• Korean Grand Prix Preview

Yeongam style

ESPN Staff
October 11, 2012

There are several reasons why the Korean Grand Prix is not the most popular race in the calendar, but that doesn't make it any less important in terms of this year's championship. In fact, this year's race could be a crucial turning point in the title race with the run of form suggesting Sebastian Vettel will finally wrest the lead from Fernando Alonso. So despite the moaning about Love Motels, year-old food in team fridges and an uncared-for paddock, the action on the track could make or break the season.

On form

In Japan Sebastian Vettel became the first man this year to win back-to-back races. It's a feat he's achieved with regularity in recent years, but this time round it coincided with his rivals failing to finish and saw him become the favourite for the title once more. His performance was one of the most dominant of the season and a sign that Red Bull have made another step forward.

Out of form

Perhaps Bruno Senna's drive-through penalty for hitting Nico Rosberg in Japan was a little harsh, but it hadn't been a great weekend up to that point. In qualifying he was blocked by Jean-Eric Vergne but his frantic hand waving did nothing to help him get into Q2 in a car that his team-mate Pastor Maldonado used to qualify eighth. Unfortunately that's been the story of Senna's season, and while the excuses are often valid, they have been all too frequent. His position in F1 is under serious threat for 2013 and he needs to address that over the next five races.

Romain Grosjean is under pressure after causing an accident in Japan © Sutton Images
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One to watch

The pressure continues to grow on Romain Grosjean after he triggered another first-lap accident last weekend. The man on the receiving end, Mark Webber, led the complaints calling his rival a "first-lap nutcase" and even Bernie Ecclestone suggested an eye test for the Frenchman. Grosjean's best way to answer his critics will be on the track, but the pressure is mounting and his future in the sport could depend on how he deals with it. On the plus side, Lotus has a major exhaust upgrade to add to the car this weekend so he should have the car to prove himself.

Talking Points

Korea as a grand prix location
It doesn't really matter that Formula One hasn't fallen in love with Korea, the main problem for the race organisers is that Korea hasn't fallen in love with Formula One. The combination of the grand prix and the local area has failed to attract tourists to the race over the past two years while the locals have not really embraced the sport. It's not unknown for ticket holders to turn up after the race has started, so clearly the concept of watching a live grand prix has not really bedded in - although with no history of motorsport in the region that's not a huge surprise. In an attempt to boost local interest the organisers have invited Korean pop star Psy - best known for the worldwide hit Gangnam Style - to wave the chequered flag on Sunday. His hit single has over 429 million views on YouTube so the hope is that a fraction of his fans will turn up for his concert and enjoy the supporting act of 24 F1 cars tearing around a race track.

Felipe Massa's future
Questions about the identity of Fernando Alonso's team-mate in 2013 have been doing the rounds in the paddock since the start of the year. Midway through the season it was generally accepted that Massa would be replaced, but after some improved performances in the second half of the season, topped off by his podium in Japan, he is now expected to retain his seat. There are rumours that a new deal could be announced next week and Massa said he was confident about his future during the usual Thursday questioning: "I don't think really that the result of this race is what my future will be - it's nothing to do with that, 100% sure - so I think I am really in the right direction now."

A rift at McLaren?
McLaren is keen to dismiss Lewis Hamilton's latest Twitter gaffe as a storm in a teacup, but it gave an interesting insight into the tensions between the team's two drivers. On Monday Hamilton accused Jenson Button of a lack of respect when he mistakenly thought Button had unfollowed him on Twitter. Hamilton later learned his team-mate had never followed him and apologised, but the damage was done. McLaren has often prided itself on the relationship between its two drivers, but now that Hamilton is off to Mercedes at the end of the year the pleasantries appear to be slipping. Asked if the relationship was not what it once was, McLaren managing director Jonathan Neale said: "I certainly don't think it's getting in the way. Obviously Lewis has made a decision to go to another team so, like in any relationship, we respect that."

Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel are the two favourites in the championship © Press Association
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The small matter of the championship
With Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel separated by just four points, the remaining five races will centre on a development fight between Red Bull and Ferrari. As always, both have new parts for Korea, but Ferrari says it has bigger updates waiting in the wings for the following races. Much depends on track characteristics and the Korean International Circuit offers three very different sectors in one lap so should expose the relative strengths and weaknesses of each car. Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen are still just about in the running, with McLaren committed to continuing to update the car as it chases Red Bull in the constructors' and Lotus set for a big exhaust update.

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 if the plans ever reach fruition
  • 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 2012 calendar, alongside Singapore's Marina Bay, The Circuit of the Americas in Austin, 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 and another one at the 2011 race

Circuit

Three distinct sectors make up the 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. Overall it is one of Hermann Tilke's better efforts and the third sector defies the usual convention of large run off areas, adding extra spice to the end of a qualifying lap. Overtaking is possible and the DRS zone is 80 metres longer this year, taking up over half of the long straight between turns two and three.

Driver Steward

Martin Donnelly returns as the FIA driver steward at this weekend's Korean Grand Prix after fulfilling the same role last year. 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

Sun and stable temperatures are expected across all three days of track action in Korea, which will be music to the ears of engineers up and down the paddock wanting to try out new updates. The air temperature should hover around 20C so the super-soft and soft Pirelli tyres won't have to deal with anything too taxing. If the forecast is correct it will be the first Korean Grand Prix without a wet session.

Betting

After becoming the first winner of back-to-back races this year, Sebastian Vettel is the favourite to win again in Korea this weekend with odds of 13/8. In Suzuka he and Red Bull showed a level of dominance not seen since 2011, but the Korean International Circuit is a different type of track and should see closer competition. On the long straights in sector one Lewis Hamilton's McLaren ought to be quick and if he gets his setup right this weekend his odds are pretty realistic at 7/2. Mark Webber could be the man to back for the race win, however, with temptingly long odds at 8/1 despite showing much improved pace in qualifying in Japan. Another tempting bet is on Felipe Massa at 10/1 for a podium after he scored his first since 2010 last weekend.

ESPN prediction

The Korean International Circuit requires a good all-round car, and despite his problems at the last two races, Lewis Hamilton has been quick on most types of circuit. McLaren found a problem with his car in Suzuka that sent him down the wrong setup route so there is every reason to believe he will be back on form this weekend.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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