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28/06/2017
BBC Radio 5 live

    Korean Grand Prix: Love motels in Mokpo

    People like to think life in F1 is glamorous. It is to a certain point…although there is very little glamour involved in the Korean Grand Prix. The circuit was ‘completed’ in 2010 (I say completed in the loosest sense of the word, they were still finishing putting it together the day before the race).

    It cost just under $77m and has to be one of the world’s biggest white elephants. For 360 days of the year it’s sits gathering dust in the barren South Korean wastelands of Mokpo. The second year the event was held, the catering teams opened the fridges to find food still in there where they had left it 12 months before.

    Where there should be bright lights and casinos, a grand harbor, yachts and hotels, there is just grass and dust. The proposed development that would have transformed the land around the circuit has never happened. No other races take place here through the year. There is just one hotel in the immediate vicinity of the track – that being the massive Hyundai Hotel where all the drivers and top brass stay.

    For the rest of us mere mortals it’s a special kind of hotel we get to stay in; a ‘love motel’. For 11 months of the year young couples looking to escape the imposing tower blocks that they live in with their families can rent out rooms by the hour. Sometimes it’s just a case of playing computer games and spending some time together out of the prying eyes of brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers. Sometimes it isn’t.

    The walls of my hotel room were sparkly and there were several different mood settings of light that I could have selected if I’d wanted to do my F1 prep in a snazzy red light or maybe mellow blue.

    There were a few too many mirrors too. Who knew you could need so many? The final strange hotel habit was the hair products. When walking into the room (a little musky) there to greet you are several bottles (half used) of hair products, lotions and potions and a couple of hairbrushes. It’s very curious. Obviously the young folk of Korea are very careful about how they look when leaving their love dens.

    Food in Mokpo is tricky too. If you are a big fan of unrecognisable food and Korean BBQ’s, you’re in luck. As a veggie, who is allergic to milk, you can imagine a week in Mokpo is the ultimate diet regime. The first night we were there I had a bowl of rice after walking around town for a good hour to try and find anything I could eat.

    Thankfully the teams take sympathy on us media. As usual, Mercedes open their doors for lunch to anyone who wants it and Williams host their Friday breakfast for the Brits, but other teams also try and help out where they can and there is generally a good spirit among the travelling hundreds who make the 27hour trip to Seoul and downwards.

    That’s the thing about F1. It’s highly competitive and the brains in this paddock sometimes astound me but at the end of the day it is a warm and generous place to work. Friendships are made across nations, irrespective of nationalities and when the chips are down there is always someone stepping up to help.

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