter of a two-day test to follow on Tuesday and Wednesday – but even the drivers, engineers and mechanics responsible for that can't claim maximum martyrdom. The people that will depart last are the same ones that arrive first: the garage technicians who do most of the work and get absolutely none of the credit – usually.
An F1 garage is a pristine and incredibly functional environment. It has evolved over the years to become every bit as essential to team performance as the engine or the driver – but getting it into that state isn't the work of a moment. The garage build starts the Sunday before the race, and the packdown will be completed a day after. For the people involved in the process, home tends to be a distant memory: during a particularly complicated sequence of flyaways it might be months between trips back to base.
Our garage techs are the second group into the circuit. They're preceded by an advanced party who construct the basis shell of the garage. This group is made up predominantly of truckies: when they depart for the circuit depends on where the race is: in Europe they will drive from the factory, usually leaving on Thursday with a view to arriving by Saturday and starting the build on Sunday. For the flyaways, and separated from their trucks, they travel on a Saturday and begin work on Sunday morning, greeted by pre-positioned sea-freight and a roller-shuttered concrete box ready to be turned into a garage. The floor is already painted but that's it.
"The sea-freight was in Abu Dhabi a long time before us," says chief garage technician Nigel Hope (aka 'Big Nige'). "It came directly from Japan after the Japanese Grand Prix. The four guys who arrive first have the job of breaking open the sea-freight and building the foundations of the basic garage."
The team has five identical sets of sea-freight, the primary purpose of which is to cut down on the amount of airfreight the team has to carry. Everything from wall panels to electrical cable is duplicated, packed into a shipping container, and delivered to a circuit, ready for the advanced party to start work. When their job is finished on Monday, the basic shell of the garage, complete with an electrical, pneumatic and data spine is ready for the arrival of the garage techs and the airfreight.
"The rest of the setup team arrive on Tuesday morning – because when we start unpacking the airfreight, we need places to put things," says Nigel. "The emphasis on Tuesday is to have everything in place so that when the mechanics come in on Wednesday, they're in contact with their tools, power, air and factory communications and can get straight into their jobs."
The airfreight part of the operation is filled with the items deemed too critical to duplicate, either because they're fragile (our overhead garage lights rig), expensive (computers), timely (spares) or some combination of the above (2x RB13 Formula One cars!).
Over the next five days the garage techs do... well, basically everything in the garage that the mechanics don't: keeping systems running; preparing equipment; fetching and carrying. They'll work in the pitcrew and then swap fireproof overalls for the high-vis vests and hop into a forklift truck at the chequered flag for the garage packdown, getting the airfreight and sea-freight on its way back to the factory or to the next destination.
...but not this week. The job after the race is to reset the garage and prepare for the test. Nigel and the boys will keep things running for a few more days. When they're wheels-up on Thursday afternoon and heading back to Milton Keynes, that's when the season's over.