So, that's it. We wave goodbye to Europe and head off to the far flung corners of the Earth for the final seven races of 2017.
Formula One values repetition and thus there's a concerted effort to change as little as possible between the races. The garage, for instance, will look exactly the same wherever we are in the world because that's a vital tool of doing the job with split-second precision. What's behind the garage is, however, altogether different. For the rest of the year we don't have the trucks with their workshops and treehouses and, perhaps most obviously, we don't have the Energy Station.
The Red Bull Energy Station turned up at our fourth race, the 2005 San Marino Grand Prix. To say it caused waves would be understatement. In the cramped Imola paddock it looked like a spaceship had landed – a big one, lit up like the mothership in Close Encounters – if the mothership in Close Encounters had a couple of bars and a Prosciutto slicer. It became the new benchmark and has been much imitated – though we try to stay ahead of the competition with cunning upgrades (we're now on Energy Station 2.5).
It only seems a few weeks since it made its 2017 debut at the Spanish Grand Prix but a blink-and-you'll-miss-it Monaco, Austria, Britain, Hungary, Belgium and Italy later it's going back into its box for another year. Before packdown at Monza, we caught up with International Motorsports Hospitality Manager and Energy Station Impresario Christian Kolleritsch to grill him about a massive operation that is functioning best when nobody notices it.
Christian, it seems like we do this interview earlier every year...
CK: It's crazy! Every year goes faster and faster. One minute you're building in Spain, turnaround twice and we're packing down at Monza.
So, what's the hardest race for your crew?
CK: Monaco. It's always Monaco! It's a huge contrast to anywhere else. We have three times as many guests, we have the terrace, the pool area and the Energy Station is floating, which brings a couple of complications of its own. It has to be organised in intricate detail or it's not going to work. We've just started planning Monaco 2018 actually... Having said that, everywhere has been busy this European season. Lots of guests, lots of hospitality. Hard work but the sort of hard work we like.
Which European race is your favourite?
CK: Monaco again! But mostly with hindsight. If it's gone well it's very enjoyable when you get to Game Over on a Monday morning and can breathe again.
The Energy Station obviously looks after Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso. Back in the early days there were two very distinct culinary cultures on show, now the lines are a little more blurred...
CK: I think it's a part of the concept. We've given people a chance to try different foods, different tastes. People enjoy that. We keep changing the menus each year; hopefully the food stays exciting.
What can you do with the Energy Station that you can't do at a flyaway?
CK: Lots of things. We're catering for both teams, the media, guests, partners, with everything from a coffee bar up to a full a la carte offering. Presentation is a big thing, of course, but also little details like making our own ice-cream and pastries, which we do every day, with the first catering shift arriving at the track at 0600. You can't do as much overseas: we don't have the infrastructure or the space and can't import all of the ingredients. We also have to offer a smaller selection overseas. With the Energy Station we might offer five dishes at every sitting, overseas we'll do our very best but it might only be two. The quality doesn't fall – they'll be two very good dishes – but we don't have the capacity to do more. On the flyaways it's mostly a case of making do as best we can with what we've got. With the Energy Station, we can be a lot more ambitious.
What happens to the Energy Station while we're off playing in Asia and the Americas?
CK: Once we're packed down in Monza the trucks will drive to Austria and the crew will rebuild it in our warehouse. The season takes a toll: the Energy Station will go into its winter maintenance cycle along with the other Red Bull hospitality units; dealing with wear and tear; a few broken things to fix, a deep clean and overhaul of the electrical and plumbing services ready for 2018 – which comes around sooner than you expect.
We're going up from seven to nine European races next year with France and Germany back on the calendar. Just like old times!
CK: That's going to be... tough. Especially the triple-header of France-Austria-Britain. Difficult to do three races in a row in different locations with this infrastructure. We're working on an innovative solution for the middle one.
The middle one is the Austrian Grand Prix. That's quite a big event for us.
CK: It is! Fortunately, it's a very well organised event with great facilities and good spaces to work with. We're developing a really good hospitality concept. It will be good and might surprise people – but no details yet!