Is Korea another Turkey?

Korea International Circuit logo
Are hopes for a Korean Grand Prix in 2012 disappearing down the plughole?

Last weekend saw the second Korean Grand Prix. Already there are murmurs that it may be the last. Autosport are today reporting that the Korean Grand Prix organisers are seeking to renegotiate their contract with Bernie Ecclestone in order to stem their losses. Good luck with that one.

Watching the Korean Grand Prix over the weekend, it was difficult not to draw a parallel with the Turkish Grand Prix. It seems to suffer from a lot of the same problems, with an extra few problems on top just to make sure.

Istanbul Park was notorious for being in the middle of nowhere and tough to access. The Korean circuit, located at Yeongam, appears to be similarly remote. Although close to medium-sized city of Mokpo, it is several hours away from the main hub Seoul. This has been the source of some grumbles from within the F1 fraternity over the past two years.

But more striking was the emptiness of the grandstands. It did not seem quite as bad as Turkey, but it certainly was a cause for concern and a topic of conversation over the weekend. It seems as though Formula 1 has failed to capture the imagination of the Korean public.

Apparently, almost no other events take place at the circuit during the rest of the year. So it is not difficult to imagine that the facility might be struggling financially.

A lot of surprise was expressed at how little has been done to the circuit since the inaugural race last year. Even then, the circuit famously faced a race against time to even be ready to stage the race at all. In the end, it is said that corners were cut, raising concerns about the safety of the race.

Drainage was poor, the newly-laid tarmac was slippery, leading to some of the worst visibility conditions in memory. Earlier this year, Fernando Alonso said, “it remains quite shocking what we did in Korea.”

Some elements of danger have clearly not been removed in the past year. The pitlane entrance and exit are both viewed as unsafe. I had expected the pitlane exit at least to be modified following the first race, but no.

I am staggered that such a patently inadequate design to both the entrance and exit has come about. During the BBC commentary, David Coulthard joked that Hermann Tilke must have had his YTS designers working on the circuit.

Hermann Tilke has come up with a lot of goofy circuit designs, but this problem takes the biscuit. How many failed circuit designs do there need to be? You really do wonder how he has managed to be almost the only person involved in designing or redesigning Formula 1 circuits in the past 15 years, yet still manages to come out with stuff like this.

The original vision was for a city to surround part of the circuit. But none of the city appears to be in place yet. Part of the circuit is even described as a “temporary street circuit”, though quite how can you call it this when the streets themselves do not even exist yet?

The circuit itself is nothing special in terms of racing either. At least Turkey had a good circuit, with its instantly-legendary quadruple-apex Turn 8. I was also keen on the last few corners, where there was often some great wheel-to-wheel racing. Korea International Circuit has none of that.

In a way, it was a shame that the Turkish Grand Prix has ended up being dropped from the calendar (although it remains on standby to step in, just in case any more races — Bahrain, the USA or Korea — fall off the calendar). But at least Turkey managed to get seven races under their belt. Korea has two so far. Would anyone miss it if there wasn’t a third?

1 comment

  1. It would help if Korea sold tickets to people who wanted to come. One of my friends had Saturday and Sunday tickets, and then decided to see Friday as well. Upon arrival it turned out there was no such thing as a Friday-only ticket. So that day’s proceedings were watched from the car park via FanVision. One damp friend. One ticket less sold by Yeongam.

    If there’d been Friday tickets sold at, say, half the cost of a Saturday ticket, that could have netted a certain amount of money. Doubtless it wouldn’t pay off Bernie’s fee by itself but it would have been suggestive that the circuit was at least trying.

    Yeongam will be in the centre of the action when the “action” is constructed. Perhaps it would have been more advisable to wait until the city was built, perhaps get some low-level racing going in the meantime to build up interest at grassroots level, and then invite Bernie. Of course, Yeongam still has that option – by the time the city is ready, it’ll probably be the mid-2020s, the F1 calender will have imploded from Bernie demanding too much following the collapse of broadcast funding and there’ll be space on the calendar for a young, ambitious city with a track that’ll probably be good once the rough edges have been smoothed off. I wouldn’t miss Korea in the interim, but I think the finished product – if it ever arrives – will be worthy of our patience.

    Final note if Korea thought this project would be easy money: F1 isn’t easy money unless your name is Bernard Charles Ecclestone – or possibly Nicola Foulston.