Formula One readies for new Korean adventure

Formula One readies for new Korean adventure

2010 Korean Grand Prix Preview For round seventeen of the FIA (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile) Formula One World Championship, the Formula One circus has finally arrived at the Korean International Circuit for the inaugural Korean...


2010 Korean Grand Prix Preview

For round seventeen of the FIA (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile) Formula One World Championship, the Formula One circus has finally arrived at the Korean International Circuit for the inaugural Korean Grand Prix. The Korean venue has suffered several setbacks building the circuit and infrastructures, and only has been given the green light by the FIA last week, ten days before the actual event takes place. The Yeongam circuit was build from scratch on reclaimed land in Yeongam, between the hills outside the city of Mokpo in the south western province of Jeollanam-do. The track actually consists of two separate circuits, the Grand Prix track (5.621 km) and the permanent track (3.045 km), both have their own pit- and paddock complex.

Aerial view of the Korea International Circuit.
Photo by PR Plus Limited.

Race organizer KAVO (Korean Auto Valley Operation) hopes this new circuit will bring a host of international auto and motor sport events to Korea. The circuit has been designed by German Hermann Tilke, who also designed the circuits in Malaysia, Bahrain, China and Turkey. The main grandstand roof design was inspired by the leaves of a Korean Hanok, a traditional Korean house. The circuit has three high-speed straights, the longest is 1.2 km long. It has long sweeping high-speed corners, but also slow almost 90 degree corners and one hairpin, all together, they should provide plenty of overtaking opportunities. The walls are very close at certain sections to mimic the conditions of a street circuit, and leave very little room for errors.

FIA stewards

The FIA has appointed four stewards who will make up the F1 Stewards Panel for the race in Korea: Australian Garry Connelly and German Gerd Ennser will represent the FIA, it is unknown who will represent the hosting country Korea, but ex-Formula One driver Australian Alan Jones will represent the drivers.

The now 63-year old Jones entered Formula One in 1975 in a purchased Hesketh, owned by the Custom Made Harry Stiller Racing team. After four races the team decided to quit and Jones then replaced the injured Rolf Stommelen at the Embassy Hill racing team. In 1976 he drove for Surtees, in 1977 for Shadow, but in 1978 he got his big chance when he joined the relatively new Williams team. He won the World Championship in 1980, but after the 1981 season he announced his retirement. He returned in 1983 for one race for the Arrows team, and in 1985 and 1986 he again returned and drove for the Haas-Lola team before he finally permanently retired from Formula One at the end of 1986. Jones participated in 117 Grands Prix, scored 12 wins, 6 poles and 24 podium places.

D-Day for Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton

The title hopes for Button and Hamilton are slowly fading, they are 31 and 28 points respectively behind leader Mark Webber, and they will have to score points this weekend or their title hopes will definitely be over. Team principal Martin Whitmarsh is confident ahead of the race, "Both drivers have won world championships, they understand the difficulties of such a unique situation and both have learned how to deliver their best under high pressure." Whitmarsh already warned his rivals not to write off Button and Hamilton, as there are still '75 points on the table'.

Button thinks the new circuit is a challenge for all drivers, "As with any new circuit, it looks like it might throw up a few unexpected issues, not necessarily on the racetrack itself, but I'm sure the teams and drivers will work together with the organizers to make sure the event is a complete success." He is also confident the new parts McLaren has for this weekend, will work, "We've made some improvements to the parts we tested in Suzuka, and it's looking likely that we'll run the new parts on Friday in Korea. As with all our upgrades, we are pushing the envelope, so I'm optimistic that the tests will be positive and that we'll be able to race the new components."

D-Day for McLaren.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Hamilton, who was plagued by gearbox problems in Japan, is also looking forward to Korea, "I think we can have a positive race. While recent results haven't necessarily shown it, we've had a strong car -- now I'm hoping to get the chance to prove it on track." But he still fears the Red Bulls and Ferraris and added, "Hopefully we will have a little bit more of a fighting chance against the Red Bulls and Ferraris, and hopefully we will be a little bit more fortunate as well." But he is also adamant the Red Bulls can be beaten, "I think it's possible, anything's possible, and I think you can tell that us, as a team, and the Ferraris as well, are pushing very hard because I don't think the gap is that big, so it's not impossible."

