In an exclusive interview with Autosport, Formula 1 track designer Hermann Tilke jacks up the expectation level for the inaugural Korean Grand Prix.
A lot of it has to do with the already infamous asphalt, but some — or so he says — has to do with the track design.
Here’s the Q&A, and below are some excerpts. First, about that new surface:
Q. For Formula 1 fans who will turn on their television over the weekend to see the new Korean track â€“ what sort of experience are they going to get?
HT: I think on Friday the track surface will be very, very slippery because it is brand new. That means you will probably see some spinning. And, it will not be easy to find the set-up for Saturday and Sunday because the track will change a lot. That means some drivers will make the wrong set-up choice, because you are going to have to second guess what is the right way to go.
Q. So it will be a little bit like Monaco where the track surface is changing all the time?
HT: It will be more extreme than that.
Q. There has been a lot of talk in the build-up to the weekend about the problems that could be caused by the asphalt being laid so late. Will that produce any problems in breaking up or rippling?
HT: No, it will not. The only problem it will cause â€“ and to me that is not actually a problem â€“ is in terms of grip. A lack of grip should not be a problem because we have the best drivers in the world here. Plus, it will be the same conditions for everybody. There will not a problem that the track will break up.
Q. Is it the oils in the asphalt that will make it slippery then?
HT: Not only the oils, but the bitumen chemicals in it. Normally with new asphalt over the first six months the chemicals on the top surface wear down to expose the stones â€“ which is what produce the grip. Normally these stones are freely exposed on the surface, but here there is bitumen covering them. After some time that will be removed, the stones will be free and the track will have some grip. But that will not happen this weekend.
Q. So it could be a spectacular weekend then?
HT: Yes, especially at the beginning. After some practice the track will improve a lot, because they lay down their rubber, and that will produce some grip. But off the ideal line it will be very slippery â€“ a big challenge for drivers.
OK, so to be a pessimist, that sounds like it could mean we’ll have a procession, if the drivers can’t risk going off line to pass. Of course, if there is some upsets during qualifying, that could force some drivers to take that risk, but we’ll have to see. If whoever gets on pole gets a good start, it seems like it could race off into the distance. But maybe lapped traffic will have a big role?
But Tilke also is insisting the track will be exciting once the circuit really is “set”:
Q. What about the characteristics of the layout? What can you tell us about that?
HT: Here parts of the track are to be like a city track â€“ but without a city at the moment. That means it is narrow, and everything is close to the circuit. Other parts of it are permanent with fast corners, and I think it will be interesting to drive.
Q. Which parts of the track will be good for racing then?
HT: The first section will be good for overtaking and will be more of a spectacle- especially the long straight and the braking at the end of it. In terms of driving and the challenge of that, the permanent part will be more interesting.
Q. So where the walls are quite close to the track, that is where the city section will eventually be?
HT: Yes, theoretically right behind the walls will be a pedestrian area. It will be like a normal city, but at the moment the walkway is not there â€“ because the city is not there.
This whole “the city isn’t there yet” aspect is fascinating. And it could never be there, right? Can anyone not imagine development just stopping around the track, F1 holding a few races there and then this gigantic failure — and huge money pit — just sit there for decades?
So, what are your expectations about the track? And does anyone want to predict the circuit’s long-term future?