Bernie Ecclestone has conceded that F1 will need to 'get lucky' for the inaugural Korean Grand Prix to actually go ahead next month – as he described the current situation regarding the state of the track and its facilities as 'dangerous', leaving the 2010 world championship calendar facing the prospect of having just three races left rather than four.
With much having been made of the unreadiness of the 5.615km Korean International Circuit in Yeongam County – highlighted by video footage of Karun Chandhok driving a Red Bull around it earlier this month [click here
] – South Korean officials travelled to Singapore last weekend to hold crisis talks with Ecclestone's Formula One Management (FOM) company.
A scheduled track inspection by FIA chief technical delegate Charlie Whiting last Tuesday (21 September) had to be postponed – allegedly due to the date coinciding with a Korean national holiday. Following the talks in Singapore, a new date of 11 October – the day after the preceding Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka – has now been agreed, when F1 freight will already be en route
Final inspections are supposed to be held no less than 90 days in advance of any new grand prix. The Korean delay will allow organisers crucial extra time to lay down the missing final layer of asphalt, but takes the inspection perilously close to the race.
A final decision on whether or not the grand prix will take place will be made off the back of the inspection – and should the circuit fail at such short notice before the 24 October race, then the event would be struck off the calendar for both 2010 and 2011, with FIA regulations stipulating that any grand prix that is cancelled with less than three months' notice, as punishment must also be cancelled for the following season.
Over the Singapore Grand Prix weekend, Ecclestone initially dismissed suggestions that the race will have to be canned, even if he confessed that he does not anticipate record-breaking ticket sales for an event that has been clouded by so much uncertainty and speculation in recent months.
“We're happy with the circuit at the moment,” the 79-year-old commercial rights-holder told the Korea Herald
newspaper. “I don't take a lot of notice of rumours. The federation (FIA) seems very happy with what's happened, with everything that will happen. We signed a contract. I can't discuss this, because it's going to happen – [but] people are reading complete rubbish in papers that it is not going to happen, so I don't estimate a big, big crowd.”
However, less than 24 hours later – and far from out-of-character – the British billionaire seemed to have changed his tune, admitting to grave doubts that the Korean Grand Prix will go ahead.
“It's not good,” he told BBC F1
pundit Eddie Jordan. “It should have been inspected maybe six weeks ago. It was inspected but it wasn't passed. We normally have a 90-day check before a race, and now we are sort of putting this off. It's quite dangerous what we've done actually, but it's a case of 'do we cancel the race or not?' They say it's all going to be okay, so we hope they are right.”
“Until it's on, there are always concerns, obviously,” he added, speaking to The Associated Press
. “We have to get lucky and hope it will happen.”
If the race was to be called off, it would potentially have a hefty impact on the F1 2010 title chase, with only three outings rather than four – and 75 points instead of 100 – left to play for. The top five contenders are presently separated by just 25 points. A replacement race has been mooted at Magny-Cours in France, though logistically that could now prove impossible.