• Korean Grand Prix preview

Nothing left to lose

ESPNF1 Staff
October 13, 2011
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The Japanese Grand Prix may have seen the fight for the world drivers' championship come to a rather predictable end, but it also proved that the on-track racing this season still has the potential to surprise. On the face of it, Suzuka should have been a Red Bull circuit but a McLaren and a Ferrari finished ahead of the RB7. If the FIA turned the remaining four races into a mini championship it would be genuinely difficult to pick a winner. Sure, Sebastian Vettel would be the favourite, but how much money would you be willing to put on it after Japan? So if you're experiencing a sense of anti-climax this year, set the scores to zero and enjoy watching 24 of the most competitive men on the planet fight it out with nothing to lose ... or win.

On Form

Last week Jenson Button featured in this section and after arguably the best victory of his career, he is probably more deserving this week. However, one man who got a little overlooked amid the race and championship celebrations was Fernando Alonso. Alonso's season has been nothing short of remarkable when you consider that his team-mate has not finished higher than fifth and he is currently third in the championship. Of course, that measure depends on how highly you rate Felipe Massa's season, but theres no doubt that some of Alonso's drives have been top class and Japan was no exception. From fifth on the grid he managed his tyres to perfection and finished within 1.1s of Button in a car that had been roughly 0.4s per lap off the pace all weekend. Enough said.

Out of form

Formula One is a fickle sport. Over the last five years Lewis Hamilton has been the sport's golden boy, but in the last five weeks he's become something of a problem child. The lack of on-track results have been concerning, but he's also had his fair share of bad luck - his Suzuka race was ruined by a puncture and a subsequent misunderstanding of the data on the pit wall. But it is his demeanour out of the car that has raised the most eyebrows. He simply doesn't look like he is enjoying being an F1 driver at the moment and has been particularly hard hit by some media stories - as his reaction to journalists in Japan showed: "Obviously I'd like to be winning and doing a better job. Am I in the best place in my life? No, there's been a lot of negative stories." A win would no doubt change his attitude, but at the moment he doesn't appear to be have the correct mindset to beat the likes of Vettel and Button.

Renault's unique exhaust system should work well in Korea © Getty Images
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One to watch

Renault's performance has fluctuated wildly at recent races. At Monza, Spa and Suzuka the car looked competitive, but dropped to the back of the midfield at Singapore. Cleary the R31, and specifically its unique exhaust layout, is extremely sensitive to the characteristics of certain circuits and there isn't a huge amountv the drivers can do to counteract that. The Korean International Circuit is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of layout, but its smooth surface and flat kerbs allow teams to run their cars lower to the ground than at bumpier tracks. Renault is confident this will enhance the performance of its exhaust-blown floor and that should make its cars quick through Korea's sweeping sector two.

Talking points

Lewis Hamilton
Barely a dull moment passes when Hamilton is on the race track, and his exploits attract praise and criticism in equal measure - occasionally at the same time. He is a sport editor's dream and, now that the title is wrapped up, his fight with his inner-demons will fill plenty of column inches over the weekend. The best story would be for him to win on Sunday, but as mentioned above, he simply doesn't seem to be in the right frame of mind.

Force India
Despite flatly denying any interest in selling Force India last weekend in Japan, Vijay Mallya and the Mol family offloaded 42.5% of the team to Indian conglomerate Sahara India Pariwar on Wednesday. The new ownership is billed as a partnership - Sahara now owns as large a stake as Mallya - but there is speculation that this is the start of Mallya's exit plan. The good news is that Sahara comes with $100 million of investment, which will go a long way at the team's base back in Silverstone. However, there is still confusion as to why Mallya denied the sale on Sunday and then went through with it on Wednesday.

The Indian Grand Prix
This time last year there was a mad rush to apply the finishing touches to the Korean International Circuit, but it all worked out in the end. This year the focus is on India, but so far the signs are good, and if anything there is more hype in Greater Noida than there was on the outskirts of Mokpo 12 months ago. Unfortunately for ticket sales the title has already been settled, but F1's arrival in a country as vibrant as India should give fans around the world another reason to tune in.

The F1 circus stays in the town of Mokpo during the Korean Grand Prix weekend © Sutton Images
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Love motels
With top-notch accommodation slightly short in the Mokpo area, a few members of the F1 paddock unwittingly booked themselves into rooms normally rented by the hour last year. The travelling circus will be slightly wiser this year, but expect anecdotes to flood Twitter as the weekend progresses.

Trivia

  • The circuit is located in Yeongam on reclaimed land between the hills outside the city of Mokpo in the south western province of Jeollanam-do
  • The circuit has been designed to be part-permanent, part F1-only. For the grand prix, the permanent track is extended to run alongside the nearby waterfront, which will one day be a harbour
  • The roof of the main grandstand has been designed to resemble the eaves of a hankok (a traditional Korean house)
  • KIC is one of five Formula One circuits that run anti-clockwise on the 2011 calendar, alongside Turkey's Istanbul Park, Singapore's Marina Bay, Interlagos in Brazil, and the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi

Fast Facts

  • Drivers spend 62% of the lap at full throttle and keep the pedal to the metal for 14.4 seconds along the 0.75 mile straight to turn three
  • The top speed without DRS at the circuit is 198mph
  • Drivers will make 51 gear changes per lap
  • There were four safety car appearances during the 2010 race

Circuit

Three distinct sectors make up circuit. Sector one has long straights and heavy braking zones ideal for overtaking; sector two has sweeping corners with multiple apices rewarding downforce; and sector three is a bit like a street circuit that twists between concrete walls. Last year it provided a thrilling spectacle but it remains to be seen what the circuit can offer in the dry. The DRS zone will run along half of the long straight between turns two and three, which should help overtaking but not make it too easy.

Driver steward

Martin Donnelly makes his debut as the FIA driver steward at this weekend's Korean Grand Prix. He raced for Arrows and Lotus before his career was cut short by a horrific accident at Jerez in 1990.

© ESPNF1
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Weather

The weather forecasts say there will not be a repeat of last year's near washout, although there is a chance of rain during Friday morning's free practice session. Temperatures should be a little bit lower than at Suzuka last weekend, which is good news for the super-soft Pirelli tyres that will face their toughest weekend yet at the relatively high-speed KIC. High winds are expected on Sunday but the effect on the race will largely depend on its direction through certain corners.

Betting

Sebastian Vettel is once again the favourite at 5/4, while Jenson Button's race win at Suzuka sees him with better odds than usual at 3/1. Lewis Hamilton is now the longer shot at McLaren at 4/1 while Fernando Alonso is 5/1. Mark Webber, who has yet to win a race this season but drives the championship winning Red Bull, is 6/1.

ESPN prediction

Although he won the title at Suzuka, Sebastian Vettel was clearly disappointed to miss out on victory. This weekend he'll be looking to celebrate in style and with the pressure off he can go for broke. The Korean International Circuit requires a good all-round car, and although the McLaren was arguably quicker at the high-speed Suzuka, this weekend requires low-speed prowess in sector three.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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