With 22 races pencilled into the burgeoning 2014 F1 calendar, something has got to give; teams and drivers have all raised very real concerns over the added air miles and time away from home the extra races would necessitate. Should Mexico, New Jersey and Russia all come on-line as planned, F1 faces the potential loss of current venues sometime in the near future. Korea’s Yeongam facility would, it is fair to say, not be missed if it was a casualty.
Whatever your opinion, South Korea most certainly will host its 4th Grand Prix this weekend (barring interruptions from tropical storm Fitow – more of that later). Sebastian Vettel is the man in the frame to add to his past successes at the barren circuit located near the equally-isolated port city of Mokpo; a key feature of the first 3 races in Korea has been the consistently underselling performance of ticket sales with Koreans failing to feel enough of a passion for Formula One to slog their way to an unfinished circuit that has been hit hard by the global financial catastrophe.
The 3.5 mile track may not be the most photogenic of the world’s racing circuits – then again, how many ‘Tilkedromes’ are? What it does posess are two exceptionally long straights that promise plenty of action courtesy of DRS-assisted overtakes. The pit straight and the section between turn two and three are this year’s chosen zones, leaving the longest straight on the circuit for what purists might call ‘proper’ racing nous being used.
55 laps are not believed to be an optimistic target for teams to reach given Pirelli’s upturn in their recent reliability record, and despite some fast direction changes mid-lap the traditionally low temperatures have caused more problems with getting heat into the rubber rather than avoiding blistering.
The aforementioned lack of spectators has been just one nail in the coffin of a folly that has left the regional government cash-strapped – planned in a time of huge economic prosperity for Mokpo and the Asian continent as a whole, the financial meltdown halted construction work on the planned city and sporting centre that would spring up around the track. Consequently left looking akin to the proverbial nuclear wasteland in the staggeringly high pollution haze of the Far East, Yeongam is rivalled only by Spain’s Valencia street circuit for lack of character in the contemporary F1 circus.
Red Bull – Batting off suggestions of traction-control assisted illegal victories in the week before the race, you can be assured Adrian Newey’s backroom gurus have been eking even more out of the RB9 in their quest for domination. It’s increasingly hard to look beyond Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull for the 2013 driver’s and constructor’s championship victors, and his Yeongam record leaves little doubt his march to a 4th world title will be halted this weekend.
Mercedes – Still F1’s qualifying pacesetters by some margin, Mercedes have failed to deliver on the promise shown by Lewis Hamilton’s victory in Hungary before the summer break. Qualifying ahead of Red Bull is a real possiblity given the F1W04’s inherent straight line speed advantage but, as previous races have shown, holding onto the advantage in race trim is proving the hard part.
Ferrari – ‘Clinging onto Red Bull’s coat-tails’ is probably being a bit too generous when describing Ferrari of late. The tradtional strong Monza showing may have been a false dawn, but Fernando Alonso’s battling 2nd place in Singapore is proof of his undimmed desire to hang on as long as possible. With the Spaniard behind the wheel, you can all but guarantee they will be in prime position to pick up the points should the leaders falter.
Lotus – Kimi Raikkonen has allayed fears his recurring back pain in Singapore will cause his withdrawal this weekend, but the Finn is surely playing for appearances now. With a Ferrari contract in his pocket and a fading E21 propping up his already slender 2013 title hopes, it’s a matter now of grabbing big results when he can. Romain Grosjean needs to step up and consolidate on his improved Singapore performance to preserve his place in a team that has had its fair share of budgetary woes in recent months.
McLaren – There’s very little to say after 13 races of strife for one of F1’s biggest and greatest names. Korea is another opportunity for the Woking squad to put some distance between themselves and nearest rivals Force India in the hunt for 5th in the constructor’s championship, but with drivers the calibre of Jenson Button and Sergio Perez they will be hoping that elusive first podium of 2013 might be forthcoming on a track that should suit the MP4/28
Force India – Vijay Mallya believes his team is still capable of beating McLaren to that 5th place, a difference worth millions of pounds to each organisation. Mallya could do with the cash – if only to pay off the angry former employees of his airline Kingfisher which went bust almost two years ago. Paul Di Resta has a point to prove, and Adrian Sutil is facing his last chance to prove he can join the big boys.
Sauber – Enjoying a definite upswing in form after tyre changes came into force post-Silverstone, Sauber are celebrating by announcing interest in Felipe Massa and Rubens Barrichello for 2014 this weekend. Remember him? Where that leaves Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Gutierrez is anyone’s guess, but it certainly won’t stop them going out all guns blazing in Yeongam. Hard to say where on the grid they will feature, but points has to be the target.
