“The atmosphere at the track isn’t great because there aren’t many spectators, but the track’s got some challenging sections and some good corners” – Mark Webber
When I first heard the announcement that an F1 race would be held in Korea, I was overjoyed. As both an individual of Korean heritage and a Formula One fanatic – I felt immense pride that Grand Prix motor racing would once a year grace the small peninsula that the Chosun people call home.
I had visions of purpose-built racing machines screaming around the streets of Seoul, the sound of V8’s at 16,000rpm reverberating off skyscrapers – all set against the backdrop of the Han river subtly bathed in moonlight.
My enthusiasm was soon curbed as I came to learn that the circuit would be built in the county of Yeongam, located in the South West corner of South Korea – about as far away from Seoul as you could possibly get.
The track layout itself – designed by German engineer Hermann Tilke – is not bad. Three races have come and gone at the Korea International Circuit and the drivers seemed generally pleased with the configuration. But financially the race has been in shambles. Race organizers lost an estimated $50 million in the first year and have been operating in the red ever since.
“In the long-term the F1 event will bring more benefits to the country. It will not only pave the way for South Korean car industries in the future but also help foster new industries.” – Race organizers in 2012
There are two major problems with the Korean Grand Prix:
1. Formula One and motor racing in general has not yet penetrated fully in the Korean culture (unlike Japan)
2. No one wants to go to Yeongam
Even by high speed KTX train, Yeongam is still about a 5 hour journey from Seoul. During the initial hoopla surrounding the inaugural KGP, race promoters and organizers spoke boldly about building a marina and a ‘futuristic’ tourism and motor sport city around the circuit. It’s now 2013 and no signs of anything of the sort are visible in Mokpo.
Psy and Gangnam Style did there best to create a buzz around the event last year, but Sunday attendance figures were optimistically estimated at around 60,000.
It’s probably time to let the dream go, but I can’t help but imagine what if the race took place in Seoul? I’m certain it would create the type of buzz and atmosphere that the race organizers initially envisioned when they decided to invest so heavily into bringing Formula One to South Korea. And certainly there would be many more opportunities for premium and VIP tickets to be sold.
The story of the Korean Grand Prix is not dissimilar to the plot line of many Korean melodramas. Let’s just hope this one finishes with a happy ending.
Featured Image – “KOREAN GRAND PRIX YEONGAM CIRCUIT SOUTH KOREA OCT 2012” by calflier001 licensed by CC 2.0
Insert – “koreaaerial” by Waegook Travel Korean F1 Grand Prix licensed by CC 2.0