Future of Korean GP in doubt, say organisers
Race is only '50/50' to be included on the calendar for next season
The Korean Grand Prix is only "50/50" for next year with local organisers counting on support from Formula One ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone, its promoter said.
First held three years ago in torrential rain, the grand prix has struggled to attract sponsors and crowds and has only been provisionally pencilled in for next season. Ecclestone, Formula One's commercial rights holder, brought the sport to the country but needs convincing the race, in a sparsely populated, rural area, is worth keeping.
The event had a stay of execution last year when he agreed to renegotiate the terms of the contract - hence a banner signed by local authorities at this year's race reading: "Thank you, Mr Ecclestone, for 2013 F1 Korean GP."
But he may not be so generous this time. "The possibility to hold the event [next year] is 50/50," acting promoter Park Won-hwa said ahead of tomorrow's race. "We have to negotiate with Mr Ecclestone. I expect his support for our Korean GP to succeed. Mr Ecclestone was the first person to introduce F1 to our country. We expect his favours, but we do not know yet."
Since 2010, the Korean Grand Prix has been held in the autumn, a potentially decisive part of the season. However, next year's extended 22-race schedule, which is yet to be finalised, has it in April, immediately after China and before Spain.
"It is more helpful for teams and freight," said Park, a former diplomat. "It was Mr Ecclestone's idea to hold it in the spring, in April."
One of the major criticisms levelled at the Korean Grand Prix is its location. The coastal Yeongam circuit is in the remote southwest of the country and the nearest big city, Mokpo, is hours away from Seoul.
It had been hoped the race would bring visitors, investment and development to the sleepy region, but critics say that initiative has largely failed.
"If Korea does not have success, it is because the track is far from city centres and F1 is not known enough for Koreans," said Park.
Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton was fastest in both free practice sessions yesterday as Kimi Raikkonen escaped a heavy crash in the opening run-out.
Britain's Hamilton, whose debut season for Mercedes is in danger of petering out, nudged Red Bull's world championship leader Sebastian Vettel into second in both sessions.
Lotus driver Raikkonen, fourth in the title race, was only eighth quickest in both sessions and spun off towards the end of the morning practice, slamming into a wall.
The Ferrari-bound Raikkonen appeared unharmed and he was back in action in the afternoon, but the incident will spark fresh concern over his long-term back injury.