Webber targets win

Australian Webber is leading the championship and is 14 points ahead of Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso and team colleague Sebastian Vettel, but for him that is no reason to relax. "I need to win again, I'm very confident I can do that, and that would be beneficial, of course, but also reliability can still yet play a role [in the championship], a determined Webber said. And added, "My aim is to win my fifth race of the season on Sunday."

Red Bull have dominated qualifying this season, and when asked about his expectations during qualifying Webber jokingly said, "We have adjustable front ride height suspension which has been running since the start of the year and that works well and then we put the car back up for Sunday." He was of course referring to the still ongoing flexing wing saga which still puzzles a few teams, especially McLaren, who have been pushing the FIA to improve the wing flexibility tests.

Vettel thinks he is not in a bad position in the championship, "I think it has been looking worse [earlier] this year for me, so I think we are in a good position. The car is really good. The last couple of races were very strong." And his prediction for this weekend? "I think all of us could be very strong potentially here, so we need to see how it goes. Sector one doesn't look like our home ground, but I think sector two and sector three should give us a possibility to catch up. We will see. Interesting venue this one, so [I'm] looking forward [to the race]."

Ferrari and Alonso need Massa

Alonso, who is 14 points behind leader Webber, also agrees he needs to score points. "We will have to attack because now we must close the gap to Webber. To lose any more ground would make the situation more complicated," the two-time World Champion said. "Perhaps the only one who can afford a bad weekend is Webber: for all the others it would perhaps mean giving up any chance, especially the ones who are a bit behind today, " he said, clearly hinting at the position of the two McLaren drivers. When asked if he could beat Red Bull during qualifying he said, "I prefer to beat them on Sunday."

About Ferrari's engine situation Alonso said, "Obviously the first problems with the engine in race two and race three gave us a more difficult situation, no doubts, but I think from there on we planned the year, the championship in a different way and so far the situation has been under control, so we should have no concerns for the remaining races and everything is OK for us." He is also counting on the help of Felipe Massa, "It will be important also to be able to count on my team-mate Felipe. I know that he will be really hoping to make up for two negative results and he has all the capacities required to return to the podium."

Massa is aware of the supporting role he now plays in the championship, "I want to be in the middle of the battle for the Drivers' Championship, fighting with those five drivers who are chasing the title, which is the best thing I can do to help Ferrari's and Alonso's aspirations as we head for the end of the championships." And added, "I know that everyone in the team, at the track and the factory is completely pumped up for the challenge of these last three races, and I am equally keen to give them my best shot."

Korea International Circuit, Korea
Circuit length:5.621 km
Direction:Anti-clockwise
Corners:18 turns, 10 left, 8 right
Longest straight:1200 m
Total number of race laps:55
Total race distance:309.155 km
Estimated top speed:310-320 km/h
Estimated average speed:195-205 km/h
Tyre wear:Medium
Tyre compounds:Soft/Hard
Brake wear:Medium
Down force level:Medium to high
Lap record:Not available
Speed limits in the pit lane:60 km/h during practice sessions;
100 km/h during qualifying and race

Korea International Circuit, Korea, 3-day weather forecast
Friday:Dry, mostly sunny with some clouds, min 15C, max 22C
Saturday:Dry, mostly cloudy, min 16C, max 21C
Sunday:Sunny with clouds, light rain possible, min 14C, max 19C

Bridgestone tyre report

Bridgestone will bring the Soft and Hard tyre compounds to Korea, a circuit which is new for all teams, and new for Bridgestone as well. Drivers have prepared themselves in simulators, and HRT driver Bruno Senna prepared himself by practicing with a video game, he also consulted his ousted team colleague Karun Chandhok who recently gave a demonstration at the Yeongam circuit in a Red Bull car.

Bridgestone's Hirohide Hamashima about his expectations, "We cannot look at any data from races there so we have to rely on simulation data. From this information, the maximum and average speeds will be 310 km/h and 205 km/h respectively. This places the track between Catalunya and Istanbul and close to Sepang in terms of speed, which was an important factor determining the allocation of the hard and soft tyres." He also expects changes in the condition of the track, "As it will be the first motor racing event at the facility we expect a lot of track surface evolution over the weekend. It will also be interesting to see how the teams and individual drivers adapt to this track, particularly those in the hunt for the championship battle."

