Round 16 of the 2012 Formula 1 championship sees the teams make a relatively short journey from Suzuka across the Sea of Japan to the South Korean port city of Mokpo and the nearby Korean International Circuit.
The circuit, completed just in time for the inaugural race here in 2010, presents some stern challenges for the teams, mostly centred around how to maintain the integrity of the tyres around its 5.615km distance. With the facility being used very infrequently, the Yeongam circuit is always dirty during the weekend’s opening sessions and is low on grip. To cope with this Pirelli has brought its softest compounds. However, the circuit also has a relatively abrasive surface and a mix of mostly medium and high-speed corners, so lateral loads are high and wear rates can be debilitating. The tyres take a beating as a consequence. Good management or rubber could be the deciding factor here in Korea.
Drivers’ championship leader Fernando Alonso suffered a shock first-lap exit in Suzuka and the incident leaves the chase for the 2012 title finely balanced. Sebastian Vettel’s win in Japan has put the Red Bull Racing driver within touching distance of the Ferrari man’s increasingly fragile lead in the standings and Alonso has thus called the final five races of the season a “mini-championship”. If that’s the case then, with just four points separating him from Vettel, the Spaniard needs a big result in round one in Korea to keep his title hopes alive.
Vettel, meanwhile, became the first driver to score consecutive wins this season with victory in Suzuka and the momentum now seems firmly with the defending champion. But the KIC has been both cruel and kind to the German, with a DNF in the inaugural race being followed by victory last year. He’ll be hoping for a repeat of 2011 but if the teams and drivers have learned one thing this season it is to expect the unexpected and this race should be no exception. A fascinating weekend awaits.
CIRCUIT DATA - KOREAN INTERNATIONAL CIRCUIT
Length of lap: 5.615km
Lap record: 1:39.605 (Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Racing, 2011)
Start line/finish line offset: 0.195km
Total number of race laps: 55
Total race distance: 308.630km
Pitlane speed limits: 60km/h during practice and qualifying, 100km/h during the race
CHANGES TO THE CIRCUIT SINCE 2011
► A number of verges have been laid with asphalt and painted with green non-slip paint and drainage has been improved in the pit entry.
► The artificial grass on the exit of turn 13 has been extended as far as the end of the asphalt run-off.
► The “sausage” kerb on the apex of turn 18 has been lowered by approximately 30mm and the leading 1.5m chamfered linearly to zero.
► Higher debris fences have been installed on the right between turns 7 and 9.
► The DRS zone on the main straight has been extended by 80m.
► This will be the third Korean Grand Prix. The race joined the calendar in 2010.
► Pirelli will bring its yellow-banded soft and red-banded supersoft tyres to this race. The low-grip nature of the surface here in Yeongam means this race will see the same compounds used as in Monaco, Canada and Singapore.
► The 2010 race saw Sebastian Vettel start from pole. Teammate Mark Webber lined up beside him to give Red Bull Racing its eighth front-row lockout of the season. Neither driver finished the race, however. Webber crashed out on lap 19 and Vettel suffered an engine failure on lap 46.
► That inaugural race began under the safety car when heavy downpours caused the start to be delayed by ten minutes. However, the conditions worsened and after just three laps racing was suspended. A 45-minute hiatus followed before the track became usable but again the race was started under the course car. After 17 laps the safety car departed and racing began. After 55 laps, as darkness fell across the track, the race was finally won by Fernando Alonso.
► Vettel has been on the front row for both his Korean GP starts, the German lining up behind pole position winner Lewis Hamilton last year.
► Hamilton, meanwhile, has finished both his Korean GPs in second place. In 2010 he rose two places from fourth on the grid but last time out was passed by Vettel on lap one of the race and failed to reel in the dominant Red Bull Racing RB7 over the course of the following 55 laps.
► Last year’s pole position for Lewis Hamilton was the only time in 2011 that a Red Bull Racing car was not at the front of the grid. Hamilton’s achievement was particular satisfying for McLaren as it was the team’s 700th Grand Prix.
► First and third places for Vettel and Webber respectively last year brought Red Bull Racing enough points to claim back-to-back constructors’ championship titles, with three races in hand. Vettel had claimed his second drivers’ crown a week earlier in Japan.
► Jean-Eric Vergne made his race weekend debut here last year, appearing as a Friday driver for Toro Rosso. It was a tricky debut as the session was wet and there was little action for the first hour. Vergne ended the session with the 13th quickest time, lapping in 2:07.541, some 4.757 seconds adrift of Michael Schumacher’s timesheet-topping lap. However, his performance and further Friday appearances in Abu Dhabi and Brazil were enough to later convince the team that he would be a suitable teammate for Daniel Ricciardo this year.
► The main straight at the Korea International Circuit covers 1050m, the fourth longest of the season, after Shanghai International Circuit (1170m), Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina (1140m) and Italy’s Monza (1120m).
RACE STEWARD BIOGRAPHIES
PRESIDENT OF THE FIA HILL CLIMB COMMISSION, BOARD MEMBER AND PRESIDENT OF AUTO SPORT SUISSE SARL
Paul Gutjahr started racing in the late 1960s with Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Lotus and Porsche, then March in Formula 3. In the early ‘70s he became president of the Automobile Club Berne and organised numerous events. He acted as president of the organising committee of the Swiss Grand Prix at Dijon from 1980-82. From 1980-2005 he acted as president of the Commission Sportive Nationale de l’Automobile Club de Suisse and in 2005 he became president and board member of the Auto Sport Suisse motorsports club. Gutjahr is president of the Alliance of European Hill Climb Organisers and has been steward at various high-level international competitions. He was the Formula 3000 sporting commissioner and has been a Formula 1 steward since 1995.
PRESIDENT OF THE SPORTING COMMISSION OF THE AUTOMOBILE AND TOURING CLUB OF VENEZUELA
Italian-born Vincenzo Spano grew up in Venezuela, where he went on to study at the Universidad Central de Venezuela, becoming an attorney-at-law. Spano has wide-ranging experience in motorsport, from national to international level. He has worked for the Touring y Automóvil Club de Venezuela since 1991, and served as president of the sporting commission since 2001. He was president for two terms and now sits as member of the board of the Nacam-FIA zone. Since 1995 Spano has been a licenced steward and obtained his FIA steward superlicence in 2003.Spano has been involved with the FIA and FIA Institute in various roles since 2001: a member of the World Motor Sport Council, the FIA Committee, and the executive committee of the FIA Institute.
FORMULA 1 DRIVER 1989-1990
Ulsterman Martin Donnelly, 47, was a star of junior racing categories in the 1980s before making his Grand Prix debut with the Arrows team at the 1989 French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard, substituting for Derek Warwick. He qualified 14th and raced to a creditable 12th. He was offered a race drive at Lotus alongside Warwick for 1990 and started 12 races, recording a best finish of seventh at the Hungarian Grand Prix. However, his time in Formula 1 was cut short when, later in the season, a suspension failure caused a huge accident in practice for the Spanish GP at Jerez. Despite the serious injuries he suffered, Donnelly recovered sufficiently to race competitively in national events. He now runs Donnelly Track Academy in Norfolk, England and has held a number of racing team management positions.