“Forget the Grand Prix, the real race for the drivers is the flight from Korea to Tokyo tonight on various private jets.” A statement tweeted by F1 writer Adam Cooper on 6 October when the Korean Grand Prix was held.

Sure enough, only a few hours after the race had finished, Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso tweeted, “Already in Japan! One of the best GP’s of the year!” This is a move that the Japanese media had taken as a source of pride as well as yet another sign that trouble looms for the beleaguered Korean Grand Prix.

According to Adam Cooper; Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes AMG), Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull), Kimi Räikkönen (Lotus), Mark Webber (Red Bull), Felipe Massa (Ferrari), Jenson Button (McLaren), and Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) all flew out that same day. His comment was more intended as a joke about these top drivers’ immense wealth. However, the media in Japan who are not beyond nationalistic biases, especially on the internet, took it to mean the drivers simply couldn’t wait to get out of Korea.

That’s in all likelihood an exaggeration of the truth. Still, with the Korean Grand Prix’s prospects looking cloudy for next year, what’s keeping this event from really getting off the ground:

■  The Location?

Although it sometimes appears that way in Japanese reports, the reason these drivers might want to get out of the country likely has nothing to do with Korea itself so much as the venue for the race, Korea International Circuit in Yeongam.

Remotely located some 400km (250mi) from Seoul, the competing teams must stay in a relatively rural part of the country with little to do. There have been reports of journalists and mechanics having to be put up in love hotels in nearby Mokpo city due to lack of facilities. J-Cast News quotes one writer as saying:

“The bed was colored hot pink. A manual for safe sex was found in the bedside table where a bible usually is. There were vending machines but not the kind that sell food or drinks if you catch my drift.”

That being said, many of the so-called complaints in Western media tended to be tongue-in-cheek with them nevertheless enjoying the unusual experience. It doesn’t seem like a serious black mark against the event.

■  The Track?

Built in 2010, the course at Yeongam has actually been quite well liked by the drivers. Some said that the traction was very good and the scenery was pleasant. Driver Paul Di Resta shares his feelings about it.

It’s an unusual track, but definitely a place that I enjoy driving. The three sectors are all very different with long straights linked by hairpins, some high-speed corners and a slower technical part of the lap.”

Still, Korea International Circuit is not without its share of issues. In this last race Mark Webber’s car was hit, sending it off course and catching fire. Red Bull boss Christian Horner had said “it seemed to be burning for an age.” To make matters worse the fire truck was dispatched from the wrong exit causing it to accidentally cut off the race cars.

While Western media chalked it up to an understandable mistake, Japanese media was less forgiving. Reports accused the fire crew of using powdered extinguishers that can damage the gearbox. That combined with the delayed response triggered an impassioned commentator Motoyasu Moriwaki to exclaim “the staff here are disgusting!” Yikes.

■  The Fans?

Remote tracks aren’t that uncommon, particularly in Europe, and can manage to draw a sizable crowd. Also, every track has been known to have its hiccups now and then even if it falls within the FIA regulations.

It would seem that those two issues aren’t what are getting in the way of Korea International Circuit’s success. More importantly it’s the lack of fans that is holding the event back.

In an interview with The Guardian, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button said that their enjoyment at the Korean GP has suffered from not being able to see or hear people in the stands, calling it “sad”.

It would seem that the Korean GP organizers had hoped the race would spur growth and development in the area of Yoengam which in turn would allow the race to grow as well, but after four years it still hasn’t taken root. It’s a difficult strategy that requires a lot of work and just the right amount of luck. Nevertheless, they are continuing to push to stay on the calendar for the 2014 season, an endeavor that promoter Park Won-hwa said has a “50/50 chance of survival.”

So it seems that a lack of fans, although relaxing at times, may have been what drove Fernando Alonso swiftly to Japan. Then again, it could have been what was waiting for him here.

Source: Top News, J-Cast News, Terusoku, Hachima Kiko (Japanese), Adam Cooper’s F1 Blog, The Star Online, World Car Fans, BBC, The Guardian (English)
Twitter: Fernando Alonso, Adam Cooper
Map: Wikipedia – Dmthoth
Video: YouTube – ブル ソルジャ