Formula 1 Korean Grand Prix Preview: Tyres, DRS, Typhoon and Session Times
The Formula One Korean Grand Prix takes place this Sunday at the Korea International Circuit. Or rather, it should be taking place.
Tropical Storm Fitow is set to strengthen to typhoon status, and there's a small chance it will strike the area on Sunday.
A direct hit would mean no racing. But for now let's assume the Grand Prix will go ahead as planned.
Designed by Hermann Tilke, the track is located in Yeongam county on the South-West coast of the Korean Peninsula, close to the port city of Mokpo. That is, of course, in South Korea, not North.
The race's short history means only two drivers have won here. Sebastian Vettel has two wins and Fernando Alonso, one.
Taking F1 into a highly developed country with a massive automotive industry must have seemed like a good idea at the time. But things haven't quite worked out as hoped, and F1's foray into South Korea has not been a success.
The track hasn't produced excellent races and financial troubles have beset the project since its inception. Since 2010, the event has lost a staggering $142m.
Let's hope this year's race can help turn things around.
As It Stands
The title race appears to be over.
Sebastian Vettel has a huge lead and the best car, so he's all but impossible to catch. A retirement in Korea would give a bit of hope to Fernando Alonso, but realistically the Spaniard needs his rival to record at least four DNFs.
|1||Sebastian Vettel||German||Red Bull Racing-Renault||247|
|5||Mark Webber||Australian||Red Bull Racing-Renault||130|
|10||Paul di Resta||British||Force India-Mercedes||36|
The battle for second is still alive and well in the constructors' championship.
Further down the field, McLaren should hold onto fifth. The complete standings are:
Korea International Circuit
There are two rules (which I just made up) to follow when creating a new circuit for F1. The first is that if you don't have to build a street circuit, you don't build a street circuit.
The second is that if you're bringing the sport to a new country and want people to go, place the circuit near a major population centre.
Sadly, the people behind the Korea International Circuit—overambitious regional politicians, mainly—broke both those golden rules and built a half street-half proper circuit slap-bang in the middle of nowhere.
It's like they took the locations of Seoul, Busan, Incheon and Daegu (the country's largest cities), found a bit of land an equally far distance away from each and built a race track there.
But despite the unusual placement, the track itself isn't bad. It's particularly challenging for setup, with the teams having to balance the need for high speed on the straights with high downforce through the corners.
Approved as F1-standard only 11 days before the first Korean Grand Prix in 2010, the circuit features several challenging and attractive sections, particularly through sector two.
The final corner always looks nice as well.
Turns 1 and 2
A lap begins on the pit straight, with a medium-length run down to the first corner. Turn 1 is a tight and tricky left-hander and the first overtaking opportunity of the lap.
The drivers allow their cars to drift wide on the exit ready for Turn 2, which follows immediately. Taken at full-throttle, this left-hand kink feeds the cars out onto the very long back straight.
Around 13 seconds after leaving Turn 2, the cars are still on the straight and doing close to 200 miles per hour. They brake hard for Turn 3, which is a slow right-hand hairpin.
This (and along the preceding straight) is the best overtaking spot on the circuit.
Turns 4, 5 and 6
Another straight follows. It's actually quite lengthy, and only looks small because it's next to the main straight.
So if a move didn't quite work out into Turn 3, taking a better exit out of that corner allows another opportunity before the slow hairpin left of Turn 4.
A slow right (Turn 5) and equally slow left (Turn 6) come along next. They don't look especially interesting. But if two cars are close coming out of Turn 4, they can have a decent, wheel-to-wheel battle through here.
Turns 7, 8 and 9
The track climbs and curves slightly to the left along a short straight before the full-throttle right-hander of Turn 7.
The foot stays planted to the floor through Turn 8—a very fast left. A tiny straight follows, before a quick touch of the brakes for another quick left-hander, Turn 9.
Turns 10, 11, 12 and 13
Turn 10 is a slow, downhill left which abruptly puts an end to the fast section. Overtaking may be possible here if a driver is able to take greater speed through the quick corners.
Next up comes the long, tightening double-apex left-hander of Turn 11. The drivers have to compromise the exit slightly to get an optimal line into the right-hand Turn 12.
It's at this point that the track suddenly takes on the characteristics of a street circuit, with the walls closing in around the edges.
Turn 13 is a medium-speed left.
Turns 14, 15 and 16
Despite being the "street" section, this area still has plenty of run-off. Turn 14 is a right-hander taken slightly slower than 13. Then comes the final braking zone of the lap for the slow left-hander of Turn 15.
Turn 16 is a left-hander taken with just a tiny lift of the throttle.
A lap ends with what looks like the circuit's most fun corner, 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).
We're now back on the pit straight and the start/finish line is a few hundred metres down the road.
The Pit Lane
The pit lane entry is parked on the inside of Turn 17. It used to be in the middle of the corner on the racing line, so despite not being ideal, the current location is an improvement.
The exit is just as bad. Originally it fed out right into the outside of Turn 1, which was horribly dangerous.
It now passes around the outside of Turn 1's run-off area and feeds back onto the track at the exit of Turn 2. It's not perfect, and the exit is still the racing line, but it's better than it was before.
Tyres and DRS
The Korea International Circuit is seldom used, meaning it'll be rather dirty and lacking in grip at the start of the weekend.
As the cars lay down rubber during practice and qualifying, the grip levels will increase. They should also do so during the race. This "track evolution" is more evident at semi-permanent or little used courses than it is at the full-time racing circuits.
Tyre wear is relatively low in Korea, so Pirelli are bringing the red-marked supersoft and white-marked medium tyres.
There should be a significant gap between times set on each compound. This may result in a surprise or two in the first part of qualifying, if a front-runner risks only setting a time on the mediums.
Two stops was the standard last season (with the soft and supersoft tyres) and that should be the strategy of choice this Sunday too.
DRS There will be two DRS zones for Sunday's race.
The first will have a detection point just after Turn 2. The activation line will be 360 metres after Turn 2, and the zone will end under braking for Turn 3.
The second zone will have a detection point between Turns 15 and 16. The zone will run the length of the pit straight.
The first Korean Grand Prix was affected by rain and there's a chance this one will be too. Maybe too much rain.
There's a small chance soon-to-be-Typhoon Fitow will strike the Korean Peninsula on Sunday, bringing with it torrential rain and strong winds. Such conditions would be far too dangerous for racing.
Even if the main body of the storm misses, rain remains a distinct possibility.
As always, the Korean Grand Prix weekend will consist of three free practice sessions, qualifying and the race. The sessions times are as follows:
All times are given in Korean local time (KST). Formula1.com has a handy one-click tool to convert them to your own timezone.
Enjoy the weekend!