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

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:

2010 Korean Grand Prix

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

  1. Red Andy (@red-andy) said on 15th October 2010, 17:46

    I think the “worries” about the track surface are down to the teams’ expectations being too high, rather than the track being unsuitable. Yes, lots of tracks these days are billiard-table smooth – but they don’t all have to be. Lower grip conditions may be a headache for the teams but they will probably make it more exciting for us.

    Really, the teams should stop being so fussy and just race where they’re told.

    • mateuss said on 15th October 2010, 17:53

      I think the smoothness is not a concern, but rather the oily and potentiality apart coming surface.

      • The track can’t be that bad though as wasn’t it just inspected then given the green light?

        I agree with Andy, there is such a high standard with the tracks that the teams are so used to them being perfection. It’s fit to race so less moaning from them please :P They haven’t even done a lap yet…

        • Ned Flanders (@ned-flanders) said on 15th October 2010, 19:47

          Am I right in thinking that Bernie Ecclestone has a fair bit of influence in the FIA? And am I right in thinking he stood to lose a lot if the race didn’t go ahead as planned?

          I think I am… and my conclusion is that Ecclestone put a lot of pressure on the FIA to ensure the track was given the green light at all costs

          • Bernie has influence but not so much he can make the FIA give the all clear to a track that isn’t safe. He can’t just do what he wants or make the FIA do anything. He just has a fair bit of influence but the track has to meet their standards if it doesn’t it can’t go ahead and if it does meet the standards then what’s the problem?

            Bernie may have worked damn hard but it would be a whole lot more embarassing if the paddock turned up and then they couldn’t race.

          • Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 15th October 2010, 22:20

            Bernie has influence but not so much he can make the FIA give the all clear to a track that isn’t safe.

            I would hope so, but the 1989 Australian Grand Prix immediately springs to mind. Ironically Herbet, Brundle and Senna sided with Bernie and then went on to have big scares.

  2. If dodgy tarmac conditions are anything to go by, then we’re in for a very thrilling race. ;) Detroit 1982, Dallas 1984 and Montreal all produced exciting races due to problems with the track surface.

  3. Scootin159 said on 15th October 2010, 18:04

    FWIW, At Watkins Glen this year they repaved a large section of track two weeks prior to the IRL race weekend. The section which was resurfaced is at the end of one of the longest straights, meaning it would be a high-downforce braking zone for the IRL cars.

    There were ZERO issues over the course of the race weekend due to this resurfacing. In fact, had I not seen the trucks paving it myself, I wouldn’t have even known that they were doing it, as it wasn’t even mentioned during the race coverage.

    Granted IRL doesn’t generate the grip of an F1 car, but it’s still likely close enough to be comparable to track degregation.

    • magnafw07 said on 16th October 2010, 0:11

      That’s interesting. Do F1 and Indy car tracks consist of the same road material?

    • IndyCar drivers and teams are also less fussy about bumpiness and other track issues. Don’t know if that’s because F1 is more perfect and technically advanced than IndyCars or it’s just because F1 teams and drivers are more fastidious.

  4. US_Peter (@us_peter) said on 15th October 2010, 18:05

    I think the McLarens will be strong where we think they will, and the Red Bulls where we think they will. The question is just whether either’s advantage is greater than the other’s, which we’ll only know next weekend. I kind of doubt the Ferrari will be fastest, despite being a good all-arounder.

  5. The track layout looks good, especially the fast corners like turn 7. If I was to change anything, I’d remove turn 5 because it is needlessly slow for this type of circuit and removes any chance of overtaking around fast turn 7. But other than that, I think it will be a good circuit. Time will tell.

  6. Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 15th October 2010, 19:02

    Yeh if it was up to me 4 would lead into 7 and 11 into 13, but what’s done is done.

    I think it will be a good challenge for the drivers but not great for racing after this year. 2/3 of the lap seems expertly configured to keep the cars apart and unless you have a significant advantage it’s hard to see how cars will keep in touch long enough to be able to utilise the straights. Traffic could also be a real nightmare.

