Unpredictable Korea may be McLaren’s last chance (Korean Grand Prix preview)

F1 heads to the brand new and hastily-completed Korean International Circuit with question marks over the state of the track and facilities.

But the situation for the McLaren drivers is clear. With three races to go Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button may have to give up on their championship chances if they fail to get a result in this weekend’s Korean Grand Prix.

The last new addition to the F1 calendar, Yas Marina, raised the bar for standards of preparation expected of new circuits very high. Coming anywhere close to that was always going to be a challenge for the Korean Grand Prix organisers.

But by the standards of any event Korea have cut things very fine indeed. The FIA’s much-delayed official inspection came just ten days before practice was due to start, and the track surface was only completed three days before that.

Korea International Circuit, 2010 Korean Grand Prix

Korea International Circuit track data

Happily, the race is on, and that’s good news for the championship. Scrapping a round this late in the year would have had complicated repercussions for the drivers’ and teams’ title battles.

Already the talk of the race weekend is what condition the track surface will be in. Any circuit that is being used for the first time will be slippery, but a track laid just ten days ago is likely to be slick with oils from the tarmac-laying process.

As construction work continues at the track right up to the start of practice there is likely to be dust in the air which will then fall onto the track, potentially making the surface even more treacherous.

The drivers will also have to beware of the limited amount of run-off in the later stages of the lap. Unusually for a modern track not every corner is bordered by acres of tarmac – there are some unforgiving walls quite close to the track in the final sector.

So the latest twists and turns in the 2010 world championship will be played out on an unknown track with an unpredictable surface. That could be a recipe for an exciting weekend’s racing.

For the McLaren pair, failure to score here could end their world championship hopes completely. If either driver leaves Korea 50 points or more behind Mark Webber it’s game over for them.

A couple of smart gambles at Melbourne and Shanghai put Jenson Button into championship contention to begin with. He continued that habit at Monza at Suzuka and he may be minded to do the same this weekend. He seems to have realised that using a different strategy to his team mate represents his best chance of beating him.

Lewis Hamilton is crying out for a trouble-free weekend having lost fistfuls of points in the last three races.

While the MP4-25 drivers have Korea’s first sector straights to look forward to, on paper this track does not seem to offer as good opportunities for the F10. But the Ferrari has proved a solid all-rounder and Fernando Alonso is in the best form he’s seen since his championship days.

If the expectations of an unpredictable track surface and a mixed-up race are realised, Alonso is exactly the kind of driver you’d expect to stay out of trouble and bag a vital win against the run of play.

As ever, Red Bull are instant favourites. They’ve got downforce to throw away and are addressing their car’s weaknesses. A revised F-duct introduced at Suzuka may reduce their top speed deficit on Korea’s three straights.

The inter-team battle at Red Bull is fascinating. With the title in sight Webber is perhaps starting to show signs of the strain of expectation. He’s been beaten by Vettel in all of the last three races, and by Alonso in two of them.

If anyone would have welcomed the cancellation of this race it might well have been him. It’s easier to protect a 14-point lead over two races than three.

Drivers to watch

Four driver to keep an eye on this weekend. Name your top picks in the comments.

Jenson Button – His hopes of retaining his 2009 crown are fading. Will he make another gamble in a bid to stay in touch with the leaders?

Mark Webber – Needs to arrest Vettel and Alonso’s inroads into his championship lead.

Robert Kubica – In excellent form at Suzuka before the wheels (literally) fell off. Will the R30 be competitive enough to bring him into play among the championship front-runners?

Nico H?â??lkenberg – Rumours surround the future of Williams’ steadily improving rookie driver. A track that’s new to everyone will provide a more level playing field on which to observe his progress compared to his experienced team mate.

The Korean Grand Prix on F1 Fanatic

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Before the race weekend starts look out for our unofficial race programme with quick links to all the important information.

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67 comments on Unpredictable Korea may be McLaren’s last chance (Korean Grand Prix preview)

  1. graigchq said on 20th October 2010, 8:57

    last paragraph:
    “If you’re heading to KoreaN for this weekend’s race”

    also 7th paragraph:
    “As construction work continues at the track right up to the start of practice there is likely to be dust in the air which will then ?? onto the track”

    sorry, don’t normally nit pick, but those stood out for me

  2. Todfod (@todfod) said on 20th October 2010, 9:35

    What we need for Korea is the psychotic side of mark webber back. He pretty much drover like a lunatic when he was racing Hamilton in Australia, and while he was trying to overtake Heikki in Valencia. At both times he was under immense pressure; in Australia coz its his home GP, and in Valencia coz he dropped from 2nd to 15 or 16th on the grid. If Vettel and Fernando are a couple of positions in front of him, I think he should crack again. A mark webber DNF would definitely make the race for me!

    • trulli dead09 said on 20th October 2010, 10:15

      that would destroy the race for me. :(

    • Paddy said on 20th October 2010, 11:43

      I’d much rather see the sort of form out of Mark Webber that we saw in the British GP. I want to see him ANGRY not psychotic!! I want to see him fighting and winning. (preferably not flip his car as per Valencia) The last few GPs have seen Webber cool and collected but not a lot of passion in terms of racing. He prob needs to be calm to close out the championship but thats not why I love Webber!

