Attracting airline chiefs to Formula One could yet prove to have an unexpected upside, as Lotus Racing team principal Tony Fernandes - who owns AirAsia - and his peers ponder how best to return to Europe in the wake of last week's Icelandic volcano eruption.

With the region in the grip of travel chaos, with flights over much of western Europe being suspended and alternative means of transport filling rapidly, the twelve F1 teams are facing a lengthy delay in China if they cannot source another means of transporting their extensive range of equipment. Time is against them, however, as they need to get back to base in time to prepare for round five of the season, in Barcelona, just under three weeks from now - a deadline complicated by the fact that most, if not all, will have been planning to introduce major technical updates for the start of the European campaign.

While his rivals ponder the merits of road, rail and sea travel, and Bernie Ecclestone jokes that the rest of the season could be staged at Shanghai International Circuit, Fernandes has offered the option of flying from China to Kuala Lumpur, from where onward transport to Britain's Stansted airport - for those heading to the UK - would be possible.

"Many of the teams flying on AirAsia and then flying back on special charter on AirAsia - Sauber, Ferrari, Toro Rosso, Renault, Mercedes," he wrote on his Twitter page.

Lotus spokesman Tom Webb said that the extra time between races - usually two weeks but, in this case, three - should allow the majority of teams to make it back and still be ready for Barcelona.

"While the four 'flyaway' races require a huge amount of freight to be flown around, in Europe most teams have motorhomes and trucks at their factories that are driven to the race venues," Webb told CNN, "But everything in F1 is planned to the last minute, so the timeframes are going to be a lot tighter. Part of the break is giving the guys a bit of a rest, especially as- most of the crews have been away from home for over a month now."

While many of the drivers - Shanghai racewinner Jenson Button and third-place man Nico Rosberg included - are heading off for a short holiday in the Far East - the teams' priority will be shipping their equipment back to Europe, with several unexpected options being suggested.

"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," McLaren team principal 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. 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. "

Whitmarsh even went as far as suggesting that the teams use the famous Trans-Siberian Express to get the cars and equipment back to Europe if air travel proves to be impossible, but the man in charge of overseeing the Formula One Management-arranged air freight service didn't appear too concerned.

"If you had to pick a time for this to happen, it would be just before a three-week break," Alan Woollard, who will be responsible for more than 700 tons of equipment, 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."


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