Shanghai: Trans-Siberian Express? Ferry from Spain? Train from Turkey? The Formula One circus is considering all the options to beat the volcanic ash and get back to Europe from China on Sunday.
For once the talk around the paddock at the Chinese Grand Prix on Sunday was not of F-Ducts or soft compound tyres but of the Icelandic volcano that has shut down much of European airspace and threatens to strand the sport in Shanghai.
“It will be a challenge, but we’ll find a way, even if it is the trans-Siberian railway,” McLaren Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh told reporters.
“We are not so much worried about the people because we will find a way home, but we have got to get the cars back, and we haven’t had any word yet from the freight.”
The next race is on May 9 in Barcelona.
Alan Woollard, the freight manager for Formula One Management and responsible for getting the some 700 tons of cars and equipment around the world, was cheerfully phlegmatic.
“If you had to pick a time for this to happen, it would be just before a three-week break,” the Briton told Reuters.
“We’ll get the stuff to the airport tonight and hopefully in a week, the airways will be cleared and we can fly it out then. If it gets much past that, then we’ll consider taking it straight to Barcelona for the next race.
“I don’t know why everyone’s getting so excited about it, there’s nothing we can do.”
Although the next race is not for three weeks, most teams had planned major improvements to their cars before the run of three races in Europe.
“We have a range of upgrades that we hope to put on for Barcelona so that could be a bit chaotic if we don’t get the freight back,” said Whitmarsh.
It is not just the equipment but also drivers, team personnel, officials and media who are facing a long wait in Shanghai.
Bob Constanduros, whose mellifluous tones are familiar to millions of Formula One fans as the compere of the post-race news conferences, was scheduled to take a direct flight from Shanghai to London on Monday.
“I’ve been told that the next available seat is on a flight on May 4,” said the Briton, who has not missed a race for 25 years. “Hopefully that will come down as things clear up in Europe.”
One journalist had found a route via New York, Portugal, Spain and then a ferry to Britain, another was considering a journey that would involve a train ride to Britain from Turkey.
Although there will undoubtedly be personal inconvenience for many, both Woollard and Whitmarsh appealed for perspective.
“Last time this happened ... it went on for two years, they tell me,” he said of the last eruption Eyjafjallajokull in the 1820s.
“So I’m sure the tribulations of McLaren and Formula One are pretty small by comparison to what’s happening around the world and what will happen if this goes on for two years.”