Is Formula One Returning To Korea?
In a move that came as a surprise to pretty much everyone involved – not least, it seems, the Korean organisers of the event – Formula One this week included South Korea as a provisional venue for one of 21 Grand Prix to be held in 2015. Although it’s status is very much still to be confirmed, the event has been included for the 2015 calendar on May 3rd.
The event had previously been held at the Yeongam Korea International Circuit near Mokpo for four consecutive years starting in 2010 but had been dogged by issues. Although the drivers themselves were very positive about the track itself, the rest of the event wasn’t as well regarded. International visitors complained about the distance of the race from Seoul and the lack of facilities near the track. Yeongam itself is a county in South Jeolla with a population of 65,000 people while the nearby cities of Mokpo and Gwangju were not really equipped to handle a major international event like the Grand Prix. Horror stories of journalists and mechanics sleeping in love motels found their way back to Europe tainting the image of the event.
For their part, Koreans did not really seem to take the event to heart – perhaps because there was no local driver to cheer or perhaps because it was a sport with no history on the peninsula. This lead to a lot of empty seats in the stands and a somewhat dead atmosphere around the track. In fact, it seemed that the K-Pop events held alongside the race weekend were a bigger draw for the crowds than the race itself.
As with many things, it was money that was the heart of the problems for the Grand Prix and, with the organisers facing severe financial difficulties running a loss-making event and Formula One demanding huge fees for the rights to host the race, it was with sadness but little surprise that the plug was pulled on the race for 2014.
It seems the Korean organisers believed this to be a permanent decision, while Formula One have given a glimmer of hope by publishing the race calendar with Korea listed. However, it seems that the organisers have no appetite to host the event and in reality, this may simply be a political move by F1 boss, Bernie Ecclestone. A number of clues point to the latter being closer to the truth. For one, it’s unlikely that the May date would stick as it would be a logistical nightmare to move the teams from Korea to Spain for a race the following weekend. The fact that Korea is the only event listed as TBC also suggests it’s likely to drop off the calendar at some point.
As a fan of F1, who has attended two GPs in Yeongam, I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed my weekends in Mokpo – although I can see why it might be a culture shock for some high-flyers jetting in for the race. The track itself is great, and I think there was potential there if they could have persisted with the event. Of course, the financials probably dictated that they couldn’t. It seems that we shouldn’t get our hopes up for a return in 2015 just yet as it seems neither Korea nor Formula One actually want to hold this Grand Prix. It would be a shame if this meant Korea dropped off the F1 map permanently however but sadly that seems the most likely outcome from all of this