Yeongam circuit gets FIA seal of approval, Red Bull Racing's luxury problem, Big in Japan: Kamui Kobayashi
Yeongam circuit gets FIA seal of approval
The FIA (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile) has confirmed the Korean Yeongam circuit has been approved after a two-day inspection by FIA Safety Delegate Charlie Whiting. The 5.615 km long circuit with a 1.2 km long straight was designed by German designer Hermann Tilke, and can accommodate 130,000 spectators, the main grandstand alone has 16,000 seats. Although the FIA has approved the circuit, a spokesman for race promoter KAVO has admitted that many facilities have not been fully completed. "Landscaping work to the surrounding area and parking lots still remains to be done. But we are finalizing last-minute touches and can be ready on schedule," he said.
Dozens of detailed photos of the circuit have been published in the German media. The pictures were made on Monday, the same day Whiting started his inspection. Most of the infrastructure and buildings needed for the race itself are finished, as is the track itself. The pit and paddock area is finished, the main grandstand, the race control building, and the team buildings and media center are also ready for October 24. The top layer of the track has been finished, and the kerbs, barriers, tyre walls and safety fences are now in place. Although the main structures have been finished, the state of the circuit is a far cry from the fairy tale-like scenery of Abu Dhabi or Singapore, and most of the circuit still looks like a huge construction site where big cranes and a few unfinished buildings dominate the sky-line.
Scaffolding still surrounds parts of the bridge that spans the start-finish straight, and the roofing of the bridge isn't finished. Pictures also show parts of the fencing in front of the main grandstand are still missing, and workers are still building an enormous grandstand at an other part of the circuit. Other structures as parking lots and roads and tunnels that give access to the circuit and grandstands, and spectator facilities like rest- and refreshment rooms and shops and restaurants, will probably not be completely finished in time. There is still work in progress on the foundations for other buildings and grandstands, those will obviously not be ready in time for the race. Without a doubt this will cause some major inconveniences for the spectators.
One of the concerns that remain is the fresh top layer of the asphalt (the correct name for the asphalt mix used for roads is actually 'asphalt concrete' as it is mixed with other substances, mainly mineral aggregate), it needs time to cure before it has bonded with the previous layer and is strong enough to withstand the brute force of Formula One cars. Depending on ambient temperatures and the type of asphalt mix that has been used, curing can take up to several weeks.
In 1985 the Belgium Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps had to be abandoned after the freshly laid top layer of the track started to disintegrate and big pieces of asphalt flew through the air. Many fear history will repeat itself, although asphalt technology has made progress since 1985, there is no guarantee the top layer will be strong enough, only time will tell if the constructors and engineers have done their homework.
Whiting is a man who takes his job very serious and he nor the FIA would never have given the green light if the safety of drivers and spectators would be at risk. Rubens Barrichello, chairman of the GPDA (Grand Prix Drivers' Association) recently commented, "If they [FIA] approve for it to go on, that's because it's safe to do so. Maybe the infrastructure will be bad and the roads and the hotel, but if the FIA approves the race to go on, that will mean it is safe to do so. As a chairman of the GPDA, I wouldn't have a problem." And indeed, there will probably be some inconveniences for the teams and the media, and as Bernie Ecclestone put it, "We may have to put up some tents." But the race is on.
Red Bull Racing's luxury problem
After last weekend's Grand Prix it seems more an more likely Red Bull drivers Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, and Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso, will be the three drivers who will decide the outcome of the 2010 season. Again media are speculating about the rivalry within the Red Bull team, also fueled by the absence of Webber on a team victory photo which was taken after the race. Webber is missing on that picture and his mechanics instead show a full-size cardboard picture of Webber.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner maintains both drivers will get equal opportunities and equal equipment for the three remaining races. He admitted both drivers are rivals in the true sense of the word, but he is not worried it will lead to another catastrophe like in Turkey where both drivers collided. "We are fortunate to have two level-headed and strong- willed drivers. And while that inevitably poses challenges at times, it is a luxury problem to have," he said. Horner hinted Red Bull soon could be in the same position as McLaren was in 1989, when only Alain Prost and his archenemy Ayrton Senna were in the running for the title, and McLaren didn't really care about who would win the title. And besides that, in hindsight, the rivalry between Prost and Senna was great publicity for the McLaren team.
Horner, "The dream scenario would be to be able to pull out a big enough gap to all those behind that it was just down to them [Webber and Vettel] on track. But as a team we are trying our best to support both drivers equally and both drivers are very much still in this championship." Webber proved there is not much love lost between him and Vettel, when he during the last lap of last weekend's race put the fastest lap on the clock. Webber, "I couldn't let him have the full house [pole, fasted lap and the victory]!"
