18 April 2010
World champion Jenson Button won a rain-hit Chinese Grand Prix on Sunday, but the burning question is how Formula One's 12 teams will get their sizeable loads of personnel and equipment back to Europe for the next race amid the region's ongoing travel chaos.
The teams begin packing up as soon as events finish, some even before the checkered flag falls, and that has been the case in Shanghai -- leaving just the problem of what to do after that.
Lotus team boss Tony Fernandes has offered his rivals a possible solution: fly to Kuala Lumpur on his Air Asia airline, and then into Britain's Stansted airport once the volcanic ash from Iceland has cleared from the skies.
The Malaysian entrepreneur, who resurrected the old Lotus Racing name to bring the team back to F1 this year, announced the plan on his Twitter page after Sunday's race.
"Many of the teams flying on airasia and then flying back on special charter on airasia. Sauber, Ferrari, Toro Rosso, Renault, Mercedes," he wrote.
After races in Bahrain, Australia, Malaysia and now China, the F1 circuit has a three-week break before the start of the European season in Spain on May 9.
Lotus spokesman Tom Webb said that the extra time should mean most teams will be ready to start in Barcelona, despite needing to make upgrades and other improvements to their cars.
"While the four fly-away races require a huge amount of freight to be flown around, in Europe most teams have motor homes and trucks at their factories that are driven to the race venues," he told CNN, which is one of the team's sponsors.
"But everything in Formula One is planned to the last minute, so obviously the timeframes are going to be a lot tighter. And part of the break is giving the guys a bit of a rest -- most of the crews have been away from home for over a month now."
Drivers to sidestep European travel nightmare
Several drivers indicated after the Shanghai race that they would not be immediately returning to Europe anyway.
Button, who returned to the top of the drivers' standings after winning by 1.5 seconds, said that he was taking a break.
"I was always going to go away for a few days, relaxing after this one, but I'm hopefully going to be heading back to Europe at the end of the week, so we will see about that. We might all be driving back, which would be fun," he told the official F1 Web site.
His McLaren teammate Lewis Hamilton finished second despite an early run-in with Red Bull's pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel in the pit lane as both changed tires to combat the wet conditions.
"I've got a sponsor appearance in South Africa, so I've got to travel there and then go back to Europe," the English driver said.
Teams fear a lengthy wait
Britain-based McLaren were hoping that their return home would not be delayed by more than a few days, the UK Press Association reported.
"I am not so much worried about our people as we will find a way home, but we have to get the cars back and we have not had any word yet from the freights," team boss Martin Whitmarsh told PA.
"The cars have been away for some time and we are looking forward to getting our equipment back in the factory as quick as we can, making sure we service all the cars properly. That could be a bit chaotic if we don't get the freight back.
"If we lose three or four days we can live with it, but if we lose the cars for a week and beyond it becomes challenging."
Schumacher struggles in Shanghai
Nico Rosberg finished third for the second successive race to again outperform veteran Mercedes teammate Michael Schumacher, who was a disappointing 10th.
"I'd always planned to go to Thailand, so I'm going to go to Thailand for a week and then back to Europe after that," the younger German said.
Ferrari had mixed results as Fernando Alonso finished fourth, with Felipe Massa back in ninth after losing time when his teammate passed him going into the pit lane.
Red Bull's drivers once again failed to translate their qualifying dominance into race results as Vettel finished sixth and Mark Webber eighth.
The revived Renault team again did well with Robert Kubica placing fifth to be seventh overall on 40 points, while Russian rookie Vitaly Petrov completed his first race in F1 to be seventh.