Home  //  Circuit Guides Formula 1 Not on the current F1 calendar Korea (Yeongam)
Written by @Damien_Marquez   
Tuesday, 31 January 2012 00:00

Why go?

Korea is a fairly new destination as far as Grand Prix racing is concerned, which will appeal to those looking for something different from the more 'western style' events.

The inaugural race started with a huge amount of confidence from the organisers despite the Korea International Circuit (KIC) putting finishing touches to its top-notch facilities (the paddock especially) up until the start of the weekend.

The bad publicity it received in the press in 2011 was more to do with lack of decent accommodation and efficient transport which had a knock on effect on spectator numbers. In addition, there were little sign of improvements (or any activity) from the previous year. However, with the grandstands estimated as being only 40% full*, it allows you to move around and watch the action from several spots (allowing for usher leniency).

The low attendance figures also increase your chances to take part in the pit walk on Friday and Saturday (only available to 1000 ticket holders) or to attend the driver autograph sessions. Think of this grand prix as China minus the red tape.

So far, the circuit has produced two exciting F1 races and its design has provided drivers with real passing opportunities, mostly at turns 1, 3 and 4.

Main Grandstand (Image: Sauber Motorsport AG)


1. Location and accommodation
2. Money matters
3. Ticket prices
4. Which grandstand to choose
5. How spectators rate the event
6. GrandPrixAdvisor fixes for 2012
7. Tips & recommendations
8. Useful websites to prepare your Korean trip


1. Location and accommodation

The circuit is located in Yeongam, near the small city of Mokpo. Unlike Melbourne, Montreal, Singapore or even Sao Paulo, the KIC is situated far away from the main international airports in Seoul-Incheon and Busan. There is a high-speed rail link (KTX) between Seoul and Mokpo which takes 3 hours and 20 minutes. Add a couple of bus trips to the circuit and it is too long a commute to base yourself in Seoul.

The original plan was to build a city in and around the track but this is now on hold as the region loses around $50m per year of hosting the event. The KIC has a contract to run the race up until 2016, and world economy permitting, the resort, marina and city might surface by then.

Mokpo is rather small and some F1 team personnel actually base themselves further afield in Gwangju (Korea's 6th largest city - 1.4m inhabitants compared to Mokpo's 250,000) which is situated 60 minutes away by bus (e.g. Kumho Buslines) from Mokpo.

Gwangju is probably better suited to welcoming F1 visitors as far as comfort and tourism is concerned since most of the accommodation on offer in Mokpo tends to be either budget or love motels.

It is worth noting there was a rock concert in Mokpo in 2011 coinciding with the F1 event, so check your priorities. The KIC is only 30 minutes away from the Mokpo bus terminal.

Online reservation of hotels in English is quite challenging and you may defer your decision to book accommodation on arrival. One of the hotels that can be booked in advance in English is the Holiday Inn in Gwangju, where some of the Williams F1 Team stayed in 2011. Unfortunately, it is already fully booked for 2012 so make your move fast if considering this GP for 2013. Same story for the Hyundai hotel in Mokpo.

The main online outlets (Expedia, etc) return no rooms available for 2012.

Gootickets.com have some rooms left ranging from $240 for 2 nights. Otherwise, check the organiser's accommodation guide: koreangp.kr/html2012/en/travel/accommodation.jsp.


2. Money matters

Return airfares to Seoul from:
- London $1000 / £700 / €800
- Frankfurt $1100 / £800 / €900
- Singapore $900 / £600 / €700
- Tokyo $800 / £500 / €600
- Sydney $1500 / £1000 / €1200
The above prices for economy class direct flights only. You can save up to $200 / £130 / €160 by adding one stop.

KTX services (high-speed rail) from Seoul to Gwangju (return fares):
- Standard class $70 / £40 / €50
- 1st class $100 / £70 / €80
- Add $10 / £7 / €8 if travelling to Mokpo.
There are no direct trains. Alight for 10 or 20 minutes at either Cheonan-Asan or Gwangmyeong to change trains. If you are staying in the country for a few days, it may also be worth investigating in a KR Pass. For more info and to purchase tickets online, visit  korail.com.

The journey from Gwangju to Mokpo costs $4 / £2.5 / €3 (www.kumhobuslines.co.kr/ in Korean only) and shuttles between Mokpo and the KIC are free. There is also a direct bus from Gwangju to the track at a cost of $8 / £5 / €6 approximately. The buses bring you to grandstand D. From there a free internal shuttle loops and stops at grandstands A, D, G and I-b. (Check the map below.)

Coming from the Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka?

There are direct flights from Nagoya to Seoul ($300 / £200 / €250 one-way). There is also a high-speed rail and ferry scenic trip that can work out cheaper than a flight.
a) Take the Shinkansen (Hikari services only) from Nagoya to Hakata (Fukuoka). The journey takes under three and a half hours and costs about $250 / £170 / €200 which you don't need to pay if you already hold a $350 / £250 / €300 seven-day Japan Rail Pass (www.japantravel.com.au/Rail-Pass-Details.asp?RailPassID=39).
b) Ferry across the Korean Strait to reach Busan in under 3 hours, using the JR Kyushu Jet Ferry's Beetle2 (www.jrbeetle.co.jp/english/ - $170 one-way). If you speak or read Korean or Japanese, there are other services available (overnight included) from as far back as Osaka (http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/GK/GK_EN_2_3_1.jsp).
c) From Busan, take the KTX to Gwangju (change in Osong). The journey takes 4 hours and 50 minutes and costs $60 / £40 / €50. There are no KTX services between Busan and Mokpo (only a regular train which takes over seven hours) and no air alternative as all flights from Busan go to Seoul.

Accommodation (average for 3 nights): $700 / £500 / €600.

