x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Track tour: South Korean Grand Prix

Karun Chandhok - the only Formula One driver to have driven around the Yeongam circuit - gives an insight into the newest track on the F1 calendar.

For every F1 race this season, we talk with a driver for an inside view of the track. This weekend, Karun Chandhok - the only Formula One driver to have driven around the Yeongam circuit - gives an insight into the newest track on the F1 calander.


It was a few weeks ago now since I went to Korea and, when I went there, there was still plenty of work to do.

I spoke to the FIA race director Charlie Whiting at the race weekend in Singapore and said to him that I felt they still had things to do to make it right but he went to Korea last week and has passed it for the racing and, knowing Charlie, he wouldn't done that unless it was completely ready.

I actually drove there for Red Bull, which might seem a bit odd to a lot of people, but the simple fact is that both their drivers were tied up. Mark Webber was in Poland and Sebastian Vettel was elsewhere.

In the past, I've been a test driver for Red Bull and I've still got a close relationship with them - I've done some events for Red Bull in India. And my Hispania team gave me the green light to drive a Red Bull so I jumped at the chance. I'll never turn down the chance to drive an F1 car.

Having done some laps there, I'd have to say it's not actually a bad circuit. I know people tend to be worried about new circuits in some ways, worried perhaps that it might be boring. But this is good - there's a mixed bag.

There's a permanent circuit as part of it and also a temporary circuit on normal roads that will be closed off for the race weekend, which means there's a nice mix to it.

In some ways, it reminds me a bit of Valencia but with much better overtaking opportunities. The problem with Valencia is that the entire race track is on roads through the city except closed for the race weekend so it's incredibly dusty off the racing line and that makes overtaking difficult. I don't see quite the same problem in Korea.

The first part of the circuit is all about long straights and hairpins so that shouldn't be at all bad for racing and overtaking, actually I think there's possibly as many as three or four good overtaking opportunities there, and that's positive for racing and for the fans.

Turn one is a double left and then that opens to the longest straight on the entire circuit where you go into seventh gear, which is followed immediately by the slowest part of the circuit.

Overtaking will be possible because the braking is quite difficult there. If you fail to get the braking just right and you have someone behind you, you'll certainly have a fight on your hands to maintain track position.

This is followed by a series of swishing twists and turns and, if I'm honest, turns four, five and six are a little bit Mickey Mouse in my opinion - you're in second gear for most of that stuff.

But from turn seven onwards, there's lots of fourth and fifth gear corners - off-camber and long straights, and this section in particular is really testing on the aero package of your car.

For me, the next big test is turn 11. I remember the G-forces being hard here as it's a really testing, long turn and then it immediately switches to turn 12 which is an off-camber right hand - it's quite an interesting section of the circuit. And from there we head onto the temporary part of the circuit.

Again the last bit of the lap is a bit Mickey Mouse and fiddly, as you come round the harbour. Don't get me wrong, it's actually a very picturesque place to drive and it has a bit of a feel about Abu Dhabi here, which I like, particularly with the huge buildings around it.

From there, the rest of the lap is very twisty and as you come out of the final right-hander - turn 16 - it's back to the start of the next lap.

I didn't really know what to expect going to Korea for the first time and I've got to say that I was pleasantly surprised. As for what the crowds will be like for the race, I genuinely don't know.

When I drove there the atmosphere was actually pretty good. I think it was an invitation-only event and there were something like 5,000 people there - the grandstand was completely packed anyway.

As for the atmosphere of the entire race weekend, I have no idea how that will be. I was only there for a day and a half - it was very much a fly-in, fly-out visit. But wow, it's some journey to get there. I think it took me something in the region of 27 hours to get there which wasn't a lot of fun. That said, it's worth it when you get there.