Late completion of Korea’s F1 track raises concerns over slippery surface

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Korean International Circuit aerial photograph

The Korean International Circuit is the fourth new venue F1 has visited since the start of 2008. The cars will hit the track for first practice one week from today.

But late-running construction work has raised doubts over what state the track will be in. Here’s a look at what to expect from Korea’s new Formula 1 track next weekend.

The FIA gave the Korean International Circuit final approval to hold its race on Tuesday, ten days before the start of practice for the Korean Grand Prix.

The race organisers blamed several severe tropical cyclones for delaying construction of the track. But they say everything that was planned to be built in time for this year’s race either has been built or is almost finished and will be completed in time.

However there are concerns arising from the delays, chief among which is the state of the track surface.

Crucially, the base layer of tarmac was finished weeks before the top layer was applied. It was visible during Karun Chandhok’s demonstration run at the “Circuit Run” event on September 4th and 5th (see videos below).

It’s not clear exactly when the final layer of tarmac was originally supposed to have been laid but the Asian Festival of Speed was scheduled to take place at the track in the last weekend of August but was postponed.

As the final section of tarmac was laid on October 9th, 13 days before the first F1 practice session is scheduled to take place, it’s clear the delay was in the region of several weeks.

For comparison, the tarmac for the new section at Silverstone was laid by March 9th ahead of the GT1 World Championship race weekend beginning on April 30th – a gap of almost two months.

This has led to concern voiced by drivers such as Nick Heidfeld that residual oils left over from the construction process may not have had time to dissipate, leaving the track surface at Korea very slippery.

The track will not have ‘rubbered in’ and dust from the surrounding construction work is likely to exacerbate the shortage of grip.

On past occasions where tracks have been resurfaced shortly before a race we have seen the surface become damaged, notably at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in 2008. The track had to be patched up between qualifying and the race and re-surfaced after the Grand Prix.

F1 cars exert the greatest stress on the track under braking from high to slow speeds and accelerating out of slow-speed corners, meaning turns one, three and four are potential problem areas.

The track has been given approval by the FIA so whatever difficulties the drivers face they’re unlikely to be severe enough to jeopardise the holding of the race. As Lotus’s Mike Gascoyne observed:

It is always a bit of a step into the unknown when you go to a new venue, but we have completed a number of simulation programs at the factory that have given us a pretty good idea of how the car will behave on track.

The big unknowns are what downforce levels to run, and how the track surface will stand up to the rigours of a full race weekend. We will find the right set-up over the weekend, and any track issues are out of our control – it has been passed by the FIA so we will just go there and do our best.

If there are any problems, it will be the same for everyone, so we cannot waste time worrying about what might happen ?ǣ we will just focus on bringing both cars home in the race and taking another step closer to the end of the season.
Mike Gascoyne

The track

Korea International Circuit, 2010 Korean Grand Prix
Korea International Circuit, 2010 Korean Grand Prix

The Korean International Circuit is designed as a dual-purpose facility. Most events will be held on the short version of the track which does not include the start/finish area used at the Grand Prix weekend. The race organisers were apparently happy to foot the extra cost of building two pit and paddock complexes.

On the face of it, the 5.6km 18-turn circuit is typical of modern F1 venues. It has the usual mix of long straights and hairpins intended to encourage overtaking, and enough corners to require a significant amount of downforce.

But there are a few points of interest as you look around a lap of the track.

Turn one, a tight left-hander which leads into a second, flat-out left-hander, comes up quickly after the start/finish line – a relief for anyone who doesn’t get off the line well at the start.

The pit lane exit routes around the turn one run-off and merges in at turn two. Here begins the longest flat-out section on the lap, with the speed trap positioned on the approach to turn three. Bridgestone expect top speeds of 310kph (192.6mph) here.

Turn three is a sharp right-handed hairpin with a big braking zone. A shorter run takes the cars to turn four – another hairpin, this time bending left. The circuit’s three most likely spots for overtaking all occur within the first sector, which could make for an interesting first lap.

At turns five and six track designer Hermann Tilke has repeated his trick from Yas Marina of combining a slow hairpin with a slow chicane – hardly the most inspiring sight on a motor racing track. It’s not clear what purpose they might serve other than to increase the lap time.

The cars then enter sector two which has some rapid corners, beginning with turns seven and eight form a fast chicane. As they emerge from turn nine the drivers will be on the brakes for the slow, right-hand turn ten soon afterwards.

The speed builds again through the double-apex turn 11 which flicks right into turn 12. On the short version of the track a link connects turns 11 and three – the F1 cars head into turn 12 beyond which the run-off areas become rather less generous.

The cars continue to dodge from side to side across the track as they wind through turns 13, 14 and 15.

Perhaps the most distinctive sequence on the track is turns 16, 17 and 18, where the cars thread through the barriers flat-out. Cars heading to the pits will swing off to the right as they reach the start/finish straight.

How long will a lap take? Mercedes estimate an average lap speed of 197kph and Bridgestone say 205kph, putting lap times in the region of 1’38.7 to 1’42.7.

It’s tempting to divide the high-speed and twisty parts of the track into the ‘McLaren’ and ‘Red Bull’ sections. But it’s best to wait and see how they fare in practice before drawing such conclusions.

However much they practice new circuits in their simulators, it’s not until the cars get on the track that they know for sure how they’ll fare.

What are your expectations of the Korean International Circuit? have your say in the comments.

Are you going to the first-ever Korean Grand Prix? Find more fans who are here: 2010 Korean Grand Prix discussion

Korean International Circuit pictures

Korean International Circuit videos

Karun Chandhok driving the circuit at the beginning of September (before the final layer of tarmac had been laid):

Red Bull’s circuit preview:

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