Formula 1 people have departed from Shanghai in all directions, while those who have been left behind are now busy arguing with the authorities there about extending their visas and trying to explain to Chinese officialdom why it is that Westerners do not like giving their passports to the authorities in foreign parts. I know of people who have gone to the US, hoping to get home that way; others are in Istanbul and there are more exotic routes as well, involving such glamorous locations as Tunisia, Oporto in Portugal and even ferries from Bilbao to Portsmouth on dear old P&O. Charter flights are being organised to ship some of the F1 people stranded in Shanghai into Spain – if they can get clearance to do it. I do not see why not. It is a good moment for a smart entrepreneur to mike some money getting F1 folk to where they want to be. Tony Fernandes, Vijay Mallya, Paul Stoddart and Richard Branson all like to turn a quid and F1 people are willing to pay to get out of China – even if they only get to France or Italy.
It would be fun to hear where everyone is and the adventures that they are having. It would make for a great article for the next GP+ e-magazine… I am sure that F1 ingenuity will be at its finest, as it always is in times of crisis. I seem to have been quite lucky. I got to the airport in Shanghai a few hours after the race, having completed the fastest ever GP+ (a 60-page edition three and a half hours after the race!) Alas, one cannot upload these things in China so it is best to get out to Dubai and this was what was booked. We went ahead even though we were warned that there were 6,000 Emirates passengers stuck there since the volcanic problems began on Friday. Figuring that it would be easier to work and better all round we upgraded ourselves to Business Class when we arrived at Pudong International Airport, using some of the squillions of air miles that we have, and were amazed when they said “No problem”. It was relatively comfortable and work was possible on the plane. With us were the likes of Ross Brawn, Sam Michael, Rubens Barrichello and Renault F1 chief executive Eric Boullier, although the Renault party was stuck in Economy Class, as they had had to work pretty hard to get onboard in the first place!
Still, in times of crisis one does not argue about the ice in the gin and tonics or food vouchers. One gets the job done.
Dubai seemed rather quiet, as most people at the airport had clearly been sent out to hotels. Having said that there seems to be some space still left as I was able to extend my hotel stay by a day without any drama at all. Then at Monday lunchtime I got a message saying that I might be able to get on a flight to Nice on Tuesday morning.
Done! I instantly booked a train to Charles de Gaulle Airport – where my car is waiting for me. So if all goes well I will be sipping champagne on Tuesday night in Paris… Well, one should not count chickens before they are roasted, as the French railway workers have never shown much understanding of macro-strategic issues nor how to gain the support of the population, but hopefully they will not mess it up too much.
I hear that Ross and Sam managed to wangle their way into Nice this morning, where Ross organised to have a driver (no, not Michael Schumacher – he is still in Shanghai) to drive them back to England. By my reckoning they should be somewhere near Marseilles by now. They will no doubt get caught up in the rush hour in Lyon, but will be in Paris by dinner time…
I hear also that 100 F1 folk are getting out of Shanghai en route for Rome, which will no doubt reduce the amount of arm-waving going on at Pudong. This will be a fun flight, as I am reliably informed by strictly confidential sources that Economy Class will be like the F1 grid, with Ferrari drivers Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, Robert Kubica, Jarno Trulli, Pedro de la Rosa, Tonio Liuzzi and Sebastien Buemi. There will also be Ferrari test driver Giancarlo Fisichella and Scuderia Toro Rosso technical director Giorgio Ascanelli, plus Nicolas Todt, manager to various stars and related to the FIA President.
I expect they will all complain about the leg-room and food… but, hey, you have to take the rough with the smooth!