Despite doubts last month about whether the Korean Grand Prix would take place at all, the F1 paddock is preparing to take to the track Friday morning.
The event organizer Yung Cho Chung talked to AUTOSPORT about the problems the Koreans faced about getting the Yeongam facility ready in time for this year's race and why they expect the 2011 version to be significantly better.
Q. How hard have the past few months and weeks been for you to get this venue finished in time?
Yung Cho Chung: We worked very hard in the last few months because we were behind schedule due to the weather. In July and August we had 38 days non-stop rain and my workers could not do anything at all.
So I had to change the plan and with the deadline approaching we worked really hard, but we never thought about canceling the race or postponing the opening of the circuit. I think today, as you can see, there are 1,500 workers on it, plus the military are here being a great help. They all want to be a part of the construction.
Q. So there was never a time when you thought the race might not happen, even when Bernie Ecclestone said he had some doubts?
YCC: Bernie never said it would be postponed; he was just worried about the schedule. The main FIA concern is safety, so they don't worry about the grandstands and the other facilities. Bernie worries about those other things.
But I changed the schedule [after the poor weather] and gave a detailed plan, even minute by minute, and sent it to Mr. Ecclestone. He saw that and he trusted me to get it done – which is why it happened.
There was just one time he was worried and he sent me one line: "Don't let me down, please!" In the motorsport industry, he is like a father to me. He has taught me a lot and I have learned a lot from him, so when I told him I would promise it would be ready I could not let him down. Although I'm not 100 percent satisfied, the circuit is finished.
Q. Construction of this track has several phases, with this year being just the first. What is the plan going forward?
YCC: We have here 4.5 million square meters of land, and the first stage was to put the circuit here. We designed a mixed-use for the circuit, with a permanent track for F1 and a shorter version, and we can develop and sell the other land. So first, we had only approval from the government to build the circuit, and now we have approval to build other facilities.
The problem is, people only want to build hotels and marinas – they are not interested in schools and hospitals. So we will have some commercial areas first and then we can develop more over the next seven years.
Q. There is still a lot of work going on at the track even today. How happy are you with the state of readiness?
YCC: The track itself is fine, but the rest I am not very happy with because we are two months behind schedule. So there has not been time to do everything. We are sorry for the audience because when the racing goes on, there will be just black asphalt and cars.
I wanted more of a nice environment for the people, and I plan to do something for next year. I want to make sure that it looks a lot greener and I have to do that for next year. You want people coming here not only to watch the race, but also to enjoy the rest of the facilities.
People say it is nice circuit, and it is better than what they expected, but I feel terrible and I am not 100 percent satisfied myself.
Q. Do you feel you are having to work extra hard to convince the skeptics in the teams and media, because there have been so many doubts and scare stories about Korea?
YCC: Yes, one of the big problems is that the cultures are different. We do not have enough good five-star hotels, and I am sorry for that.
Also, when I listen to the complaints, one of them is that towels in the hotel rooms are too small. That is because Koreans use very little towels, so if you have a shower you use just a small one. We have tried to educate the hotels to provide bigger ones.
Also, with the beds, Koreans often sleep on the floor because of the under-floor heating systems. That may be why some rooms don't look so good, but we are educating the local people about all this. But still it may take a few more years.
I have written down in my notes to provide an education program so that the hotels can provide a good service. Then, hopefully, it will be better next year.
Q. So is the message to the F1 community that next year things will be better as everyone will understand what the demands are?
YCC: Yes. I have taken note of the improvements that are needed and we had a meeting last night with the government officials to discuss the issues. We have to educate them and understand the culture differences.
Q. How do you judge the interest from the Koreans about the F1 race?
YCC: That is still my question. I have grown up loving motorsport, my sons love motorsport and lots of my friends love motorsport. But when I put in 110,000 seats, as the largest facility in Korea, I was wondering if I could sell the all the tickets or not. Now, the tickets are selling fast. For Sunday I don't have any problem, but there is an issue with Saturday – I don't think we will have 100,000, which is normal for other races. But we have sold out Paddock Club, and a lot of big companies are interested, so Mr. Ecclestone is also happy.
Q. What is the timescale for the full completion of the track and city?
YCC: We plan to do it over seven years. Now, we just have had approval to build another area. Many companies will love to build hotels and a marina, but I do not want to touch the land if I cannot do it the proper way. I don't want to just build things that damage the land and damage the environment. So if something doesn't happen I like, then I will leave the land for the second generation.
Q. On Sunday night when the event is finished, what to you would mark a successful weekend?
YCC: I haven't thought about that. We have been flat-out preparing for this and then we have an F3 Super Prix in November, so I haven't had time to think about it. It is also up to the newspapers and media to judge it, and I will listen. I will be happy if 24 cars start the race and if there is a good audience here on Sunday.