Latest news about the Korean International Circuit

There are still concerns about the freshly laid asphalt at the Yeongam track, as it is expected it will be slippery and there are fears it could even break up during the first practice session on Friday. There have been many speculations about the condition of the asphalt, but track designer Tilke thinks a slippery surface and a lack of grip will actually be good for the venue. He reckons the slippery track will improve the show, he is also convinced the asphalt has had enough time to cure and will not break up. Team engineers expect the grip level of the new asphalt layer will change from hour to hour, which will make it very difficult to find the right car set-up. The possibility of rainfall during the weekend can not be ruled out, and as the fresh asphalt is still greasy, a wet circuit could become extra slippery.

The track is ready, but the circuit is not finished.
Photo by PR Plus Limited.

Yesterday German media have reported that the track itself has been finished, but work on the circuit is still going on today. Everywhere are piles of sand, cranes, shovels, excavators, and road rollers are finishing the roads that give access to the parking lots and grandstands. The bridge that spans the start-finish straight is still not finished and the parking for the pit- and paddock area hasn't been paved. There have also been complaints about the high prices for the team and media accommodations, the rent for the team buildings is $40,000, using the upper floor costs another $20,000.

Drivers chat about the new track

So, what do the drivers think about the situation? Vettel checked out the track today and reported, "The circuit itself, I think the main things have been covered. We will see how grippy it will be, but given the fact there was a lot of concern and we were even talking about not racing here, lately they did a very good job. I think most of the things are finished, so should be alright for us to go out."

Webber also took a closer look at the track today, "We're expecting the surface to be very slippery early on. The top layer of asphalt was laid two weeks ago, so it's still curing and is quite oily. Various sections of the circuit were being cleaned while I was on my track walk and in those places it was like an ice rink. But it'll be the same for everyone."

Veteran Williams driver Rubens Barrichello, who is also chairman of the GPDA (Grand Prix Drivers' Association), was less positive, "There are some little bits missing - some exit kerbs, and I don't know if the walls are permanent or if they're only there because they didn't finish the circuit - but I like it, the layout is quite good." Nick Heidfeld agreed and also had some concerns about the walls, "From walking it [the track], it's just the last corner, turn 17, which doesn't look ideal. In this corner there is a wall on the left and the right."

Michael Schumacher also checked out the track and said, "Parts of the track look like Turkey and Monaco, the last section looks like a street circuit. It looks very interesting." His team colleague Nico Rosberg, "My first impression is positive. But apart from the track, I haven't seen much of the rest of the circuit and facilities."

Team orders: risky business

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner and team owner Dieter Mateschitz have said there will be no team orders. Mateschitz, "The driver who makes the least mistakes and is faster should, or will, win." And Horner added, "The team will support both drivers as equally as we can. The only thing we expect from them is that they don't hamper each other." Apart from the ethical questions concerning team orders, team orders are currently illegal, and as long as they are illegal, teams can look forward to a $100,000 fine if they choose to ignore the regulations.

There is still a ban on team orders.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Ferrari, who have already been fined for ignoring the ban on team orders during the German Grand Prix, have been publicly 'encouraging' Massa to support Alonso's title bid, and also expect him to score points for the Constructor's Championship during the three final races. It seems Massa is now under enormous pressure from his team, but Ferrari should be careful, if they would issue a team order for the second time, in whatever guise, it could result in a disqualification or perhaps even a ban, instead of a fine. There is a very fine line between helping or assisting, and issuing team orders, and it is up to the FIA Stewards, and not to Ferrari, to decide what is, and what is not a team order.

Not a two-horse race

Chandhok, the only one who has driven a Formula One car on the at the time not yet completed racetrack, thinks it will be a tough track for Red Bull. "The Red Bull is quick everywhere. But I think here, specifically though the first sector of the lap with the three long straights, they may not be as quick as some of the others. Ferrari and McLaren will be strong," the Indian said.

Like others, he believes Red Bull's weakness is their straight line speed, "Even if the Red Bulls qualify one-two, it will be interesting to see because of the long straights in sector one if they hold that advantage into turn four on the first lap." And he certainly doesn't think it will be a two-horse race, "I do think the gap will be closer. I think the gap will be close enough that if Alonso or Hamilton or Button dig deep, they could sneak a win out of it."

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Jenson Button , Michael Schumacher , Rubens Barrichello , Mark Webber , Nick Heidfeld , Fernando Alonso , Lewis Hamilton , Felipe Massa , Alan Jones , Nico Rosberg , Karun Chandhok , Sebastian Vettel , Bruno Senna , Martin Whitmarsh
Teams Ferrari , McLaren , Williams