F1 Grand Prix returns at a critical stage

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F1 Grand Prix returns at a critical stage

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Mechanics conduct final checks yesterday on the tires to be used during the Formula One Korean Grand Prix that kicks off its three-day run at the Korea International Circuit in Yeongam, South Jeolla, today. [NEWSIS]


Formula One is back. And Korea’s third race is set to be the most important Grand Prix the peninsula has ever hosted.

German Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull Racing-Renault is now only four points away from Spaniard Fernando Alonso of Ferrari, who leads in points, and the Korean Grand Prix could be a potential champion decider or at least a game-changer when they start their engines this weekend.

Alonso won the first-ever Korean Grand Prix in 2010 while Vettel took the checkered flag last year. There are only four other races left in the Formula One season.

The 2012 Korean Grand Prix will begin with two practice runs today in Yeongam, South Jeolla, 380 kilometers (236 miles) south of Seoul. After one more practice session and the ensuing qualifying round on Saturday, Sunday’s 24-car, 55-lap race will take place in front of fans at the 5.615-kilometer-long Korea International Circuit.

Vettel, 25, has shown consistent strength in Asia. He enters the Korean event with two straight victories in Suzuka, Japan, last Sunday and Singapore on Sept. 23. He is the only racer along with Alonso and fourth-place Lewis Hamilton to win three times during the season. He is the first to record back-to-back wins this year.

The 31-year-old Spaniard, once seemingly an invincible leader, crashed his car on the first turn in Japan, his second retirement in the last five events. That leaves him at 194 points while Vettel has quickly moved up to 190, within the striking distance.

The winner of each event receives 25 points, while the runner-up earns 18 points. The rest of the top-10 finishers are awarded 15 points, 12 points, 10 points, 8 points, 6 points, 4 points, 2 points and one point, in that order. Alonso secured 0 points in Japan after the crash.

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Sebastian Vettel

Lewis Hamilton of McLaren, who finished runner-up in Korea both last year and in 2010, is also seeking another strong outing in Yeongam to continue building his momentum. The 27-year-old Briton moved up by one notch from fifth in the standings after a fifth-place finish in Japan and is chasing third-place Kimi Raikkonen by five points.

The Finnish driver at Lotus-Renault has earned 157 points while Hamilton stands at 152.

The legendary racer Michael Schumacher of Mercedes will have his swan song performance at Yeongam. The 43-year-old German, who holds seven titles under his name, announced plans of a second retirement at the end of the season. With an 11th-place finish in Japan, he is placed 13th with 43 points. He crashed in Yeongam last year.

The third Korean Grand Prix will also go down in Formula One history as a venue that features as many as six title holders at the same time, including Schumacher, Alonso (two-time champion), Vettel (two-time), Raikkonen (one-time), Hamilton (one-time) and Button (one-time).

Formula One, one of the world’s three biggest sporting events along with the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup, has drawn 600 million viewers annually, according to the event organizers.

The Korean Grand Prix last year attracted 64,000 spectators to the qualifiers on Saturday and 85,000 people to the final race on Sunday.

To attract more visitors to the third event, the Korean organizers said they have improved traffic, accommodations and facilities.

For accommodations, organizers said they secured 42,000 rooms, which they said will cover 160 percent of the estimated number of visitors needing the lodging: 48,000.

The public transportation options to reach to the venue have also been augmented, including the KTX bullet-train, airplanes and express buses.

The prices of the daily tickets have been cut with the cheapest tickets available at 10,000 won ($9) for a practice run today, 80,000 won for tomorrow and 120,000 won for Sunday. The three-day pass is priced at 600,000 won for general seats in the grand stand and 890,000 won for premier seats.

“Based on hosting experiences the two previous times, we have thoroughly prepared for the event this year,” said Park Joon-yung, the South Jeolla governor who chairs the Korean Grand Prix organizing committee. “People will experience electrifying speed and charm at a world-class level at the best-equipped circuit.”

Meanwhile, Korean singer Psy, who has become a global celebrity for his “Gangnam Style” horse-trotting dance, will wave the checkered flag during Sunday’s final, according to the organizers.

The 34-year-old singer is also scheduled to perform a concert after the race.

By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]

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