Korean GP starts behind the Safety Car Korean Grand Prix Fernanso Alonso won last year's race

At last year’s Korean Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel’s championship hopes almost went up in smoke (along with his engine). This year, the German will arrive at Yeongyam with his second championship crown already sewn up – can he make amends for his first outing this time around?

The venue for the sixteenth round of the Formula 1 World Championship is still something of an unknown quantity for teams and drivers, but fans will be hoping for another action-packed race this weekend – certainly on the basis of last year’s rain-hit race being anything to go by…

So with that in mind, let’s attempt to gaze into the crystal ball and preview the Korean Grand Prix…

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The Circuit

2011 FORMULA 1 KOREAN GRAND PRIXYeongyam Circuit

Date: 16 October 2011 No. Laps 55
Lap Length: 5.615km Race Distance: 3.8.630km
Race Lap Record: 1:50.257, Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) – 2010
Last Year’s Winner: Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)

Last year’s inaugural Korean Grand Prix almost suffered the indignity of being the sport’s first last-minute cancellation for many years, with poor organisation and construction delays meaning that the F1 circus arrived at a venue that was still being built.

Preparation work was still continuing when the F1 circus arrived last yearEnough patch-work was performed that ensured the track was at least race-ready, but many of the circuit’s features were partly-built, if they were built at all…

Located miles for Korea’s capital, Seoul, the circuit is several hours’ drive from the nearest airport and much of its surrounding infrastructure didn’t yet exist. Many team members were forced to stay at seedy motels frequented by the local ladies of the night, and it had a thoroughly third-world feel about it…

Being the Far East’s latest venture into Formula 1, the new track is designed by F1’s ubiquitous circuit designer, Hermann Tilke, with many of the German signature features on display.

The opening section of the lap features a decent overtaking opportunity into Turn 3 at the end of the back straight, with another overtaking chance also evident at the end of the following straight.

But the remainder of the lap – while being a challenge, given the close proximity of the barriers – is rather ‘follow my leader’ before the end of the lap feeds onto the start-finish straight and a blind pit entry.

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A look back at 2010

With event organisers having worked around the clock to get the circuit remotely usable, the Korean Grand Prix bosses were faced with a new challenge on race day: a massive downpour that turned the already-oily track into more of an ice rink than it was before.

The Safety Car made an early (and lengthy) appearance last year The start of the race occurred behind the Safety Car, and concerns grew that the race could be a complete washout.

Eventually, the rain eased just enough for the action to get underway, and we witnessed one of the most action-packed races of the season, with Fernando Alonso winning in fast-fading light from Lewis Hamilton.

Three of the championship’s five title contenders suffered dreadful weekends. Mark Webber crashed out early on, while Red Bull team-mate Sebastian Vettel retired when his Renault engine went pop. Jenson Button, usually a master in slippery conditions, had an atrocious race his standards, killing off his championship hopes with an incident-filled drive to finish 12th.

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Yeongyam Talking Points

What are the three big talking points of the Korean Grand Prix?

  • What state is the circuit in this year? After some appalling mismanagement, last year’s race was run in a half-built venue, essentially built with the lofty view that an entire city would spring up around the circuit. Recent photos from the venue would still indicate that little improvement has been made in the surrounding construction…
  • Are the tyres set for major pain? Pirelli is bringing its ‘soft’ and ‘super-soft’ tyre compounds to this weekend’s event, and the track’s layout (a mix of big braking points and high-speed turns) will certainly give the tyres a serious workout over the weekend. Tyre management is going to be key here, and we could see a busy pit-lane on Sunday as the teams and drivers try to get the best out of their available rubber. On the flip-side, qualifying could be an anticlimax, and we won’t be surprised to see many teams take a back seat to conserve tyres for the race. That’s hardly the kind of publicity that’s good for Pirelli or the sport…
  • Hamilton vs Massa (Round 4): One of the talking points from Suzuka was the third race collision between Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa, which was then leapt upon by a press corps eager to fuel the bad blood that apparently exists between the pair. Granted, neither driver has had a stellar year, but the ongoing tit-for-tat spats (more so from Massa’s corner) are being rather a little tiring…
So what do the Richard’s F1 readers and contributors think will happen this weekend?
     
Geoff  
Geoff, Richard’s F1 reader, Australia

You need to rewind the clock back to 2004 as the last time where there were still so many races to run after the Drivers’ Championship crown had been claimed. It’s quite  strange feeling, although it serves more to remind us of how lucky we’ve been in recent years to see the championship go down to the wire, as has been the case in four of the previous five seasons.

