F1 teams trickle back to Europe
Formula One bosses were breathing a sigh of relief yesterday as the teams and their equipment finally returned to Europe - four days after the Chinese Grand Prix. Most of the F1 circus freight planes carrying the cars and equipment were due to land a few hours ahead of team personnel yesterday.
By then, a few of the most intrepid travelers among the team bosses and drivers had already found their own way home to beat the air chaos created by ash eruptions from an Icelandic volcano.
And, ironically, the newly-reborn Lotus Racing team - struggling for speed on the track -- were among the first to see their staff, plus several members of the media, home safely to their base in Norfolk, via Stansted airport - thanks to team boss Tony Fernandes’ special intervention in his ‘day time’ job as boss of Air Asia.
Fernandes said: “I’m delighted everyone’s made it back to Norfolk safe and sound. The Air Asia team worked hard to ensure we could get everyone on the first flight.
“We were fully prepared for the journey back and when I gave the team a tour of the Air Asia Academy at Sepang on Tuesday, I showed them the simulators -- where our pilots had been through rigorous training for flying through volcanic ash.
“Tough times often produce amazing results. The team has bonded even more closely through these trying times, both internally and with the Air Asia team, who helped them out. It’s great we could get them back ahead of most of the grid!”
Lotus technical team chief Mike Gascoyne was back in his office Thursday morning after the 14-hours flight from Kuala Lumpur landed just before midnight.
He said: “I want to say thanks, on behalf of the whole team, to Tony and Air Asia for literally taking us under their wings and getting us home so quickly.”
While Lotus were lifted out of Shanghai to Malaysia, to await their Air Asia service, many others were plane-hopping around the world.
Australian driver Mark Webber of Red Bull flew home alongside his team boss Christian Horner, the pair adopting a “five-stops” global strategy.
This meant leaving Shanghai at 4:30 am on Monday and flying via Dubai to Rome, where they stayed overnight, before flying to Glasgow.
“I think we were in one of the first planes to go over British airspace, “ said Horner.
“We landed in Glasgow on Tuesday -- only to find Mark had forgotten his passport! We finally managed to get a helicopter from Glasgow to Oxfordshire - landing at 1600 that afternoon.”
Horner said Red Bull’s other driver German Sebastian Vettel had been much luckier - he ‘hitched’ a lift with F1 commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone.
“He was lucky and managed to get a lift with Bernie who I understand went to Istanbul. Sebastian got another flight from there to Nice and drove home from there - so he got home before all of us early on Tuesday morning.
“Predictably, Bernie beat all of us back. I phoned him from Glasgow, very proud that we’d landed on British soil, only for him to say that he’d already been in the office for three hours.!”
Many team staff, however, remained in China as they waited for the airlines to find space for them on flights back to Europe.
The F1 freight planes - a small fleet of specially-converted 747’s - was trapped in Europe until permitted to fly out to Shanghai.