Of course Alonso, Button and Hamilton would benefit from any internal struggle going on at Red Bull during the last three races, and they are more than happy to contribute to the polemic about the rivalry between Webber and Vettel. Button started his contribution in these mind games by stating in an interview with the UK Mail that Vettel is his favorite. "I would say Vettel has the legs in qualifying and over three races would have the advantage over Mark. Vettel has to beat Mark twice more to be on the same points. If those two cars have the advantage over everyone else, there won't be pressure on Vettel and he will do it."
Alonso commented in the Spanish media the battle is far from over. "They are the favorite for all the remaining circuits and all the ones beforehand," he said about Red Bull. "But in 16 races they have only managed three doubles [one-twos], so I doubt they can do three more. The most important thing is that the points situation has been coming my way. Now it has to continue, " a confident Alonso said. Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali is also adamant Red Bull hasn't won the title yet, "If we do a better job than them in qualifying, we can beat them on race pace. the world championship is very, very open. We have three races left in which anything is possible."
Horner responded and gave his view on the reactions, "There is nothing that we fear in the last races. There is a steely determination in the team." The fact that Webber and Vettel did not race each other for the victory in Japan, have sparked rumors that both Red Bull drivers have reached a sort of gentleman's agreement not to fight each other and keep the peace within the team.
Big in Japan: Kamui Kobayashi
One year ago Kamui Kobayashi was almost on his way back to his home country Japan, but much to his own surprise he was asked by Toyota to replace the injured Timo Glock, and during his very first Grand Prix in Brazil already showed what he had in store. Again to his surprise, and with a little help of his sponsors, Peter Sauber decided to hire him for 2010, a decision he certainly has not regretted. While everyone had already written off the Sauber team before the season even had started, Kobayashi's driving and excellent performance has brought Sauber back into the spotlight, which is very helpful if you need sponsors, and it is therefore no surprise Sauber has extended his contract until the end of 2011.
Sauber CEO Monisha Kaltenborn, who took over Peter Sauber's duties during the Japanese Grand Prix, already hinted it would be possible Japanese sponsors could be attracted to Formula One due to the popularity of Kobayashi in his home country. Rumors have now emerged that Japanese electronics giant Panasonic, who were a long-time Toyota sponsor, is again interested in Formula One and perhaps is interested in closing a deal with Sauber.
For Kobayashi's first home Grand Prix, the Suzuka circuit had renamed the grandstand between Turns 2 and 3 the 'Kamui Kobayashi Corner', and it was completely sold out. Kobayashi is not only popular with the race fans, his mechanics and engineers love him as well, he has inspired the whole Sauber team like Robert Kubica has inspired his Renault team, and just like Renault, Sauber was able to score some impressive results. Kaltenborn about Kobayashi, "Kamui was simply incredible in his home race. The way he overtook several competitors was absolutely spectacular."
James Key, Sauber's technical director, was equally impressed, "Kamui did a great job to hang on with the prime [tyres]. He drove superbly to control his race, but overtook as well on a track where overtaking is very difficult. On the option tyres at the end he was absolutely spectacular." Kobayashi finished the race in a battered car, team manager Beat Zehnder after he had seen the car, "Deflectors are missing from the car, and the side pod has a big hole in it. Also a part of the front wing isn't there any more."
Robert Kubica's reaction, "What Kamui did with his car was super. Because I had to watch [the race] on television, he saved my day." Sebastien Buemi is also a fan, and was quoted by the Swiss Bild magazine, "It's unbelievable, no matter what his car is like, Kamui always gives everything. For many, he is a model with regards to the fighting spirit, even if of course such overtaking moves don't always go well."
The media were also impressed, the UK Mirror headlined, "Kamui Kobayashi, the toast of Japan after stirring performance," and the German Auto Bild headlined, "Kamui is a racer." The UK Guardian reported that 'local lad Kamui Kobayashi was the star of the show for the spectators' and GMM reported, "Kamui Kobayashi was the hero of Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix, enhancing his growing reputation as the launcher of kamikaze overtaking moves."
Kobayashi's thrilling and audacious overtaking maneuvers are also a clear message to his fellow competitors: here I am, I have a fast car and I not only can overtake you, I also will overtake you, no matter what the odds are. During the Japanese Grand Prix he pushed his luck to the limit, it is true, all of his overtaking maneuvers could have ended in tears, but they didn't. And is this not exactly what everyone in Formula One wants to see?
Join us again next week for the weekly "Formula One: On and off track".
See also: Formula One - On and Off track week 40