Korean Grand Prix: Miracle or disaster?

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The Korean Grand Prix is two weeks away and the FIA delegation is currently on-site inspecting the facility. It could be a miracle or a disaster if the is race is ran in two weeks time and like many hastily finished projects, they often have serious issues which seem to snowball.

Most germane to the inspection is the track surface which had its final layer put in place last week. Much can be argued about how asphalt cures and how much time it takes to effectively do so. The last suggested time-frame I saw bandied about was three weeks but my hunch says it’s more complicated than that.

Asphalt has a myriad different mixtures and compounds and I imagine the folks in Korea are laying it correctly given the time frame they have to work in and the critical nature of the forces that will be present and punishing the surface during a F1 race. That’s not to say they won’t have issues, no one knows at this point if that will be the case but I suspect those issues are very present in the mind of both organizers and the FIA alike.

If you are laying new asphalt on your driveway, it can take a long time to cure before you seal it but this is different technology than that. This is a precise mixture, compound and laying technique that road crews deal with every day here in the States. Highway re-pavement happens and traffic is allowed back on the surface in short order. The Korean GP circuit is much shorter than the highways in the States that see road repaving on a regular basis.

Suffice to say, I don’t want to doom the Korean GP circuit before it has had a chance to doom itself. It may work just fine depending on the techniques used to lay the final layer of asphalt and as a person who does not work in that field, I have little to say on the matter. What I am intrigued by is the amenities…or lack thereof.

It will be like old time—a Spartan affair with little amenities such as you would find in today’s posh palaces of speed. Much of the building infrastructure will be “white boxes” and I will be interested to see if the press and broadband services are all working at 100%. No, this will be like the old days or racing at a track in a field and the only thing that could be better is to walk by a paddock area and see a half built DFW engine laying on the ground with a few wrenches and an oily rag.

What’s wrong with some old-school charm in a grand prix these days? Portable toilets, rotary-dial telephones, fresh smell of new asphalt, construction dust providing a film over everything, the lack of a large glamorous city just outside the track entrance, the unintelligible sound of an ill-tuned sound system blaring at 90db with no equalization rendering it an effective tool at creating listener fatigue (yes, that’s a real thing people) and the trials of getting a crowd there and safely home.

The bigger issues may be the safety aspects of the circuit. Not only drivers but for the attendees and the marshals that work the event. The FIA has clear regulations regarding track preparedness and they have decided to ignore their own rules. Appendix O of the sporting regulations state:

“On site inspections will be performed by the Commission’s delegates as necessary, with at least one preliminary inspection and one final inspection. For permanent circuits, the final inspection should be made not later than 60 days (or 90 days for FIA Formula One World Championship events) before the first international event to be held, at which inspection all work relating to the track surface, permanent features and safety installations should be completed to the FIA’s satisfaction.”

Are the FIA and F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone ignoring their own regulations to a point of being dangerous? Bernie told the BBC last week; “What we’ve done is quite dangerous. It’s a question of do we cancel the race or not? They say everything will be OK – we have to hope they’re right.”

I hope it’s not too dangerous of a move or else we stand to see a real debacle in the making. Let’s look on the bright side and suggest that the F1 circus is a resilient lot. Even F1 journalists can weather the storm with light-hearted tomfoolery such as in Japan during the rain-stricken qualifying session. Maybe this Spartan approach to a grand prix is the kind of thing the series needs but somehow I feel it may be more like a square peg in a round hole.

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