    • Keamo said on 20th October 2010, 13:30

      It would definitely make the race for me too, and will make what’s left of the season bearable. This championship must be decided at Yas Marina!

  3. damonsmedley (@damonsmedley) said on 20th October 2010, 9:53

    If anyone is interested, @MyLotusRacing have posted some great new pictures on Twitter. The track actually looks a lot better than I was expecting, with only minor finishing touches needed by the look of things.

    • trulli dead09 said on 20th October 2010, 10:19

      hmm looks half decent-a bit like suzuka but with more run off.

      • Scribe (@scribe) said on 20th October 2010, 11:04

        Typical Tilke, here thoust shall overtake, here thoust shall follow, here thou shall all’st pretend it’s a street track for a pointless hike in downforce.

        Go I hope the nature of the circuit makes Redbull muggable of the start.

  4. I reckon who ever adatps quickly is going to come out on top, amongnst the WDC contenders.
    Drivers to Watch – MSC

  5. Adam Smith said on 20th October 2010, 10:32

    If the McLaren’s dont get both cars on the podium, I fear their chances are over.

    • Griggs said on 20th October 2010, 11:08

      Maybe I’m pessimistic, but I personally feel there are only three drivers that can win this championship and neither of the McLaren boys are in that list and it’s been that way for a race or two now.

      Sure they can still do it mathematically, but it’s unlikely. They have to hope the new upgrades make the McLaren the fastest car on the grid to pull this off. Red Bull are just too strong.

  6. colin grayson said on 20th October 2010, 10:35

    vettel was beaten by alonso in 2 of the last three races

    so why does being beaten by alonso show that WEBBER is under pressure

    better to start from the other end of the telescope….which of the 5 drivers is NOT under pressure

    webber is doing exactly the right thing , playing it canny until he sees EXACTLY what is needed …. just like button last year

  7. actually im looking forward to this race, personally i think it is an excellent track.
    fast/median/slow corners an some nice long straights, also some awesome close wall racing just what the doctor ordered to sort out the brave form the cautious drivers.
    i believe Hamilton will pull out all stops on this race he has nothing to loose and everything to gain by taking risks in this event.
    bring it on, i will be watching with interest.

  8. Casanova (@casanova) said on 20th October 2010, 10:41

    Both McLaren drivers need a podium finish at the very least to retain an outside chance of the title, and a win to maintain a realistic one.

    I hope they have a solid weekend or else its Red Bull vs themselves vs Teflonso for the title.

  9. Except top 5 I will focus on Felipe Massa – will he really deliver for Ferrari? Will he be capable and if capable – will he wish it?
    I doubt Renault will be again visible in front positions any more this season unless errors made by top6 (though I wish I’m wrong).
    As this is a new for everybody it will be interesting to see how everybody is doing here. it is also a good test for teams about strategy and setup.

  10. Red Andy (@red-andy) said on 20th October 2010, 11:06

    I think, for McLaren, this race will go the way of the last two or three, claiming that the track will suit them then failing to deliver on race day. They would have to be extremely unlucky for either Button or Hamilton to drop out of the title race here, but a poor result could make it almost impossibly difficult for them.

    • Yes, I have also security fears. I wonder if tarmac will keep sticking when pressed and then pulled by the tires.

      • Alex Bkk said on 20th October 2010, 13:57

        d-d let’s hope it crumbles, falls apart, is dirty and oily and accompanied by a gale force wind coming from 12 different compass directions at the same time before the torrential rain fall begins. :)

  11. David B said on 20th October 2010, 11:15

    A little off-topic. I’m watching some pictures from Yeongam. Never saw such a “last moment” work!!! They are painting grid stripes and lateral white lines…now! And putting down some fake grass carpets, also. I don’t know where they will go if a car runs them.
    I may be too pessimistic, but I’ve never seen so much work done at the latest moment, really.
    Another observation: box exit is really stupid, no other words.

  12. John Booker said on 20th October 2010, 11:18

    One interesting fact, there will be no blend line at pit exit.

  13. I always look forward to a new track. The last couple (Valencia, Abu Dhabi) have been a disappointment, so heres hoping that Korea throws up something interesting. Although maybe not literally, like tarmac or anything.

  14. I just hope Lewis doesn’t crash again. As long as he doesn’t crash he’ll be fine.

  15. Shimks said on 20th October 2010, 12:12

    I had the feeling a very races ago that Webber was very likely to take the driver’s championship. At this point, I have a strong feeling that Red Bull is going to give it all away to Alonso, because they refuse to favour one driver. I can’t believe they are taking this strategy again this year, though. Wasn’t Dietrich Mateschitz livid when they lost the driver’s championships because of a similar strategy last year (or the year before?). Sorry, my memory is terrible. And I’m no expert!

    • RB are only puttin out that statement cos thay cant publicly favor vettle ….if vettle was leadin by just 1 point webber would be n0 2

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