The "will it or won't it" saga of whether the Korean Grand Prix track would be ready in time has been a major story in recent months, but last week the FIA gave the race the green light.
As the F1 fraternity arrived at the Yeongam venue today, AUTOSPORT spoke exclusively to track architect Hermann Tilke about the challenges of this event and the condition of the circuit.
Q. It's all systems go for the Korean Grand Prix to go ahead. Is it fair to say that it has been a bit of a big effort to get everything ready for this weekend?
Hermann Tilke: Yes, I think so. The main systems will work fine, but maybe here and there, there might be some small things that are not working. And because the track is not tested, as it got ready very late, there will probably be a few surprises as well. But all the main things will be OK.
Q. In terms of an overall project, has this been one of the toughest for you because of how late everything has been?
HT: Yes, it was hard for everybody in the end. Not only for us [Tilke] but also the construction project here, for the organizers, for everybody. It was a hard time in the last few days.
Q. Was the bad weather over the summer the main problem here because it delayed everything?
HT: The delays started at the very beginning, because it is swampy land here and we had to drain it before [construction]. It needed a long time for the water to come out – something in excess of one year. Then the land had to be compacted, so it needed more and more time. And, of course, the monsoon season was longer than expected. There were lots of things like that.
Q. Were you always convinced that the track would be ready in time, or were there some genuine worries about it? Bernie Ecclestone said recently that even he had doubts...
HT: I was not always convinced, but you have to analyze the problems and then have to do something about them. It was not only our effort, we helped, of course, but the construction company and everyone here were working hard.
Q. What sort of show should the fans expect?
HT: I think on Friday the track surface will be very, very slippery, because it is brand-new. That means you will probably see some spinning. And, it will not be easy to find the setup for Saturday and Sunday because the track will change a lot. That means some drivers will make the wrong setup choice, because you are going to have to second guess what is the right way to go.
Q. So it will be a little bit like Monaco where the track surface is changing all the time?
HT: It will be more extreme than that.
Q. There has been a lot of talk in the build-up to the weekend about the problems that could be caused by the asphalt being laid so late. Will that produce any problems in breaking up or rippling?
HT: No, it will not. The only problem it will cause – and to me that is not actually a problem – is in terms of grip. A lack of grip should not be a problem, because we have the best drivers in the world here. Plus, it will be the same conditions for everybody. There will not a problem that the track will break up.
Q. Is it the oils in the asphalt that will make it slippery?
HT: Not only the oils, but the bitumen chemicals in it. Normally with new asphalt over the first six months the chemicals on the top surface wear down to expose the stones, which is what produces the grip. Normally these stones are freely exposed on the surface, but here there is bitumen covering them. After some time that will be removed, the stones will be free and the track will have some grip. But that will not happen this weekend.
Q. So it could be a spectacular weekend, then?
HT: Yes, especially at the beginning. After some practice, the track will improve a lot, because they lay down their rubber, and that will produce some grip. But off the ideal line it will be very slippery – a big challenge for drivers.
Q. What about the characteristics of the layout? What can you tell us about that?
HT: Here parts of the track are to be like a street track, but without a city at the moment. That means it is narrow, and everything is close to the circuit. Other parts of it are permanent with fast corners, and I think it will be interesting to drive.
Q. Which parts of the track will be good for racing then?
HT: The first section will be good for overtaking and will be more of a spectacle – especially the long straight and the braking at the end of it. In terms of driving and the challenge of that, the permanent part will be more interesting.
Q. So, where the walls are quite close to the track, that is where the city section will eventually be?
HT: Yes, theoretically right behind the walls will be a pedestrian area. It will be like a normal city, but at the moment the walkway is not there – because the city is not there.
Q. So in 12 months' time, how different will the track be?
HT: I don't know how the investments are going to go on here. This will be private investment and I don't know how the process will be. I have no idea.
Q. Can this venue establish itself as a successful track like places like Sepang, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi?
HT: Why not? It needs some time, and needs some time to create the atmosphere with the city – and then it will be nice.