Formula 1: Korean Grand Prix Preview
After a somewhat quiet but game-changing race last Sunday in Japan, this weekend it's the turn of South Korea.
The Korean Grand Prix will be held at the Korea International Circuit, a curious mixture of street and road course. It features one of the longest straights of the year and several (theoretically) good overtaking spots.
Designed by Hermann Tilke, it has a few nice corners too.
Believe it or not, this could be the last Korean Grand Prix—financial troubles are already putting the future of this three-year-old event in doubt. But the 2012 race will certainly go ahead, and it's sure to have a major impact on the title race.
As It Stands
Sebastian Vettel's victory in Japan coupled with Fernando Alonso's retirement has seen the German close the gap at the top of the standings to just four points.
Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton also moved closer to the championship leader, but it remains to be seen whether the two men have enough in the tank to pull back such a margin—especially after the disappointing pace they showed at Suzuka.
Jenson Button and Mark Webber are fifth and sixth, and needing a minor miracle to challenge. The current Top 10 is:
|02||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull||190|
|05||Mark Webber||Red Bull||134|
In the constructors' championship, Red Bull have extended their lead at the top to 41 points. McLaren are still second with Ferrari third.
The current standings are:
Marussia, Caterham and HRT remain pointless.
Korea International Circuit
The Korea International Circuit is located close to the port city of Mokpo in south-western South Korea. Approved as F1-standard only 11 days prior to the first Korean Grand Prix in 2010, the track features all the Tilke hallmarks.
It also features one of the worst pit lanes in the world, but we'll get to that later.
A lap begins on the pit straight with a quite short run down to the first corner, a tight and tricky left-hander (Turn 1). This is the first overtaking opportunity of the lap.
The drivers allow their cars to drift wide on the exit ready for Turn 2, a left-hand kink which comes immediately after 1. This corner, taken at full throttle, feeds the car onto the very long back straight.
The closeness of the walls beside the track means the cars look on TV every bit as fast as they are down here.
Over a kilometer later the cars are doing close to 200 miles per hour, before braking hard for Turn 3, a slow, tight right-hander. This is the best overtaking spot on the circuit.
Another, shorter straight follows, and if a move didn't quite work into Turn 3, taking a better exit out of the corner allows another opportunity before the slow hairpin left of Turn 4.
A slow right (Turn 5) and equally slow left (Turn 6) make up a slightly "Mickey Mousey" section of the course, but the circuit then redeems itself with a nice series of quick corners.
The track climbs and curves slightly to the left along a short straight before a quick right-hander (Turn 7). Turn 8 is an equally fast left, followed by another but slightly slower left (Turn 9).
Turn 10 is a slow, downhill left which ends the fast section. Overtaking may be possible here if a car is able to take greater speed through the quick corners.
The cars then get a short run-up before the long, tightening double-apex left-hander of Turn 11, one of the circuit's finest corners.
Turn 12 is a pleasant medium-speed right-hander on the exit of 11 and Turn 13 is an unremarkable medium-speed left.
Next up is something of a "stadium" section starting with a slow right-hander (Turn 14). A left (Turn 15) taken at around the same speed follows, before a more open left-hander (Turn 16).
This leads into what I think is the circuit's best corner (and one of the best Tilke has ever designed), Turn 17. The cars accelerate through this long, fast right-hander, having to maintain a perfect line for when the corner abruptly ends with a left-handed flick (Turn 18).
It should be interesting watching the DRS flap here during qualifying. Some drivers may try to activate it a little bit earlier than others and end up with a bit of a wobble as they accelerate back onto the pit straight.
The start/finish line is a few hundred metres down the road.
Korea International Circuit Pit Lane
For once this warrants its own little section. The pit entry used to be parked on the racing line in the middle of Turn 17, which for obvious reasons was somewhat dangerous.
To remedy this safety issue, the pit entry was moved further down the track away from the apex of the corner.
Unfortunately, the pit lane exit still forms part of Turn 1's run-off area. The cars are fed straight into the outside of the turn, so if a driver locks a brake or runs wide for any other reason there's every chance he could slide into a rival exiting the pits.
As Nico Rosberg did last year. You can see the incident here (around 50 seconds in)
The problem is simply that the pit lane is in the wrong place. It would make far more sense for it to be on the other side of the track with the entry on the outside of Turn 17 and the exit at the inside of Turn 2.
However, one gets the impression the pit lane was compromised to allow a more commercially and aesthetically attractive harbourside paddock area for use during the rest of the year. A main grandstand parked there would spoil the view.
So it's unlikely the fundamental issue will be solved. But perhaps, if the circuit remains on the calendar, another solution will be found.
Tyres and DRS
The Korea International Circuit is semi-permanent and seldom used, meaning it'll be rather dirty and lacking in grip (some sections more than others) at the start of the weekend.
As the cars lay down rubber during practice and qualifying the grip levels will increase, and during the race it should too. This "track evolution" is more visible at semi-permanent courses than it is at the full-time racing circuits.
To provide good grip levels from the start, and because the circuit doesn't have especially high degradation, Pirelli are taking the red-marked supersoft and yellow-marked soft tyres to the Yeongam circuit.
Two stops was the standard last season on the same combination of compounds, and though this season's soft is slightly softer than last season's, two stops is most likely what we'll see on Sunday.
The DRS zone will be located on the longest straight, and will be 80 metres longer than it was last year after passing proved somewhat difficult.
The detection point will be before Turn 1, with the activation point a little less than halfway down the straight following Turn 2. The zone will end with braking for Turn 3.
The race organisers have named rapper Psy as an ambassador for the event, and he'll be performing his worldwide hit Gangnam Style live at the circuit.
A man riding an imaginary horse while rapping in Korean should provide a welcome distraction from those loud, pesky engines.
As always, the Korean Grand Prix weekend will consist of three free practice sessions, qualifying and the race.
All are in Korean local time. Formula1.com has a handy one-click tool to convert them to your own timezone.
Enjoy the weekend!