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Korea: Will it be Seb yet again?

2013-10-02 20:31

NOT A FAVOURITE TRACK: Korea's F1 GP track is not a favourite, but it's fast, with challenging curves. image: Supplied


Not a lot of people want to go to the Korean F1 GP - the track is scruffy and far from anywhere - but the layout is challenging, if crumbling. And VIP's aren't keen to go there - enjoy it from your couch.

This weekend the 2013 Formula 1 championship will contest the Korean GP, the first race of the opening set of three double-header grands prix which will take the 19-leg series through to the end of the season via Japan (next Sunday), India/Abu Dhabi (end-October/early November) and Texas/Brazil (mid/end-November).
Separated by just two flying hours or 400 sea kilometres (and seven days on the current F1 calendar), Korea and Japan could not be more different – easy to guess F1’s favourite event of the two – but, unlike previous years, the former is scheduled ahead of Suzuka’s round, enabling teams to get what is one of the least enjoyable events over and done with then look forward to one of the season’s better venues.

Korea’s (lack of) popularity as a GP venue is illustrated simply by last year’s official visitor list: neither International Automobile Federation president Jean Todt nor F1 tsar Bernie Ecclestone were in attendance and as I'm writing this on a plane over Russia it seemed certain both would give the event a miss again.

As for VIPs: the closest the race came to attracting celebrity was through appointing Gangnam musician Psy as flag waver…
Usually F1 personnel look forward to the next race; on this week’s flight to Seoul there were long faces up and down the aisles and even longer jowls as folk recalled the monotonous 400km journey - whether by car or high-speed train – from Seoul to track.
The real tragedy is that the anti-clockwise 18-turn (11L/7R) 5.615km Korea International Circuit outside the dreary dock enclave of Mokpo on the extreme south-western coast of the Asian peninsula ranks among the top-five venues in terms of challenge, with the design of its (2010-vintage) layout and facilities being well up to scratch.

Just a pity they started crumbling from Day 1 and see zero activity - or even cleaning - from one race to the next…
That said, Korea has delivered fine races in its three-year history despite them being dominated by Red Bull’s triple reigning champion Sebastian Vettel who led the inaugural event until his engine blew, then made up for his initial disappointment by emphatically winning the last two editions.


The track layout consists of three sectors, each completely different in character, with the first consisting primarily of long straights where sheer grunt and top speed are paramount; Sector 2 is a flowing, high-speed bonanza that demands optimum car balance and delicacy from drivers.
However the final sector is street circuit-like: No surprise, given the complex was planned as part of a (stillborn) coastal resort, and this section, which runs along the East China Sea, consists predominantly of 90° bends with scant run-off.

Twelve of the circuit’s corners are taken at less than 200km/h (six below 100) and three above 250, with cars reaching 300 four times a lap (and topping 320km/h through the speed trap) to deliver average qualifying lap speeds of 210. 62% of each lap is taken at full throttle and drivers change gear 54 times a lap. There are 11 braking events, with drivers spending 13% of each lap on the left pedal.
Sole tyre-supplier Pirelli has specified Supersoft and Medium compounds for this race – an indicator of how gentle the circuit is on rubber - although tyres are subjected to searing forces as cars slow from 320 to 100km/h in just 100m for Turn 1. The final sector, too, takes it toll, for the high kerbs punish sidewalls and a flurry of direction changes through the Turn 5-9 sector places heavy stresses on construction.
However, the surface is probably the least aggressive of all, leading to slow tyre degradation, a factor compounded by the unusually low surface temperatures and a cooling sea breeze. At least this year’s race promises to be warmer (and drier) than its predecessors, the mercury forecast to hit 23-25°C during all F1 sessions and no rain predicted to fall during the weekend.


Last year’s race saw two stops (L15/35) under cooler conditions so, given the prevailing (lower) pits-lane speed limits, teams are unlikely to go for three-stoppers, although pace car interventions could well affect strategies. Here KIC has history: the three previous races featured more such interventions (five) than winners (Alonso, Vettel) and team bosses are sure to factor this data into strategies.
As per the previous round - in Singapore, dominated by Vettel - two DRS zones will operate and, like the night race, they straddle the start/finish line, with the final turn providing detection for Zone 1 down the main straight, and the exit of the Turn 1/2 hairpin complex providing the trigger for Zone 2 down the even longer back straight.
With two-third of the season gone, the final six races will decide the eventual destination of both this year’s championships. Red Bull Racing and Vettel are superbly placed in the Constructors’ and Drivers’ respectively: going into this race the German holds a 60-point advantage over Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, having 247 points to the Spaniard’s 187 with 150 points still in play.
Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) and Kimi Räikkönen (Lotus) are next up, having 151 and 149 points respectively and so effectively four wins in arrears and out of the title fight. However, the top three in the championship receive silverware in December so expect a ding-dong battle…
Then Mark Webber (fifth on 130) led here in 2010 and was second in 2012 and aims to leave his last Korean GP – the Australian is off to head Porsche’s LMP sports-car project – on a high and the place plays to his ballsy style, so don’t expect him to do team mate Vettel any favours.


At Ferrari Felipe Massa faces unemployment in 2014: what better way to impress a prospective team than winning?
In the Constructors’ championship, Red Bull is leading Ferrari by 377 points to 274, with Mercedes seven behind the Scuderia and thus still (just) in the theoretical running although the team title is highly likely to go Red Bull for the fourth successive season.
Sunday’s 55-lap race will start at 9am SA time, Saturday qualifying an hour earlier.

Stay with Wheels24 for the 2013 Korean GP weekend.

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