The newest track in Formula 1, the Korean International Circuit, might also be the worst--at least for the time being. Its construction ran right up to the last minute, and adjustments are still being made to pull off what could be one of the most important races of the season as the Driver's Championship hangs in the balance.
Oil seeping up from still-uncured asphalt led the organizers to cover the surface with cement dust. But now the dust is causing even more slipperiness, as well as a haze that fills the air on pitlane. Snakes and at least one large, rusty nail were also found on the track surface ahead of Friday's practice rounds.
Beyond the conditions of the surface, the design itself is raising questions among the drivers. The pitlane entry is just off a very fast 175-mph corner--meaning drivers circulating at speed could have to contend with cars going closer to 60 mph, an inherent safety hazard. Jenson Button, and Jarno Trulli both expressed concern over the layout. The FIA heard the general dissatisfaction and has taken action.
The white line at pit entry will be removed overnight, allowing drivers to remain at speed through the exit of the fast final corner before dodging over to pit entry at the last minute. The hope is that this will minimize problems with huge speed differentials in the middle of the turn.
But that's not the only change being made ahead of Saturday's qualifying: a curb at another high-speed corner is being moved, and height differences between the curbs at turns 10 and 16 will be dealt with at some future point.
The track layout itself may cause problems for championship front-runners Red Bull, after Friday practice showed the car doesn't have the speed to keep up with the Ferrari and McLaren cars vying for the championship down the long front straight. As of Friday, the Red Bull RB6 had only managed to get within about 6 mph of the McLaren MP4-25's top speed of 196 mph. The result? A half-second difference in times that Red Bull will struggle to make up elsewhere on track.
All of these problems, excepting Red Bull's, are perhaps to be expected on a brand-new track. But it prompts the question of whether a brand-new, unproven, and in some ways, unfinished, track should be thrown into the mix at this late stage in the championship race. The FIA is committed to holding the Korean GP at this point, but future tracks should expect closer examination and a longer proving period before getting on the calendar.
Whatever the track adds to the drama at this weekend's Grand Prix, however, it's sure to be an interesting race as five drivers fight it out for the points lead going into the final two races of the season at Sao Paulo, Brazil and Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.
Korean International Circuit