Despite the battle at the front being all wrapped up, I’m looking forward to what’s happening further down the field. The battle between the Mercedes GP drivers is very interesting, and I’m keen to see who out of Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg will come out on top this weekend.”

Henry 
Henry, Richard’s F1 reader, Ireland

“It’s sadly become the norm for Felipe Massa to have a whinge after a qualifying session or race goes belly-up, and he’s lately been targeting Lewis Hamilton as the source of all his problems. Granted, the pair have had a few run-ins over the last three weeks, and neither driver is having the best of seasons.

“But Felipe really needs to settle down. We’re at risk of forgetting the Felipe who accepted his 2008 title defeat to Hamilton with such a sense of fair play, because all we’re seeing at the moment is a petulant whinger who doesn’t have the pace to compete with his team-mate, and who is constantly blaming Hamilton for his poor results.”

Jen  
Jen, Richard’s F1 reader, Australia
 

“The countdown is on to the end of the season and while the drivers championship is all sewn up, as I predicted earlier in the season the fight for second place is still well and truly alive. I’m sure we are not going to see any relenting from Vettel even with his place secure so the scrap for the remaining points is going to be intense.

“I’m throwing my weight behind Button and his ever improving form however I wouldn’t rule Alonso out given his drive and determination. Given that Alonso won this race last year his confidence will definitely have a boost however Jenson is coming off a win last week and came second last year so I think this result is going to be reliant on which car has the right setup on the day.”

 

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The Form Guide

With last year’s wet race fresh in everyone’s memories, Yeongyam is something of an unknown venue for many of the teams, and predicting the fortunes and follies of the grid’s twelve teams could prove a tougher ask than usual…

Having now sewn up the title, Vettel has committed to making the remaining four races an “exploration” in how much he can achieve in a single season.

Failing to win at Suzuka means that he won’t be able to break Michael Schumacher’s 2002 record of 13 wins in a single season, but he’s still on track to beat the great German’s record of 17 podium finishes in a year. He’s also on-target to beat Nigel Mansell’s 1992 record of fourteen pole positions.

Mark Webber was pipped to pole here by Vettel last year, but the gap between the two has typically been much bigger in 2011.

And with Red Bull Racing only just managing to scramble to pole last weekend in Japan, we could see the Milton Keynes team toppled from top spot for the first time all year. Or Suzuka may have just been a blip in the RB7’s supreme one-lap pace…

Vettel’s mid-race retirement last year gave Fernando Alonso a huge boost to his late championship charge with an important win. The Ferrari driver also narrowly beat Vettel last weekend at Japan, and will be well-pleased to see that Pirelli is bringing its softest tyres this weekend, avoiding the harder compounds on which the Italian team has typically struggled this year.

At McLaren, Jenson Button’s confidence will be sky-high after nearly snatching pole from Vettel at Suzuka, before going on to win in style the next day. There’s no question about him being able to continue this hot streak this weekend.

Lewis Hamilton was also on-the-pace at Suzuka, and showed that he was a serious contender for pole until he mistimed his final Q3 run. His race epitomised his scratchy season courtesy of a puncture and mid-race contact with Felipe Massa, but this is another weekend where he can turn his confidence around with a good result.

Michael Schumacher finished fourth at Korea last year Mercedes GP now rests a clear fourth in the championship race, and the intra-team battle will be interesting to watch after Michael Schumacher’s solid drive to fifth last weekend in Japan. With team-mate Nico Rosberg only scraping one point in the race after an hydraulics problem saw him fail to post a lap-time in qualifying, Schumacher has now closed up to be just three points behind Rosberg in the championship standings.

The Force India / Sauber / Toro Rosso battle for sixth in the Constructors’ Championship standings is also one to watch, with Sauber being the only team to claim points last weekend, bringing themselves back into play in their bid to reclaim sixth from Force India. The Swiss team is hoping its heavily revised C30 will help it claim more points this weekend – certainly Sergio Pérez’s known gentleness on tyres could be a deciding factor in claiming more points this weekend.

So what do you think will happen in Korea? Can McLaren step up once again and bring the fight to Red Bull Racing? Who will claim pole and victory? Post your comments below…

[Images via Hannah Corbett, LAT, Sutton Images]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.

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