Formula 1 teams have admitted they are just a few days away from facing difficulties getting ready for the Spanish Grand Prix if the travel chaos caused by the Iceland volcano eruption does not ease.
With flying restrictions have been imposed across much of Europe as Eyjafjallajoekull continues to push ash into the atmosphere, F1 personnel face major problems getting back home after today's Chinese Grand Prix. Many flights out of Shanghai over the next 48 hours have been canceled, and early indications from airlines have warned that they may even have to wait until early May for a next available seat.
If that is the case, then it could prove difficult to get personnel and equipment to Barcelona in time for the Spanish Grand Prix -- but more worrying for the teams is getting their cars back after this race.
Although there are three weeks until the next race on the calendar, F1 teams think that any lengthy delay in shipping the freight back to the Europe could cause them trouble in getting the cars turned around in time for the next race. It is also particularly troublesome for those teams, like Mercedes GP and Virgin Racing, that are planning on major upgrades for their cars for the next race which require extra work.
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh admitted that if there was a delay of only a few days in the cars arriving back at the factory then it could cause complications for the Barcelona event.
"It hasn't created the chaos yet -- it's caused a lot of speculation," said Whitmarsh. "There are lots of people trying to book Trans-Siberian train tickets, and other ways to get home, but I think we will all have a bit of fun getting home, one way or another. But we are not so much worried about the people because we will find a way home, but we have got to get the cars back, and we haven't had any word yet from the freight.
"These cars have been away and we've been rotating chassis in fact, but the cars and equipment have been away for some time. We are looking forward to getting that equipment back in the factory as quickly as we can, and make 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. As for the people, we have demonstrated that we have incredibly resourceful people in F1 in general, just as everyone in this room will get home -- it just might be a slightly more tortuous route than normal."
When asked to clarify the timeframe by which it would start getting hard for his team, he said: "If it is a week or so, then clearly we have less than two weeks until the start of the next grand prix in Europe and it will become an issue.
"I think if we lose three or four days we can live with it, if we lose it for a week or beyond then it becomes challenging. Again, we will find a way but that is a bigger concern than getting people home -- we will get there."
Virgin Racing's technical director Nick Wirth said that any delay in getting his team's cars back to England could mean his outfit will not have enough time to get two new fuel tanks ready for the Spanish GP.
"We don't know when the freight is coming back," Wirth said. "We plan to convert the cars to the new specification for Barcelona, but we are very well advanced with one of them because we don't have the spare chassis here as that is being converted back in the UK. But we've got the issue of how the freight gets back from here and a very short amount of timescale."
He added: "I haven't got the schedule in front of me, but I know everyone is very worried about it. It is going to be a big push to get it done -- we have the crash tests and extra things to do next week. We have the bits in the UK, so that is not affected, but it is getting the second car done which is going to be the issue."
With Spanish airports not currently affected by the volcano ash, should the delays start to look extensive then it is likely that F1 cars and freight would be shipped directly to Barcelona, with personnel traveling straight there rather than back home to ensure the Spanish GP goes ahead.