The Korean Grand Prix is one of the newest additions on the Formula 1 calendar. Debuting in 2010, there were concerns ahead of the race that the circuit wouldn’t be ready. Despite numerous delays for the final track inspection, the circuit was completed, just about, and the inaugural F1 round in Korea took place.
Organizers of the race wanted the Korean Grand Prix to be held at a venue near the capital of Seoul; however they got the complete opposite. 400 miles away sits the Korea International Circuit, a remote location that has hindered attendance figures and proved to be a tricky location to house the thousands involved in the Formula 1 circus.
However, the circuit itself was met with positive feedback from drivers with many noting the three distinct sectors. The differing sections make it challenging for drivers and teams alike to set-up the car and complete a clean lap of the circuit.
Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel are the only drivers to ever win a Formula 1 race in Korea, making it 100% won by world champions. Vettel could have made it three out of three in 2010, its inaugural round, before his alternator failed and gifting the race win to Alonso and Ferrari.
Despite that, he came back and conquered in 2011 and 2012 with controlling victories at the front of the field.
A lap of the Korea International Circuit kick starts with a trip down the medium length start/finish straight, with the pit lane to the right. The way that the pit exit feeds into the first corner came under criticism, particularly after an incident during practice for the inaugural round. Nico Rosberg locked-up under braking for turn one, missing the apex. However, Jaime Alguersuari’s Toro Rosso was feeding onto the track at that time, resulting in a collision.
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Changes made for the 2011 race included adding a bollard, which drivers must go around before feeding back onto the circuit, and a traffic lights system warning those exiting the pit lane of cars approaching along the pit straight at speed.
The first and second turns make up a double-apex left-hander. The first apex is taken in second gear before cars build up speed and take the second flat out in fourth gear. This is a good overtaking spot and a good exit is key for a good run down the following straight, the longest of the Asian F1 circuits at 1.2 kilometres. This is also where the first DRS zone will be positioned.
The straight leads on to the third corner, which is a second gear right-hand hairpin. Due to high speeds that F1 cars reach along the back straight and the heavy braking zone of the third turn, this is the main overtaking spot on the track. However, it is bumpy under braking and lock-ups are a common occurrence, sometimes causing collisions during the race.
A medium length straight follows before cars head into sector two and the fourth corner, a tight second gear left-hand hairpin. The first sector is largely made up of long straights and big stops, but the second sector is very different with a flowing sequence of medium and high speed corners that require a good car balance and rhythm.
The fifth and sixth corners make up a right-left second gear complex that leads onto a gently curving straight. The next corner is a fast right-hander that is followed by a sixth gear left. These are tricky and require precision and downforce, so cars with more wing will benefit through here. Turn nine is taken in fifth gear, a quick left, before the big stop for turn 10, a tight right-hander that requires a driver to brake on a downward-sloping incline.
A long, 180 degree left-hand hairpin follows before the fast right of turn 12. This then leads drivers into the final sector, modeled on a street circuit and surrounded by walls. The track width is thinner here and overtaking is tricky, making it quite a processional section of track in the race.
The medium-speed corners are grouped close together and drivers must use as much of the track to really get the best lap time, but of course without clouting the wall. Precision is important through here, as is clipping the apex but without taking too much of the big kerbs. Good traction and balance will really help through the final sector.
Turn 13 is a fast left that leads on to the fourth gear right that is the 14th corner on the Korea International Circuit. Turn 15 is a slow left-hander before the speed builds slightly for the 16th turn, another left that leads on to arguably the most challenging corner on the track.
Turn 17 is a long, medium speed right that is surrounded by barriers. The pit entry feeds to the inside of this corner and came under criticism during the first Korean Grand Prix. Some drivers were concerned by the blindness of the corner. Cars entering the pit lane need to slow considerably and will be on the racing line of faster cars behind.
Changes were made in reaction to the complaints with the inside wall being moved backwards to improve visibility. Turn 18 is a fast left-hand kink that leads cars on to the pit straight and the second DRS zone on the circuit. The typical line going through the last corner is straight-line it altogether, running over almost all of the kerbing.
It is an unusual track with plenty of different components thrown in. There’s high speed bends, medium speed switchbacks, slow hairpins and a final sector that requires no margin for error.
Due to this, different approaches on car set-up can occur with the choice of a lower downforce package for the fast first sector or more wing for the high-speed bends of sector two. Some teams may try both methods during practice.
However, maximum downforce is not needed unlike the last round in Singapore and coupled with a track surface that isn’t particularly abrasive; tire wear is lower than most other circuits on the 2013 calendar. That is why Pirelli will bring the medium and super-soft compounds to Yeongam.
With 55 laps of the Korea International Circuit to contend with on Sunday, it is a tough race – particularly in the wet. The inaugural round took place in atrocious conditions and that made the track an even bigger challenge, particularly as parts of the run-off area were mud painted green due to the time constraints getting the circuit finished.
Sebastian Vettel heads to this weekend’s race with a commanding 60 point lead over Fernando Alonso in the drivers’ standings. The Spaniard will be hoping for a repeat of the Red Bull Racing driver’s reliability woes back in 2010 if he wants to stay in the fight for the title, or at least delay Vettel’s title challenge for a few more rounds.
However, the higher downforce should suit the Red Bull RB9 and the expected low tire degradation could favor Mercedes too. Ferrari made steps forward in Singapore with their high downforce package and Lotus looked strong in the race and feel confident.
The race is well and truly on, to see who will win the 2013 Korean Grand Prix.