Korean GP: Brawn says ‘success’, locals disagree

As the remaining vestiges of the F1 circus leave town, the Koran GP organizers (KAVO) are left with the task of sweeping up the confetti, taking down the balloons and collapsing the three-ring tents. The show has and must go on. Like the Barbarians from the north, F1 has swept through the countryside, claimed the riches and conquered and claimed the Yeongam, South Jeolla region as one of their own. The dust-turned-mud, that was so prevalent during the race weekend, is now beginning to settle.

As the power brokers of F1 retreat to airports and locales far beyond South Korea’s shores, one can hear the back-slapping and self-congratulations of the participants on just how successful the new circuit and race was. They admire the safety measures of a red flagged race until conditions improved, the broadcast and connectivity to the world, the clean garages and overall performance of the KAVO-led operation. Not without good reason mind you as the weekend could have been an epic disaster but as it was, it was cute bedlam at most. Even Mercedes GP boss Ross Brawn has claimed success for this past weekend:

“I think the rain was a shame for the crowd although it created quite an event in many ways. But I think it has been a tremendous success. There were great crowds and it is a great circuit, which needs a bit fine tuning, but it is a good venue for us.”

There is another view of this ragingly successful race. That is the view of local paper Korea JoongAng Daily in which the local flavor on the event is seen through local eyes. Park Min-young, 28, traveled from Busan to attend race:

“I waited for the shuttle at the station starting at 1 p.m.,” he said. “But the shuttle, which was supposed to come every 5 to 10 minutes, did not come until 2:30. When I came to the circuit at 2:50 and tried to get in, I was denied access and not one person knew where I should ask to get answers.

“I bought two tickets over 300,000 won each and people next to me with a baby bought four Silver tickets over 1 million won each,” Park said.

“Nobody from KAVO [event organizer Korea Auto Valley Operation] came to the entrance or explained anything to us, and I couldn’t believe the fact that there was nowhere to get information or vent my frustrations.”

KAVO apparently, in order to fill the stands, had given away lots of tickets to university students and asked employees to sell tickets to their friends and family. This mad press for attendance created issues for legitimate ticket holders. They admit that this was a problem:

“Since the event is fairly unknown in Korea, I did ask for some cooperation in terms of tickets, and I am truly sorry for all the inconveniences that have been caused,” said Governor Park. “Also, there were some confusion and dissonance as the organizing committee was run simultaneously with us and KAVO. We will look into all wrong procedures and improve on these matters.”

It is obvious that no one expected perfection the first time out and Governor Park Joon-yung even admitted as much saying:

“We have successfully held the F1 event by building one of the finest circuits in the world in South Jeolla, which is one of the most underdeveloped areas in Korea,” he said. “Although everything didn’t go as planned, I want you to think of this as a long term investment for the future.

“No country can hold such an event perfectly from the start, so we will go step by step and improve things in the coming years,”

I can appreciate the pressing issues of attendance and the hiccups faced with the niggles over track design and accelerated circuit construction. Those things happen. The local reporter for JoongAng Daily has a different view of those cute niggles:

The facilities left a lot to be desired. The spectators stands were rickety, like those at a high school sports field, and KAVO was forced to close certain sections while continuing construction on stands during the three days of practices and races.

Most of the parking areas and pedestrian walks were unpaved, creating huge amounts of dust for the first two days and large mud puddles on the day that it rained during the Grand Prix. After sunset, most circuit areas had no lighting, leaving pedestrians in the pitch black.

Volunteers who were supposed to help visitors rarely knew the answers to questions. Very few spoke any language other than Korean, and few knew where certain places at the event were.

The organizers know of the issues and promise these will be resolved in time. The circuit will be nestled in the middle of a thriving city at some future date and a large hotel complex is planned. One thing I find most intriguing is the creation of an entire city. What industry will fuel it? What business will support it? Can South Korea create a large-scale metropolis hinged around a race circuit? That will be the real challenge, not the silly issues of track drainage, grandstands and tickets.

Overall, I think they handled themselves quite well given the circumstances and challenges they faced. It could not have been easy to pull this off in a field. It was always going to be rather Spartan in appearance and amenities and while journalists have grumbled, I commend them for making the quest. Let us hope next year will find a re-designed pit entrance, more accommodations and a better water mitigation system.

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