There has been a considerable amount of concern expressed by F1 drivers following the opening two practice sessions ahead of this weekend's inaugural Korean Grand Prix about the position of the pit-lane entry at the Korea International Circuit, with two of the sport's most experienced and respected competitors describing it as 'dangerous'.
The construction of the 5.62km, anti-clockwise track in Yeongam County around 250 miles to the south-west of the South Korean capital of Seoul has been beset by problems and delays, with almost two months of persistent rainfall meaning the circuit was only finally approved for racing by FIA safety delegate Charlie Whiting on 12 October – a mere week-and-a-half ago, and a long time after the stipulated 90-day deadline.
Whiting has asked for changes to be made to the surface at Turn 16, where cars are 'bottoming-out', and the amount of dust on the circuit from the eleventh-hour building efforts that have gone on has also come in for criticism – but the chief cause for consternation is the fact that the entry to the pits is on the exit of a blind corner, leading to fears of accidents given the speed differential between cars peeling off for new tyres and those carrying straight on.
“It's very dangerous,” the BBC
quotes Lotus Racing veteran Jarno Trulli as having stressed, the Italian lamenting that drivers were not consulted on the track layout and revealing that the matter will be raised with Whiting, adding that the pit-lane exit and first corner similarly leave something to be desired. “They don't even ask us anything about circuit layout – nothing.
“I had problems because I was twice stuck in gear. While I was fine to make it back, I was so slow that I had to look after myself when I was getting in. In this longer, blind right-hand corner I had to stay right on the racing line and I was so slow that I was wondering if someone might hit me in the back.
“This is a big issue in my opinion. There is no other option – [the entry to the pits] is right on the racing line, and the racing line is right on the far right-hand side facing the wall.”
“If someone is pitting, you have to take a tighter line and then it might be a bit dangerous if you are really close,” concurred Renault F1 star Robert Kubica. “It might be quite tight. The last corner is quite challenging – it's quite blind.
“The first few corners are quite boring. After Turn Nine there is quite a lot of action going on; Turn Ten is quite nice, and also Eleven and Twelve and from there it's quite a nice track. I was quite surprised by the layout – it is ten times better than Abu Dhabi (which made its debut on the calendar in 2009).”
Whilst the general consensus seems to be that the circuit is a rewarding one to drive, there has been rather less praise for the somewhat unfinished nature of the facilities and the safety angle, but the sport's commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone has spoken up to defend the race organisers over the chaotic preparations.