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Rumours about 'disastrous' Korea are 'inaccurate'

18 October 2010

Karun Chandhok has slated as 'inaccurate' much of the speculation regarding this weekend's problem-plagued, inaugural Korean Grand Prix, insisting that the event will be far from 'disastrous' – even if some of his fellow drivers remain not quite as convinced.

Whilst he will not be competing in Korea after being 'rested' mid-season by employer Hispania Racing (HRT), Chandhok is the only man to have prior experience in an F1 car of the Korea International Circuit in Yeongam County – built on marshland around 250 miles to the south-west of the country's capital, Seoul – having taken an old Red Bull Racing around the track on a demonstration run early last month.

With severe climatic disruptions and delay-after-delay having beset the construction of both the circuit as well as its facilities, it was only officially confirmed last week that the grand prix will definitely be going ahead, after it successfully passed a postponed eleventh-hour inspection by FIA safety delegate and race director Charlie Whiting, somewhat later than the stipulated 90-day deadline – but Chandhok has rubbished talk of a chaotic weekend ahead and reckons the naysayers will find themselves pleasantly surprised.

“Let's not kid ourselves – there will be teething problems, as there are with any new facility,” the Indian told Telegraph Sport. “However, I don't think for one second that it will be disastrous. When I was there we went to the media centre and the internet was up-and-running. A lot of the rumours have been inaccurate.

“The grip levels will be lower perhaps than they might be in six weeks' time, as it takes time for all the oil to come to the surface. When they resurfaced Donington in 2004, everyone went three seconds slower than they did later in the year after it had bedded in – but I don't think it will be dangerous.”

The principal issue, ostensibly, is that with the final layer of asphalt having been laid less than a fortnight ago – merely a handful of days before Whiting's crucial visit – it remains dusty and will not have bedded in properly before the F1 cars take to the track, which is likely to render it slippery at least to begin with, and in a worst-case scenario could even lead to it breaking up under the weight and strain, particularly under heavy-braking into Turns One, Three and Four. The grand prix will mark the first time any race has been held there, meaning next-to-no rubber has yet gone down.

Cement dust has been scattered around the 5.62km, 18-turn layout that includes the longest straight on the sport's calendar at 1.2km, in an effort to stem the inevitable dissipation of residual oil as it cures – and with other concerns ranging from organised crime to the proximity to the volatile North Korea, as well as a gruelling seven-hour bus journey from the airport at Seoul to the circuit, what lies ahead remains very much a bold step into the unknown.

“From a driver's perspective, the most important thing is that the tarmac lasts,” underlined Sauber ace Nick Heidfeld, predicting an incident-punctuated Friday practice day. “If the final layer is laid a short time before, it is generally understood it can be oily which, of course, would be extremely problematic – but I can only give any informed information about the quality and layout of the track once I have driven there.”

“It will be an exciting challenge to race at the new Korean circuit,” added Mercedes Grand Prix star Nico Rosberg. “It looks great from the pictures that we have seen, and I hope that the asphalt holds up as it has only been put down very recently.”

Defending F1 World Champion Jenson Button has confessed to anticipating 'a few unexpected issues' dependent upon the state of the track surface over the course of the three days – which thankfully are forecast to be dry – and Scuderia Toro Rosso's Sébastien Buemi muses that 'the key question will be if the people know enough about F1 to want to attend the race'.

A pertinent example of track problems arising from a recent resurfacing was the 2008 Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal, when the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve needed to be patched up in-between qualifying and the race and resurfaced altogether after the weekend. As a measure of timing, meanwhile, it has been noted that the tarmac for the new section at Silverstone this year was laid down almost two months ahead of the first competitive action there – but Lotus Racing chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne reflects that whatever will be, will be.

“It is always a bit of a step into the unknown when you go to a new venue, but we have completed a number of simulation programmes at the factory that have given us a pretty good idea of how the car will behave on-track,” the Englishman mused. “The big unknowns are what downforce levels to run, and how the track surface will stand up to the rigours of a full race weekend.

“We will find the right set-up over the weekend, and any track issues are out of our control – it has been passed by the FIA, so we will just go there and do our best. If there are any problems, it will be the same for everyone, so we cannot waste time worrying about what might happen.”


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