    I think the pit-exit idea is really novel, is there a fence or something to stop flying debris going over into it though?

    The only thing that really concerns me is that the pit entry trajectory is on the racing line. Whilst one driver slows down to get into the pits, another behind him will be trying to accelerate, creating a hazard along the lines of the old pit entrance at Spa. We might see incidents and hear complaints along these lines (the language isn’t child-friendly, I have to add in case!): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-zEnO_KwDg

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 15th October 2010, 19:21

      I agree with you on the turns 4-7. After the last couple of Tilke letdowns it would be great to have him design a genuinly interesting, challenging and overtake enabling track, so I hope it offers at least some of that.
      But I do not really expect it to, as i learnt to be sceptical about new tracks.

    • Ned Flanders (@ned-flanders) said on 15th October 2010, 19:49

      Haha before I even clicked the link I knew what video it would be!

  7. Ned Flanders (@ned-flanders) said on 15th October 2010, 20:13

    http://www.korealifes.com/formula-1-circuit-near-mokpo-south-korea/2009/01/13/

    Notice how the track has changed a bit since the first version. It’d be so much better without that awful slow 4- 5- 6 complex.

    And another thing- comiserations to any driver who gets a drive through this weekend… that pitlane is looooong!

    • sato113 (@sato113) said on 16th October 2010, 2:50

      that link comes up as a reported attack site. (i use firefox).

    • JuanFanger said on 16th October 2010, 8:36

      Regards pitlanes – perhaps they should shortcut the circuit a fair bit and not penalise wheel changes too much (say only 10 seconds) – might encourage more Kobayashi style charges on fresh tyres. Anyone have an opinion?

  8. Alexi said on 15th October 2010, 22:18

    I got a good feeling we’ll be all wishing for fresh tarmac at every race after Korea.

  9. schooner said on 15th October 2010, 22:28

    I can’t speak for the drivers, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a bit of slipping and sliding going on. These guys race in the rain, after all, and wet races are often the most entertaining. I’m sure they’ll be able to cope with a less than perfect track surface just fine. So long as it doesn’t start breaking up, that is. I’m also looking forward to seeing how the simulated lap times wind up in comparison to the actual quali times. Should be fun!

  10. wasiF1 (@wasif1) said on 16th October 2010, 4:58

    If the tarmac is slippery then I think it will be a concerned for the 5 title contender as they can’t effort to make any mistakes. With this condition I won’t be surprise if we see a surprise winner this weekend, so anything can happen. This may be a very different & difficult race for some.

    Looking at the layout I think it will be a Red Bull track especially from turn 7 to 17 should be their hunting ground, sector one should be Mclaren.

  11. Ronman said on 16th October 2010, 9:24

    The asphalt will be alright…but the race will be the bomb, even if it turns out to be a droning procession, the championship is so close that a 1 position difference will make the cut or not, so the guys will be pushing either way and i expect a few mistakes on a new track….

  12. I wish the drivers would just shut up and get on with it. There is no point in complaining at the 11th hour before a Grand Prix. The drivers that are complaining need to man up, and take on this challenge.

  13. New asphalt cures by the oils evaporating into the air; the only time it should be a problem is if it rains, then the oils tend to sit on the track surface until washed away in a heavy rain.

    When drivers are pushing to explore the limits of any track or surface there is always risk of going off into a barrier; it’s what separates the good from the great.

    Regardless, as many others have stated, deal with what you are given and get on with it.

  14. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 16th October 2010, 16:49

    This from Mark Blundell via Twitter:

    My buddy in Korea tells me already there are concerns with infrastructure and track surface and seems hotels are miles away for team members.

  15. sumedh said on 16th October 2010, 17:21

    I think turns 4, 5, 6 are similar to what Tilke did in the final complex at Turkey, 3 slow corners after a long straight. And the last complex at Turkey has seen a lot of wheel-to-wheel action.

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