Shanghai: Early rain at the Chinese Grand Prix Sunday forced several drivers to pit for a change of tyres after Spaniard Fernando Alonso jumped the start before a three-car collision on the opening lap.
In an incident-packed start the safety car was deployed and German Nico Rosberg of Williams emerged in the lead on slick dry tyres -- while the teams that rushed to change tyres at the first sight of rain were forced to correct their error.
Alonso was handed a drive-through penalty.
Upturned faces, furrowed brows and threatening skies greeted the Formula One cars at the Shanghai International Circuit in the final build-up to the race.
The dark clouds hovering close to the city and worrying the teams forced them to be prepared for heavy rain, but only slight drizzle fell in the moments leading up to the formation of the grid.
“It’s raining a little now, but not enough for us to change our tyres yet,” said Brazilian driver Felipe Massa of Ferrari. “But that can change and that is what we are all worrying about now.”
Massa and his Ferrari team-mate, two times champion Alonso were understood to have completed qualifying with a modified higher downforce set up in anticipation of a wet race.
Both of the Red Bulls on the front row of the grid looked set up for normal conditions and were ready to start the 56-laps race on soft tyres, pole sitter German Sebastian Vettel arriving late on the grid after mechanical changes to his car.
His team-mate Australian Mark Webber looked confident and set to make up for his disappointment in Malaysia two weeks earlier where he started on pole and finished second behind Vettel.
But the main topic of general concern, apart from the rain, was how the F1 circus was going to get back to Europe after the race because of the problems created by the volcanic ash in the air stream.
The whole circus needs six freight 747 planes to carry it around the world, said logistics manager Alan Woollard. “Let’s hope we can shift it by the end of the week,” he said.
All of the cars, teams’ equipment , drivers and team staff, not to mention hundreds of media, sponsors and other support staff have spent the past 48 hours busy trying to find an alternative route back to Europe.
The next race is the Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona on May 9.
McLaren team chief Martin Whitmarsh said: “We haven’t had any word from the freight yet and we’ve got to get the cars back.”
“The cars and equipment have been away for some time and we’re looking forward to getting them back in the factories as quickly as possible and servicing the cars properly,” he added.
“We have a range of upgrades that we hope to put on for Barca that could be chaotic if we don’t get the freight back. As for the people, they are incredibly resourceful and we’ll find a way back.
“It just might be more tortuous than usual.”