Toro Rosso – Jean Eric Vergne has somewhat upped his game since Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull deal was announced, but it hasn’t helped Toro Rosso score points. Any hopes of beating Sauber in the championship race would be helped by a large dosage of points from either man, but Toro Rosso’s Yeongam record is patchy to say the least. With their strongest line-up ever, this could be the year that is put right.
Williams – Somehow under the radar courtesy of McLaren’s performance deficit. Consider this – Williams are the worst ‘old’ team on the grid this season. Maldonado and Bottas might have a chance after some recent upgrades of some minor points positions, but that’s as good as it’ll get. Hard to imagine they will see any major upswing in form in Korea without time to make big changes after Singapore.
Caterham – Comfortably ahead of Marussia, but miles behind Williams. The story of their life really. Expect nothing more than a weekend of normality for Caterham if it is a straightforward race. If it rains – watch Giedo Van Der Garde. He’s already proved his prowess in the wet a couple of times this year, and it’s not hard to imagine him sneaking a point if the order is really upset.
Marussia – They’ll remember this as their best weekend of 2013. Not for any on-track performance though – netting Jules Bianchi’s continued service for 2014 is a major coup for a team as cash-strapped as Marussia and the Ferrari backing he brings could also be invaluable. Chilton has been closer to the Frenchman in recent races, and it’ll be a fascinating battle between the two for the upper hand.
What they say
“The track itself has a reasonably slow layout but is a good challenge for the cars and drivers. The long straights at the start of the lap are followed by a tight and twisty second half which is closely pinned in by the walls. Our focus for the last few races is very much to improve and then retain our position in the Constructors’ Championship and to end the season on a high. Of course, we would love another race win but consistency and strong points finishes to achieve our aim are more important for the team and both of our drivers.” Ross Brawn, GBR, Mercedes Team Principal
“This year’s nomination represents a change from last season where we brought the soft and supersoft, as it best complements the characteristics of the 2013 range of compounds. We would expect there to be a significant difference in lap time between the two compounds we have selected, as was the case in Singapore, and that should help the teams to put together some interesting strategies. Korea is an interesting mix: you get some fast corners as well as some slower ones but actually it has the highest lateral energy demand of all the circuits where the supersoft is used, so tyre management is going to be important once more. In particular, the work done in free practice when it comes to assessing the wear and degradation levels on each compound with different fuel loads is going to be especially important, as that will hold the key to the correct strategy.” Paul Hembery, GBR, Pirelli Motorsports
“The three sectors are all very different with long straights linked by hairpins, some high-speed corners and a slower technical part of the lap. The tyre choices are the same as in Singapore so it will be interesting to see how they perform. We’ve always gone well on the supersofts, but struggled more on the medium compound so hopefully we can switch it on this weekend.” Paul Di Resta, GBR, Force India
“The track in Korea has a bit of an unusual layout. The long straights all come right at the beginning and the turns at the end. I love the curvy part because it is a lot more fun, whereas the straight lines and sharp turns can be a little boring. They are also our weakness, because we often lack in top speed there.” Sebastian Vettel, DEU, Red Bull
“I like the layout of the circuit in Korea. The track’s got some challenging sections and some good corners. The last sector in particular is fun because it has a nice flow to it and the walls are pretty close, so you have to be very accurate with your line. Something that’s unique about this race is that the drivers all stay in the same hotel. Meal times can be a bit bizarre because everyone sits by nationality and we like to have a good look at what everyone else is eating for breakfast.” Mark Webber, AUS, Red Bull
“The main target is to have a better weekend overall compared to what we saw in Singapore. Obviously, we didn’t have the best qualifying and it makes things easier if you start in the top ten. My back’s better than it was on Saturday in Singapore which is when it didn’t feel too good. It’s not the first time I’ve had a problem, as there have been some issues with my back for a long time.” Kimi Raikkonen, FIN, Lotus
“If there’s one circuit on the F1 calendar that hasn’t been particularly kind to me, then it’s the track in Korea. I had a pretty tough race there in 2010, an average race there in ’11, and I didn’t even have a race there last year – someone smashed into me at Turn Three on the first lap, and my race was over. Of course, it would be easy for that to make your head drop, but, in fact, the opposite is true: I travel to Korea next week even more determined than normal to reverse the trend, get the absolute maximum from the car and get a good result. I think we had a solid weekend in Singapore, the engineers, the strategists and the mechanics got the best from the car, and we couldn’t have realistically expected more. That’s the aim again next weekend.” Jenson Button, GBR, McLaren
Friday – Low 18c/High 26c – Sunny
Saturday – Low 21c/High 26c – Storms
Sunday – Low 22c/High 25c – Storms