The inclusion of a Korean Grand Prix on the F1 calendar came as a surprise to everyone, even the organisers of the last Korean GP in Yeongam! What does that tell you? Well, it could mean that the race is fictitious, will never happen, and that there is some other reason for the date to pop up.
It has been suggested that it is all about the engine rules and how a 21st race will mean that the teams can still use five engines per car, rather than four, as the rules in place dictate.
At the same time, the inclusion of a Korean event may help Joe Chung, Bernie’s mate, in his efforts to get the government to put some money up for a public-private Grand Prix in a park in Seoul. That would be a good addition to the calendar. Bernie is probably thinking that he needs a new race in Asia because the Malaysian GP seems to be dying on its feet and that contract runs put next year. This announcement should set the alarm bells ringing in Kuala Lumpur. Having said that, Malaysia may be willing to give the race up. It was the pioneer in Asia way back when and the hoped-for Malaysian motorsport industry has not taken off. The Malaysian F1 team has been a debacle and while the Petronas money is well-spent with Mercedes, the Malaysian race has been overshadowed completely by Singapore. In strategic terms, there is no real need for the KL event these days and a proper Korean or Indian race would be much better for F1’s bigger picture. This is probably why there have been witterings of an Indian GP revival.
The Singapore private-public model of funding a Grand Prix works well and has done wonders for the city and Seoul would no doubt like to have such a deal. Korea is a big player in the automotive world but barely exists on the world stage in motorsport terms.
Could a street track be done in time? No way. There are all manner of permits and so on and the Korean bureaucracy is slow. There would need to be construction or conversion of an existing building to create pits/race control etc. That would take at least a year. To have a race in May would require the erection of grandstands, barriers, fences etc to start in February and before that much infrastructure change would be required. So it’s not do-able in 2015.
And no one wants a race in Yeongam (not even the locals) unless the race fees are slashed and, as we know, the Formula One world will not do that for the US market, so why would it happen for Korea?
I liked Seoul and felt that it is a place with a lot to offer. It is the kind of place that works for F1 and F1 will work for the city, if the concept planning is right. The key is putting the racing into a park so as to avoid unnecessary disruption, making sure there is plenty of public transport, making sure that there are decent and plentiful hotels within easy reach – for the circus and for the fans – and getting the government onboard.
It is all do-able, but not in four months. For 2016 it’s possible.