Korea preview - a critical voyage of discovery 21 Oct 2010
The inaugural Korean Grand Prix - the race which some thought would never happen - is set to play a key role in the outcome of an increasingly tense world championship battle. Red Bull drivers Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel prepare to go head-to-head with Ferraris Fernando Alonso and McLarens Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. And just to spice things up even more, all of them need to aim for victory.
Webber needs a win to provide himself with a cushion going into the final pair of races, in Brazil and Abu Dhabi. Vettel and Alonso need a win to close down Webbers 14-point lead, as the Australian has 220 points to their 206 apiece. Hamilton and Button, on 192 and 189 points apiece, have to score big if they are to retain mathematical chances of the title.
And as if that isnt enough, Felipe Massa aims to get in on the action to take points away from his Ferrari team mates rivals, and Robert Kubica and Renault are burning to make up for the wheel-tightening gaffe that ruined the Poles promising run in Suzuka.
"There is nothing that we fear in the remaining three races," says Red Bull team principal Christian Horner. "We were competitive in Abu Dhabi and Brazil last year. But we don't take anything for granted. Korea is new for everybody and there will be areas where we will be weak. It has one of the season's longest straights, followed by a very, very twisty section. Sector one is not going to be great for us, but hopefully sectors two and three will be more our territory.
"So I think you will find that over a lap it will balance out the lap time between the strengths that some of the other teams have and the weaknesses we have."
Meanwhile, Alonso says that he will be giving it everything in the Ferrari. "In Korea we will have to attack because now we must close the gap to Webber. To lose any more ground would make the situation more complicated. The Korean Grand Prix could therefore start to be decisive for some - and for me it will be important also to be able to count on my team-mate. I know that he will be really hoping to make up for two negative results and he has all the capacities required to return to the podium.
"What's more, it will be very useful to work together to discover all the secrets of the new track so we can prepare our cars in the best way. In a moment like this every detail matters to achieve our goals."
Hamilton and McLaren believe the track, with its kilometre-long straight which runs between Turns 2 and 3, will suit their MP4-25. Im looking forward to the weekend, the 2008 champion says. I think we can have a positive race. While recent results havent necessarily shown it, weve had a strong car - now Im hoping to get the chance to prove it on track.
Team mate Button adds: Its always exciting visiting a new circuit for the first time. The Korean track certainly looks very interesting - a real mix of different characteristics - and there appear to be a couple of very likely opportunities for overtaking, particularly at the end of the three main straights, but possibly also off-line in the twisty final sector. The track looks quite high-speed, and the walls are close, so I think itll be an interesting challenge.
Weve made some improvements to the parts we tested in Suzuka, and its looking likely that well run them on Friday. As with all our upgrades, we are pushing the envelope, so Im optimistic that the tests will be positive and that well be able to race the new components.
Hamilton, who said his McLaren felt brilliant in the brief fast run he did before crashing on the Friday morning in Suzuka, looks forward to having the new rear wing that he couldnt run there, and says of the track: Ive driven the Korean International Circuit on the simulator, and my first impressions were extremely positive. On paper, the track should suit our car quite well - the first sector is all about good end-of-straight speeds and strong performance under heavy braking, both key characteristics of our car.
And the middle sector is fast and flowing; its the kind of place where you want a car with a good balance and good downforce. I think itll reward commitment - it actually feels like quite a nice drivers track. The end of the lap is slower and tighter, but its still all about rhythm and flow - so, as long as the track surface is nice and grippy, I think were set for an enjoyable first race in Korea.
Bridgestone will bring their hard and soft compound rubber, and a lot of the focus over the weekend will be on how they perform on a track whose top surface was only laid in the past two weeks. Will the oils coming to the surface make it slippery? How will it withstand the passage of 24 750-horsepower cars so soon after being laid? How long will it take to rubber in?
Hirohide Hamashima, Bridgestones director of motorsport tyre development, says: This Grand Prix presents everyone in Formula One with an interesting challenge as the circuit has only recently been completed. This means that we cannot look at any data from races there so we have to rely on simulation data. From this information, the maximum and average speeds will be 310 km/h and 205 km/h respectively. This places the track between Catalunya and Istanbul and close to Sepang in terms of speed, which is an important factor determining the allocation of the hard and soft tyres.
Korea should be a good test of all of our technology and I expect all the team engineers to be working very hard indeed over the weekend trying to understand the best car set-ups and tyre strategies for the race. As it will be the first motor racing event at the facility we expect a lot of track surface evolution over the weekend. It will also be interesting to see how the teams and individual drivers adapt to this track, particularly those in the hunt for the championship battle.
The weekends weather looks likely to be reasonably settled, with ambient temperatures of 22 degrees Celsius and sunny conditions predicted for Thursday through to Sunday. The race will run over 55 laps of the 5.621 kilometre (3.490 mile) circuit, or 309.155 kilometres (192.100 miles). It starts at 15.00 hours local time, which is nine hours ahead of GMT.
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