MOKPO, Korea — Round 16 of the 2012 Formula One 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 Int’l Circuit.
The circuit, completed just in time for the inaugural race here in 2010, presents some stern challenges for the teams, mostly centered around how to maintain the integrity of the tires 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 tires 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.
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. Team-mate 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 10 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 Int’l Circuit covers 1050m, the fourth longest of the season, after Shanghai Int’l Circuit (1170m), Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina (1140m) and Italy’s Monza (1120m).