x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Red Bull happy to have a quiet weekend for Korean Grand Prix

Race is not known for its huge crowds, but it is not a bad little circuit to drive on, says Webber.

Red Bull Racing’s Sebastian Vettel, winner of the two previous races, will hope for more of the same.
Red Bull Racing’s Sebastian Vettel, winner of the two previous races, will hope for more of the same.

MOKPO, South Korea // Mark Webber must be the only man in Mokpo who wants this weekend to be more boring. The Korean Grand Prix takes place on Sunday in this sleepy, rural port town for the third successive year, yet things appear to remain unchanged since the inaugural race in 2010.

Yes, this year there are promotional posters four hours north in the capital, Seoul, and the after-show entertainment will feature Psy, the South Korean pop star who has become a sensation with the viral "Gangnam Style".

However, the chances of a sell-out Sunday are still slim as F1 fever seems to have got lost somewhere over the Korea Strait on its way from Japan. It could be construed as almost cruel to pair Korea with its Asian neighbour on the world championship calendar.

While the Japanese race has decades of history and is renowned for offering up the season's most zealous fans, Mokpo is more often than not recalled for providing one of the season's lowest turnouts.

The Korea International Circuit, built at a cost of US$500m (Dh1.8bn), has a capacity of 130,000, but the population of the entire county of Yeongam is only 60,000.

"In terms of atmosphere, it's not off the charts, we know that," Webber said yesterday. "But in terms of the racetrack, it's not a bad little circuit to drive on."

At Suzuka, the Australian started second, on the front row alongside his teammate Sebastian Vettel.

He is hoping Red Bull's dominance is replicated in tomorrow's qualifying, but in the race he will be keen to avoid Lotus's Romain Grosjean, who collided with him at the first corner.

"We would like to make it more boring, if we can," he said. "But we have got some tough opposition."

The race certainly has a lot more riding on it than last season, when the F1 fraternity arrived with Vettel having already been crowned champion the previous weekend.

This year, the German again arrives as the man in form having won the previous two races, but he trails Ferrari's Fernando Alonso by four points in the standings.

Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton are also, albeit distantly, still in the hunt.

Vettel said: "We obviously come here on a high and we try to produce the momentum to have another very strong result here.

"The last couple of races were good for us, but only three races ago, we didn't finish the race in Monza. Things can change quickly, so we need to stay focused and concentrated on what we have."

Alonso, likewise, is playing it cautious. The Spaniard remains in the driving seat for this year's title, but having seen his lead cut from 40-plus points to just four after suffering two forced retirements in four races, he is well aware the pressure is growing, even if he refuses to admit it in public.

Asked how important a strong Korean performance is for Ferrari, Alonso rolled out a bland, textbook response: "We all need some good points this weekend; it's the same situation for everybody."

He added: "So far, it has nearly been a perfect championship for us, with good strategies, good starts, good approach to the races. Everything we had in our hands, we maximised the points.

"We had one zero in Spa and one zero in Suzuka, but [these occurred because of] things completely outside of our team. Apart from that, we don't need to change too many things."

Another marque that has enjoyed a fruitful season so far is Sauber, yet their changes continue apace.

Last week, it was announced their Mexican driver Sergio Perez is leaving next season to replace Lewis Hamilton at McLaren.

Yesterday, they confirmed Monisha Kaltenborn, the chief executive, has been installed as team principal in place of Peter Sauber. "Naturally I'm very aware of the major responsibility I have for Peter Sauber's racing team," Kaltenborn, who becomes the first female team principal in Formula One history, said.

"He founded the team over 40 years ago, and in the spring it will be 20 years since Sauber lined up for its debut.

"We are the fourth-oldest team in Formula One and to build up a project like this and keep it alive in a difficult environment is a tremendous achievement.

"I have set my sights high and am committed to taking the team forward as Peter Sauber would want and leading it on to success."

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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