Stuck in Shanghai

We saw a fantastic race on Sunday, but the fond memories are fading quickly because I’m currently stuck in Shanghai with the next available flight to Europe on May 6 – the Thursday before the Spanish Grand Prix.

We were meant to be flying back via Zurich with Swiss Air on Monday but that was cancelled due to the ash. Somehow we missed out on a half-full plane on Tuesday morning, which is sickening because now are only hope of getting out of here before the end of the month is to go on a waiting list to replace no-shows. Realistically I think the best we can hope for is getting a flight on Friday or Saturday but there are no guarantees. We thought about taking an alternative route, but you can easily end up spending extra money unnecessarily because the situation is evolving all the time. The good news is that China is quite cheap and we’ve got a Tesco round the corner that sells wine for £1 and beers for 50p.

It could be worse though, because we know one photographer who’s date to return to Europe is on May 30 – that’s after both the Spanish and Monaco Grands Prix. At the other end of the scale there was another snapper who got straight back to Turkey on Sunday. He was due to change flights there anyway and then got a plane to Milan where his wife picked him up and got him back to his home in Switzerland by Monday morning. He probably got back quicker than anyone else in the paddock, you’re either lucky or you’re not – it’s a real lottery.

It was strange on the Sunday morning before the race because the whole paddock was dead, as everybody was trying to figure out how they were going to get back after the race. The Shanghai International Circuit has a massive paddock and people are pretty sparse at the best of times but on that morning there was nobody around, it was like the race was already over. The teams were all hidden away in corners talking about their travel plans rather than the race, which is unheard of in the paddock on a Sunday.

I’m sure there will be some great stories in Spain about who got home the quickest and who took the most exotic route; I just hope I’m not telling the story about the slowest journey. In a way it’s quite fun because it brings people together. It reminds me of the time a typhoon hit the Japanese Grand Prix in 2004 and qualifying was cancelled. Everybody was worrying about it so much at the time but in the end they just qualified on Sunday morning and got on with it.

It’s been a bad trip all round for me though, because on the way out I was on a plane that lost an engine while taxiing to the runway. We were sat on the tarmac and just as they went full power I heard an engine go pop and I looked out the window to see a load of crap spew out of the engine. It got reported by a lot of the F1 websites because Sebastian Vettel was on the flight, and for some reason I got a mention too. There was the whole Ferrari team on that flight but bizarrely I got named ahead of them.

It then got even weirder because when I arrived at the other end and came through the arrivals gate a girl shouted my name. I looked around and it was a Chinese fan with the picture I sometimes use for this column asking me to sign it – I’m really not used to that. They must have read the story on the websites and realised what plane we were on, because there were loads of Sebastian Vettel fans there too.

It just goes to show that there are some really dedicated fans in China, even if the grandstands were a bit empty for Friday practice. The people that are there are brilliant and they really shout and make some noise when there is action on track. Lots of them are big fans of Michael Schumacher and whenever he was involved in a scrap on track you could hear the excitement build all around the grandstands. There were loads of home-made banners and flags dotted around, some of which had rather crude English slogans on them, such as “Michael you’re better than sex”. They’re more fanatical than the Japanese, at least more boisterous, and that’s saying something.

It’s a shame more of them didn’t show up earlier in the weekend for Friday practice though. At the driver autograph singing there was only about 100 people there, which is nothing compared to the European rounds. However, the die-hard Schumacher fans were there and the girl from the airport was there with her Vettel flag. They went crazy when Schumacher came out, pushing against the barrier and falling over each other. It was like the Michael-mania we see in Germany, but of course he took it all in his stride. He was joking around and at one point came up behind Felipe Massa and started signing his jacket. I think Massa though he was being attacked because he swung round and looked pretty serious, but as soon as he clocked it was Schumacher it was all back slaps and shaking hands. It goes to show the two of them are still good mates.

Spain is up next where we’ll no doubt have similar levels of hysteria around Fernando Alonso. I just hope I can get there in time.


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