Karun Chandhok – the only man to have driven the new Korea International Circuit, the stage for the upcoming inaugural Korean Grand Prix this weekend – has predicted a Red Bull Racing benefit once more and warned challengers McLaren-Mercedes that 'in two weeks [half a second] is impossible to catch up, regardless of how many new parts you throw on a car'.
In the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka last time out, Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber sailed serenely clear at the front of the field to notch up a commanding one-two for RBR, with neither Ferrari star Fernando Alonso nor McLaren pairing Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton able to get even close enough to mount an attack – and the RBR duo, it is generally held, had more than enough in reserve even if they had.
However, whilst Suzuka might have been all-but tailor-made to suit the strengths of the Adrian Newey-designed RB6, the Korean track in Yeongam County is far more of an unknown, with particular concerns having been expressed inside the Milton Keynes camp as to just how much the long straights there will expose the comparative breathlessness of the Renault engine in the back of its car.
Hamilton and Button have both been talking up their chances of success in the 17th race of the season, pinning their hopes on an upgrade package to the MP4-25 that failed to yield an immediate improvement in Japan but which it is hoped will prove to be far more beneficial in Korea – and it is, indeed, something of a 'must-win' outing for the two countrymen, who are slipping increasingly out of title contention at respectively 28 (Hamilton) and 31 points (Button) adrift now of world championship leader Mark Webber.
However, out-of-work Hispania Racing ace Chandhok – who drove the circuit in an old Red Bull during a special demonstration run last month – fears that the only recently-completed track will ultimately do McLaren few favours.
“It will be closer than last weekend at Suzuka as it is not quite so aero-dependent, but I still fancy Red Bull to win,” the Indian told Telegraph Sport
. “I think Korea is another Red Bull circuit. They proved by the end of Japan that they were a good half a second clear of the McLarens and Ferraris – and in two weeks that is impossible to catch up, regardless of how many new parts you throw on a car.
“It does have three long straights, which will help McLaren, but from Turn Four it's basically just left-handers all the way home and gets a bit more fiddly – slow-speed, second-gear stuff, camber changes – which will play more into Red Bull's hands. Fernando could hustle it up and get closer to them and actually I fancy [Robert] Kubica to do well again in Korea. He is a real street fighter, and this kind of track will suit him.
“What could be interesting, though, is the start. Red Bull may well lock out the front row and still not be leading by the time we reach Turn Four because of the straights in that first sector. That would make it very interesting. I know it is something that Mark is thinking about, because he told me when he asked me what the circuit was like. If it is slippery then it will probably favour Red Bull, as downforce then becomes king, but we won't know for sure until Friday.”