F1 comes to Korea! This event has been a few years in the offing, and indeed it’s located quite close to where I live in Korea so going to the event was a no-brainer. A friend of mine at the local expat bar had done all the organising for me, and a few friends who’d come down from Seoul. The 2 friends were Eddie “racing girls” Vasquez and Mike.
After an early start for all of us (I don’t do 7am on a Saturday morning) we were on the bus and on our way to a minbak located at the base of Wolchusan. Wolchusan is a beautiful mountain, one I hiked last year…. That is for another post though. After arriving at the minbak we went to get some food… I’d really rather have gone directly to the track, and in hindsight I wish I’d stuck to my guns. After the meal we went to the park and ride picking up point, and waited to be picked up. This was when things began to unravel, and we’d arrived 80 minutes early as well. I think while we were waiting I’d joked that perhaps the were still constructing the stands as we waited and that was why no buses were sent to pick us up, if only my joke wasn’t so near the mark. Around 40 minutes into our wait for a bus that was supposed to appear at 20 minute intervals Jose got the call that no bus was going to come, so we ended up having to walk. This was one black mark against the organisers of this event, I wasn’t happy. At this point it gets very easy to blame Korea and Koreans for not getting there finger out and doing a proper job of organising a major event, though of course our knight is a shining in Kia was to come to our rescue. I think we’d been walking for about 20 minutes when the much more positive side of Korea came in the form of an act of kindness from a passing motorist who picked us up and took us to the track. There in the space of a couple of sentences is a reminder of what is so great about Korea, and what isn’t…. I still do wish that the act of kindness wasn’t needed, but that’s because I want the outside world to see Korea as an organised and efficient country (like it usually is).
Well we got to the track with qualifying already 10 minutes old, so now it was a case of getting to our seats asap. Once inside it took us 20 minutes to get to our stand were a polite young Korean told us that our stand was closed because it failed a safety check, well that was awesome and another black mark against the organisers. We got directed to another stand and finally got to see around 30 minutes of the qualifying. I have to say that as I looked around the stand we were in I’m surprised it passed a safety check as there were chairs not fastened to the stand and jagged metal edges that could cause a nasty injury if someone tripped.
The rest of the afternoon was pretty good. We took some photos of the cars flying past us, the noise was also pretty amazing. Where we were sat we couldn’t see that much of the action, there was a giant TV screen in front of us though, so that helped. The red bulls really dominated qualifying and it was Sebastian Vettel who was top of the pile going into tomorrows race, the question was would he remain there. The speed laps over Myself, Eddie and Mike set off to explore the rest of the track, always keeping a eye out for those elusive racing girls (for Eddie naturally). We walked around to the main grandstand, this part of the track had been finished, and looked pretty good to me…. Though with tickets selling for 1000$ there would have been a riot if it hadn’t been finished properly. We soon realised there was a chance to have a look around the paddock and get some autographs. After waiting in line for our turn we decided not to bother with the autographs, but I did get a photo of Alonso and his teammate Massa. The pit lane and paddock area was pretty cool, it was nice to see up close some of the work going on in these teams, and you could take photos as well, albeit from a distance. I wish I’d taken the chance to chat to some of these teams mechanics, I found out later they’d been stuck in the love motels with some bad stories making there way to the press… I suppose love motels is a rather unfortunate name for what are good budget motels, but Formula 1 is used to 4 star hotels I suspect.
When we left the track we had more issues with shuttle buses, but by now this just didn’t come as a surprise so I’ll not dwell. We met some nice Korean guys though and went for a meal with them in the nearby town of Mokpo, before heading back to our Minbak.
The day of the race came and we all wanted to get to the track earlier this time, no one wanted to repeat the mistake of the day before so we all got taxi’s to the track itself. Our stands were still not deemed safe so our tickets were bumped up to some other stands, we settled on a stand that had a pretty good view of the circuit, and once the race got underway we weren’t disappointed. Well the rain started to come down before that, so we had a wet race on our hands (something I’d hoped for to perhaps make a more interesting race). The race started behind the pace car, and we lost a good proportion of the real race to safety concerns….. a hangover of only finishing the track weeks before it was needed (another black mark…. Sadly yes). Once the race started it was great though, enough drama and excitement to keep things interesting. The safety car gone and we were off! A cheer went up from our stand and you keep feel a palpable sense of excitement as we were all about to witness F1 racing in the flesh for the first time. It took 2 laps for the first retirement. It was drama as race and championship leader made a mistake and off he went, I think he collected Timo Glock as he went off as well. With this retirement it was time for another period with the safety car, and I have to be honest the track wasn’t draining the water and certain areas were getting puddles. Indeed during the initial safety car period the race was stopped completely, and we were speculating they might postpone it (this would have been hugely embarrassing). Once the race finally got underway at what was the third time of asking we saw a battle at the front between Vettel, Alonso and Hamilton. Things were delicately poised, with the winner of the race having the chance to take the championship lead, stakes could not be higher at this stage of the season. It looked like Vettel had it in the bag, but with the light fading his engine blew up on him. We saw from our stand a pretty dejected looking Vettel get out of his car on a bad weekend for the red bull team. Alonso now raced away from a fading Hamilton to win the race and take a perhaps commanding lead in the world championship. Our friend Jose who is from Spain, and also the town of Alonso’s birth was unsurprisingly excited. It does seem to be the year of Spain on the sporting front.
We got another lift back to the park and ride area from the circuit and it was back to Suncheon for me. Eddie and Mike went back to Seoul. The question I didn’t answer… did we track down the racing girls? Yes, but only briefly, so I think Eddie was happy with that.
I hope next year this track is properly finished and allows Korea to really shine. It was a great race though, and perhaps that IS what people will remember. People can quickly remember the bad things though, and Korea needs to be ready next time.