Korean City Guides: Formula One
F1 in Korea
Formula One came to the Korean Peninsula in 2010 and is here for at least seven years with the option of five more. It has not yet become part of the national sporting scene in South Korea but there is still time. Formula One's introduction has also not been without controversy.
Circuit Name: Korea International Circuit
Number of Laps: 55
Circuit Length: 5.615 km
Race Distance: 308.630 km
Location: Yeongam, South Jeolla Province. Nearest city Mokpo
History of Korean F1
The Korean Grand Prix is only two years old but has already had a troubled childhood. The first race in 2010 almost did not go ahead. The unusually wet weather in the months leading up to the race meant that the construction of the track fell further and further behind schedule.
It was finally given the go-ahead by the sport's governing body the FIA just three weeks before the race was due to take place. Even then, while the track, which runs anti-clockwise, was in place, much of the surrounding infrastructure was not completely finished. The car parks around the venue turned into mud due to the rain on the day of the race with fans struggling to find their seats and unable to get much in the way of refreshments.
The first race itself was tarnished by the weather and the safety car was on the track for a whole 26 laps. In the end, Spain's Fernando Alonso took the title.
Things were much better on and off the track a year later. The organization was much better for fans and while the race was no classic, the heavens didn't open as Germany's Sebastian Vettel, who had been crowned world champion in Suzuka, Japan a week earlier, led from pretty much start to finish.
The Future of Korea's F1
The decision to stage the race in what is probably as far as you can get away from Seoul in the country hasn't been well-received by all. The drivers, sponsors and teams moan about being so far from the capital and its metropolitan area which accounts for around half of the country's 50 million people. They say they would be able to do all kinds of marketing and promotional activities in Seoul that simply can't be done in South Jeolla province.
South Jeolla is the least developed and most rural part of South Korea which is precisely why it is staged here. It is a bid to bring tourists, investment and name value to the region.
It does mean though, that the local government which from 2011 stages and pays for the race, is losing money - around $50 million last year. With races fees paid to the FIA set to rise for the rest of the contracted five years, there is little prospect of breaking even any time soon and in the present economic climate, little prospect of getting more support from Seoul. There has even been talk of cancelling the race but that is unlikely to happen.
Where to go: Mokpo
Famous for fish - especially a pungent version of skate
Busy sea port and harbor
Mokpo is a city in the southwestern tip of the Korean Peninsula and gateway to a number of islands in the region and is the closest city to the track. In normal conditions, it is around 30 minute drive from the station to the track.
Places to stay in Mokpo & Gwangju
A tough one. There are lots of motels and small hotels in Mokpo but many of these are full over the weekend. It is best to book a long-time in advance. Hotels in Mokpo include the Shinan Beach Hotel, the Youngsanjae Hanok Hotel (with traditional ondol rooms), and the Shangria Tourist Hotel. Prior to the race, there will be an official list of hotels offered by organisers. For those who want to stay the night, and can't find accommodation or are worried about it.
The best bet is to stay in the much larger city of Gwangju - about an hour away by frequent buses from Mokpo's bus terminal or by train - where there are hotels and accommodation aplenty including the Holiday Inn Gwangju, the Ramada Plaza Gwangju, and the Hiddink Tourist Hotel.
On race weekend, shuttle buses will ferry fans from the train and bus stations to the track.
Most of the activity on race weekend is in the Gatbawi district near the harbor known as the Peace Park. Here there are concerts held by the race organisers and a number of streets full of bars and restaurants. All are busy with locals, journalists and fans alike especially on the Saturday evening. On the weekend, you can stroll along the promenade, enjoy the atmosphere and even be treated to the sights and sounds of Formula One cars and the models.
From Mokpo you can take the boat to the following islands: Jeju / Heuksan / Hong / Gageo / Gwanmae / Docho / Bigeum/ Anjwa / Amtae / Aphae / Ui / Imja / Jaeun / Jangsan / Jin / Palgeum / Haui.
National Maritime Museum
The only maritime museum in Korea is well-worth a visit with ships from the Goryeo dynasty (918-1392), the life of a Korean Fishing Village, Korean traditional boats as well as exhibits from China and Japan. Closed on Mondays.
Yudalsan Mountain (유달산)
In reality more of a hill than a mountain, it is still a great place for a gentle stroll to a top which offers a view over the sprawling city and the harbor. A great way to get your bearings. There is also a statue of legendary Admiral Yi Sun-shin who beat back the Japanese in 1592 (and hails from the nearby city of Yeosu).
Getting to Mokpo
Bus: Regular long-distance buses run from Seoul's Express Bus Terminal in southern Seoul. The journey takes over five hours.
Air: Muan International Airport (MWX) is around 30 minutes from Mokpo. Buses from Muan International Airport are available to the downtown area. Mokpo has buses to Busan, Gwangju (90 minutes), Jeonju (3 hours), Wando and Jindo and there are road and ferry connections to Yeosu.
Article by John Duerden
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