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So far so good in Korea

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Sarah Holt | 09:06 UK time, Thursday, 21 October 2010

Formula 1 is entering the unknown at this weekend's inaugural Korean Grand Prix and in recent weeks fears have been multiplying over just what lay ahead.

The fact that the Korean International Circuit was given the green light to host the event just nine days ago, after the top layer of asphalt had been laid, only added to those concerns.

But now the F1 community is actually here most of the worries are proving unfounded.

As one member of Team BBC succinctly said: "It's not as bad as we feared - but not as good as we'd hoped for."

The circuit may not be complete - and there will be more on that later - but our first sojourn to South Korea has definitely been a case of so far, so good.

Workers are still busy at the Korean International Circuit

Workers are still busy at the Korean International Circuit (Photo credit: Getty Images)

After an 11-hour flight from London to South Korea's Seoul capital, the thick fog that enveloped the airport in its claustrophobic grasp made first impressions difficult to draw.

The white haze kept us company as we wound our way from the capital to the south-west coastal city of Mokpo.

For four-and-a-half hours, the bus motored past muddy flats, rice fields and industrial towns.

Mokpo, the nearest city to the circuit, greeted us with welcome signs among oddball shops such as 'Romantic PC' and a grocery store promising it was 'fresh, friendly and fun'.

Home for most of the F1 fraternity - including Team BBC - was found in one of the skyscraper city's 'Love Hotels' where rooms are usually rented by the hour.

It is not as seedy as it sounds. These short-stay, budget hotels are common in Japan and Korea. I am a little sad, however, that I didn't get the room with the stars and moon revolving on the ceiling as one lucky colleague did.

At the circuit, there was much less frivolity and fun to be found.

Bulldozers, cranes and construction staff were working on the outer rim of the track; rolls of turf and boxes of flowers sat waiting to be dug in, the bridge linking the main grandstand and TV compound to the paddock is frantically being finished and the taste of concrete dust hung in the air.

The immaculate finish associated with F1's new circuits - just think of the polished gleam of Abu Dhabi - is still a long, long way off.

"It is a building site," circuit designer Hermann Tilke told BBC Sport. "Yes, that is the situation here.

"We were much behind schedule and the last months and weeks were very tough for everybody.

"In the beginning, it was very swampy land and it needed more than a year to drain. Then the monsoons in the last few years were really long and unexpected and it was not possible to work."

A group of five of us walked the three-and-a-half mile track as dusk fell on Wednesday evening.

Silhouetted under floodlights, teams of workers, including military personnel in fatigues, were working hard to finish grandstands around the circuit.

"They will continue improving it until Sunday," added Tilke, F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone's designated track architect, who is in the process of planning new circuits in India, the USA and Russia.

"Around 1,000 people are working all over the circuit. They have to because there are some important parts for the spectators that they must finish."

There has, however, been plenty of positive progress since construction began three years ago.

The creamy-grey main grandstand, which can seat up to 15,000 fans, stands proudly along the pit straight.

The square pit and paddock buildings are huge - so big that most teams are only paying to use one floor of the two storeys on offer - and the media centre is spacious and clean with very friendly staff.

And the all-important track? Well, the final layer of asphalt went down two weeks ago and Tilke agreed the newness of the circuit could have real consequences for Sunday's race.

"Yes, it will have," said the German designer. "It will be very slippery, there won't be much grip and it will change a lot during the weekend.

"The racing line will be fine but normally it needs traffic and more time to find the right grip."

The circuit may be unfinished and untested but this maiden voyage to South Korea is an adventure which the F1 community and fans are all sharing in - and there is still plenty to look forward to.


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