With the inaugural Korean Grand Prix now just a handful of days away, some of the Asian nation's inhabitants have slated preparations for the event as 'shameful' and likely to paint the country in an unflattering global light – as it has emerged that ticket sales for the weekend are some way below expectations.
The Korea International Circuit, built on reclaimed land in Yeongam County, South Jeolla province – around 250 miles to the south-west of the South Korean capital of Seoul – is the product of a $275 million investment and three years of work, much of it right at the last minute and some yet to be completed at all, with weather disruptions and political squabbles having severely hampered progress and resulted in nearly insurmountable delays.
Indeed, until FIA race director and safety delegate Charlie Whiting passed the track and its infrastructure fit for purpose early last week – considerably later than the governing body's stipulated deadline of no less than 90 days before the race – there were significant doubts as to whether the troubled grand prix would be going ahead at all, following months of conjecture and speculation about the readiness or otherwise of its construction.
The Hermann Tilke-designed, 5.6km layout – featuring the longest straight on the F1 calendar at 1.2km – has been billed as the best circuit in Asia and South Korea's biggest sporting facility, capable of accommodating more than 120,000 spectators at any one time, but of that capacity, barely half of the tickets have been sold, with as many as 60,000 still to shift.
Worse still, despite South Korea being the world's fifth-largest car-producing country, no major automotive group has been willing to back the showpiece event as a title sponsor remains elusive – whilst, to add insult to injury, national company LG is a partner to current world championship leaders Red Bull Racing. Some have been left lamenting what is perceived to be a sorry state of affairs indeed.
“I bet this event will boost regional development and our national image, but many people in other regions appear to be indifferent,” taxi driver Kim Song-Moon is quoted as having said by AFP
“The track should have been built months ago,” added Lee Phil-Soon, who owns a restaurant in nearby city Mokpo. “We believe there has been no full government support because the race is being held in this region. If it were held in another region such as Busan, the situation would have been different.
“Look at the track – construction is still underway with only days to go before the race. It's shameful, as foreigners think we are not prepared well.”
Indeed, whilst 32,000 of the 38,000 hotel rooms specifically set aside for the grand prix have now been booked, the blame for the shortfall has been pinpointed on a lack of enthusiasm for the sport inside Korea, with director of the organising committee's public relations team, Yoon Keun-Sang, explaining that F1 has failed to win over domestic support in the same way as did the 1988 Seoul Olympics and 2002 Football World Cup.