Announced in September 2009, the inaugural Korean Grand Prix the following season very nearly did not happen after construction delays meant opening dates for the circuit were repeatedly missed, with the final sign-off only given by the FIA on 11th October, just 11 days before the first free practice session for the 2010 race.
The track itself is classic Hermann Tilke, wide with long straights leading into hairpins and a tricky, technical section to test the downforce levels of the Formula One field.
It has been built as part of a wider development of the Jeollanam-do region, with a city expected to sprout around the track, making the Korean Grand Prix a hybrid street/circuit race.
Much of that development has yet to take place although the signs of building work were evident last year and this year’s race will see further progress on the infrastructure surrounding the circuit.
Yeongam is divided into three distinct sectors, and therefore requires a compromise setup which maximises straightline speed for the long straight between Turns 2 and 3, whilst retaining a decent amount of downforce for the twisty back section from Turn 11 to the start/finish straight.
Teams generally go for higher straightline speed to avoid being passed on the run to Turn 3.
Three big braking zones in the first four turns place a high demand on the brakes initially, but over the course of the lap the requirement for brake cooling is minimal.
As a new circuit the track is quite smooth, though Turns 7 and 8 have a few ripples in the track surface and can catch drivers out, while off-camber areas particularly in Turn 10 can cause issues with balance.
The cars can generally be set up to run quite low to the ground, maximising downforce generated under the car and allowing for lower wing settings to improve top speed.
Lewis Hamilton took pole position, ending Red Bull’s run of 16 consecutive poles, but could not maintain his lead as Sebastian Vettel squeezed by into Turn 4 on the first lap.
The Red Bull driver then pulled out a lead over Hamilton which was held through the first pit stop phase, triggered by an accident between Vitaly Petrov and Michael Schumacher which brought out the safety car.
Webber, running third, briefly dropped to fifth but was soon back in the final podium place when Alonso and Alguersuari pitted during the hiatus.
Thereafter it was a straightforward run to the flag for Vettel, who took his 10th win of the season and with Webber on the podium in third, Red Bull clinched the 2011 Constructor’s World Championship.
Tyre wear: 6/10
Two stops was the norm last year but with Pirelli bringing the soft and super-soft tyres to Korea this weekend, there could be a need for three stops amongst some teams. Last year the track was grippier than expected, if that trend continues this year then careful management of the rear tyres will be needed to get through on just two visits to the pits.
Lower downforce is preferred owing to the fast straights that make up the first sector – keeping track position is key so the cars will be set up to fly down the straights, on the premise that it is harder to overtake in the twistier second and third sectors.
Average speed: 6/10
Again the quick first sector brings the average speed up a few notches, as from Turn 4 through to the end of the lap Yeongam is all about corners, with a proliferation of fourth and fifth-gear bends.
Track difficulty: 6/10
You could almost drive the first sector with your eyes closed, but thereafter Yeongam gets tricky. The way the rest of the lap flows makes it vital to get into a rhythm, and it is important to nail the last section of the lap, a long 180-degree right-hander that spits you onto pit straight at 160mph. Get it wrong and you’ll be passed going into Turn 1.
The previous two races weren’t regarded as overtaking-fests and it is really the first sector where any passing is going to happen. DRS into the Turn 3 hairpin will see the most passes, although overtaking is still possible into Turn 1 and Turn 4.
Yeongam was built to be a street race, with the circuit built first and the city to follow later. Although the infrastructure around the circuit was starting to take hold in 2011, following a very ramshackle debut in 2010, the venue is not one of F1’s greatest. It could be in time, but there are already noises about Korea having a short-lived stay on the F1 calendar.
Venue Korean International Circuit, Yeongam
Lap record 1m 39.605s – Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull (2011)
2011 Winner Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull
GP History (only races held as part of the Formula One World Championship are included):
Stats from Mercedes AMG Petronas