Championship leader Mark Webber set the fastest time on the first day of running at the new Korean International Circuit, ahead of title rivals Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton. Robert Kubica and Felipe Massa were both in the top six. Neither are title contenders, but they could take important points off the five drivers who are, this weekend.
A lot of laps were covered today, with most drivers doing a race distance or close to it, across the two practice sessions.
The first impressions of the new circuit in Korea are pretty positive, despite the negativity in the build up to the event. It’s still being finished off here and there, but the main parts of the circuit are quite impressive, the track layout, the pit buildings and team offices.
Everything seems to function pretty well, despite them not having a dry run race meeting before this weekend. They’ve cut it fine, but it seems okay. And for a Friday the crowd wasn’t bad at all today.
Korea is quite a significant addition to the World Championship. F1’s commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone had been trying to get a Grand Prix in Korea for some time and signed a deal in 1996 with a group which was ultimately unable to deliver. This new venue is in the South Cholla province of south west Korea, 320 kilometres south of the capital, Seoul.
The concept for this venue is quite different from anything seen before.
The circuit has been designed as the hub of a new city, with business and residential development to be constructed around the circuit.
The second phase of construction is due to start next year, evolving the city of Jeollanam-do. The plans show hotels, a residential area with 10,000 homes, a public park in the city’s green zone, an automobile industry research facility and a business park located near the southern part of the circuit.
But it goes deeper than that, with the features of the city, due to be closely integrated into the circuit itself, so that eventually the circuit will have a street circuit feel to it in parts. The final part of the lap, currently lined with walls, will find itself winding through city streets.
It’s a good concept if the money and political will are there to get it done and stay the course. I can imagine this place in a few years time being quite different from the way it seems today. But it will require the Koreans to engage with the sport and to do that they’ll probably need Hyundai, the leading car maker to engage and they’ll need to invest in grass roots motorsport. The world changes quickly, new venues demand consideration, so it’s up to Korea now to make the most of the opportunity it’s been given.
There were two objectives to launching this project; an opportunity to once again showcase South Korea on the international sporting stage, after the successful 1988 Olympics and the 2002 FIFA World Cup; and a way to develop the country’s motorsport culture from the top down.
It is appropriate that this should be happening now as Korea is the world’s fifth largest car manufacturer and its automobile industry has weathered the Global Financial Crisis better than most of its rivals. It makes sense for this to be the catalyst for Korean motorsport.
The fit with F1 runs deeper than that; Korea is also the world’s most wired society with the greatest degree of broadband internet penetration. It is country that styles itself on innovation, as does the sport of Formula 1.
As for the racing, it looks like the first half of the lap doesn’t require downforce, it’s all straights and braking zones. The middle section has some sweeping corners, which play to Red Bull’s strength, but they were 12km/h slower down the straights than the McLarens this morning and it’s clear that all teams have an important decision to make on what downforce level to use. They’ll be fine tuning that all the way up to qualifying.
Ferrari tried running with no F Duct on Massa’s car, but by mid way through the second practice they had put it on and will run it all weekend.
McLaren has the updated rear wing it didn’t feel confident about racing in Japan. It worked better here and will stay on the car for the weekend.
KOREAN GRAND PRIX, Free Practice 2
1. Webber Red Bull-Renault 1:37.942 23
2. Alonso Ferrari 1:38.132 + 0.190 30
3. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:38.279 + 0.337 29
4. Kubica Renault 1:38.718 + 0.776 29
5. Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:38.726 + 0.784 19
6. Massa Ferrari 1:38.820 + 0.878 32
7. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1:39.204 + 1.262 22
8. Petrov Renault 1:39.267 + 1.325 28
9. Rosberg Mercedes 1:39.268 + 1.326 29
10. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1:39.564 + 1.622 26
11. Heidfeld Sauber-Ferrari 1:39.588 + 1.646 25
12. Schumacher Mercedes 1:39.598 + 1.656 26
13. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1:39.812 + 1.870 35
14. Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes 1:39.881 + 1.939 27
15. Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:39.971 + 2.029 22
16. Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth 1:40.478 + 2.536 30
17. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:40.578 + 2.636 29
18. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:40.896 + 2.954 32
19. Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth 1:42.773 + 4.831 29
20. Trulli Lotus-Cosworth 1:42.801 + 4.859 19
21. Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1:43.115 + 5.173 26
22. di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth 1:44.039 + 6.097 29
23. Yamamoto HRT-Cosworth 1:45.166 + 7.224 19
24. Senna HRT-Cosworth 1:46.649 + 8.707 3