Photos and writing by K. McGregor
On Sunday, October 24, the greatly anticipated, first Korean F1 race took place near the fishing village of Mokpo. As with anything that is done for the first time, one comes to expect teething problems and the Korean F1 did have its problems. In September, the track was 90% complete, and some F1 watchers on Web discussion boards wondered openly if the race would happen at all. They weren’t the only ones who wondered as the F1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone expressed doubts about whether the site would be ready in time.
Thankfully it did, but at the cost of incomplete and rickety stands, as I can attest from personal experience. The cheap seats J stand ticket holders got bounced to E to H, and there we got the news to sit anywhere we wanted, who the hell cares. (At this point the fans didn’t, we were just thankful the stands with the bolts and the washers scattered around, weren’t a sign these structures were near collapse.) The humor amidst some of the foreigners was decidedly dark. A few of the foreigners actually picked up the screws littering the stands, and joked they’ d have them framed with the caption, “I survived the Korean F1.” There was another who asked “do you think any bodies are buried under the metal planks beneath the stands?”
We who had trudged under rainy skies to a raceway with muddy, gravel parking lots, consoled ourselves with overpriced beer (6,000 won a bottle) and bought the hawked rain jackets sold by the local Korean grandmothers. Watching the first race on the water slicked track, the results were predictable: the spin outs on the curves and the car totaling accidents, this raceway wanted sacrifices, if not in blood, in car parts. A number of the fans loved each wheel-popping, fender-busting accident.
Slower accidents were those of the free cigarettes being given away by Korean racing models in booths around the track to Korean citizens. No pictures of this form of tobacco sponsorship allowed. Why not? Doesn’t everyone want to see pictures of a sexy model next to a pack of Marlboros?
Misery loves company it would seem and even though the numbers were down from the estimate of 120,000—a few figures banded around were that of 75,000—there was a soggy and sapped assemblage by the end of the race as darkness closed in and few lights fought it off. Lower numbers probably weren’t because of the ambiance of Mokpo easily accessible by KTX, but could have been due to hotel infrastructure for large world events (a few tourists groused on the lack of 5 star hotels). Still there is hope that given a year, the Korean F1 race will be a world class event worth attending.
One lives in hope.
Saturday night, a group from Singapore involved with a sailing race at the same time complained of the lack of quality hotels. They also mentioned 300,000 were expected for the weekend, a number accented by the use of their hands. Where would they put them? Reading ESPN, you find reporters and mechanics working the F1 had to stay in local love hotels, a sign that this was not the perfect race event. (I stayed in a old style Korean hotel, five minutes walk from the train station, slept on the vip floor with matts, all for 70,000 won.) The bad news continues with Sporting Life on Korea starting with the subject title, F1 loses its glamour, and goes on to say Korean officials promise to do better next year.
Good news is that a racing fan who attended this year can get a discount for the next race. Let’s hope there won’t be a need for metal boards laid down on mud, nor being stuck in traffic grid lock and people according to Serkan who were let into the race by the staff for free. There was as well the noted lack of etiquette by Amad, the Koreans that refused to sit down and blocked people’s view of the race (these I can personally confirm). For the latter I just moved to another part of the stands to get the pictures I wanted.
Getting to Mokpo I decided to be old fashioned and took the train at a relatively inexpensive 24,000 won. The departure from the race that was the pricey KTX which cost close to 44,000 won, but well worth the money in terms of comfort.