Food and drinks (average for 3 days): $150 / £100 / €120.

Left to right: Grandstands B and A (Image: MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula One Team)


3. Ticket prices

New for 2012, and very reasonably priced, are Friday only tickets.

A 30% discount applies for purchases made before the 30th April and expect a 10% discount for transactions made between the 1st May and the 31st May.

The prices below have been rounded up to the nearest $50 / £50 / €50 (prior to any discount) except for Friday.

Weekend tickets:
- $800 / £550 / €650 Upper and Lower Main Grandstands (covered)
- $550 / £350 / €450 grandstand A
- $200 / £150 / €200 all others grandstands

Sunday tickets:
- $650 / £450 / €550 Upper and Lower Main Grandstands (covered)
- $450 / £300 / €350 grandstand A
- $150 / £100 / €100 all others grandstands

Saturday tickets:
- $400 / £250 / €300 Upper and Lower Main Grandstands (covered)
- $250 / £150 / €200 grandstand A
- $100 / £50 / €50 all other grandstands

Friday tickets (rounded up to the nearest $5/£5/€5):
- $20 / £15 / €15 Upper and Lower Main Grandstands (covered)
- $15 / £10 / €10 grandstand A
- $10 / £10 / €10 all other grandstands

There are no general admission tickets issued for the F1 Korean GP.

Korean GP map
(Image: Interpark Ticket)

4. Which grandstand to choose?

First, let's start with good news for anyone wanting to take some pictures or video footage. Most, if not all grandstand platforms are elevated enough to provide views above the security fence. Obviously, the higher you sit, the less likely you are to have the safety fence in your pictures.

GrandPrixAdvisor's order of preference:

01/ Grandstand G for the ability to watch cars for up to 40 seconds.
02/ Grandstand A for a good view of the start/finish, pit lane exit and overtaking in Turns 1-2.
03/ Grandstand D to watch the action closely as the cars go through the slow corners of Turns 4-6.
04/ Grandstand F
05/ Grandstand C
06/ Grandstand E-a
07/ Grandstand B
08/ Grandstand H-a
09/ Grandstand E-c
10/ Grandstand E-b
11/ Grandstand H-b for Turns 11 and 12, the latter being a slow corner.
12/ Upper Main Grandstand for shelter, grid and pit lane action.
13/ Lower Main Grandstand  if there are no more seats available in the Upper Main Grandstand.
14/ Grandstands I-a, I-b, J-a or J-b if there are no more seats available in H-b.
15/ Grandstand L
(16/ Grandstand M - no longer available)

The above ranking is based on what most people would prefer and it is very much a matter of taste and budget. This is especially true for first timers who tend to favour the main pit straight for pre-race, start/finish, pit lane action and podium celebrations.

As far as the KIC is concerned, there are two key aspects to consider: view and shelter.

Considering the weather over the last couple of years, an Upper Main Grandstand ticket might sound like a wise choice. The Lower Main Grandstand will probably offer some protection from the rain although there is no guarantee this will happen for the front rows (see the roof in the picture above). These stands are great for watching the pit lane, the grid formation, start/finish and podium ceremony for those seating towards the back of the grid.

View of the race is limited to the pit straight. The two large TV screens are well positioned on the top of the pit building and close enough to follow the action around the track.

View from Upper Main Grandstand (Image: Lorenzo Bellanca/LAT Photographic for Williams F1)

If you don't mind packing a poncho, then you probably want a seat in Grandstand G. It offers views of of cars from the end long back straight into Turn 3 (an overtaking spot), and the sweeping Turns 7, 8, 9, and 10. With binoculars, it is also possible to follow drivers in Turns 4, 5, 14 and 15. From this grandstand, you can follow a Formula 1 car for up to 45 seconds a lap. Two large TV screens are shared with grandstands F and H-a.

Grandstand F provides similar views for seats located closer to Grandstand G. Towards Grandstand E-c on the left, not only will the view of Turns 4, 5 and 6 will be obstructed by grandstands E-a and E-b but the only TV screen angled towards you is the one facing Grandstand G, which will be too far to be of any use.

Grandstand A is facing the start/finish, just like the TV cameras. It is also ideal for any overtaking happening in Turns 1 and 2, as well as a view of the pit lane exit.

View from Grandstand A (Image: Steven Tee/LAT Photographic for Williams F1)

Grandstands B, to the right, only offers views of the pit lane exit, Turns 1 and 2 as well as the start of the back straight. Hint: a professional photographer from Sutton Images was spotted on one of the top rows in 2011.

There is a large TV screen for grandstands A and B located just behind the Main Grandstands which most spectators in Grandstand L will not be able to watch. This might explain the low number of spectators there (see Sunday race image below).

Grandstand L (Image: Glenn Dunbar/LAT Photographic for Williams F1)

Grandstand D is located at Turn 6 and gives a good view of Turns 4 (an overtaking spot), 5 and 6. From there, a driver can be followed for about 15 seconds. As a reminder, this grandstand is the drop-off point for both internal shuttle and buses to Gwangju.

Grandstand C looks at the same corners (although looking at the rear end of the cars) and also gets a glimpse of the cars between Turns 8 and 9 (with binoculars that is). From these seats, a car can be followed for up to 20 seconds.

Both grandstands C and D have a large TV screen conveniently positioned. Should there be no more seats available at either grandstand, Grandstand E-a is a good alternative in a cheaper price band. It also has its dedicated TV screen.

Grandstand D (Image: Sauber Motorsport AG)

If grandstands G and F are fully booked, then choose grandstands H-a, E-c or E-b. All have TV screens available, albeit E-b shares that of E-c.

At Turns 11-12, better views can be found in Grandstand H-b (see image below) where some seats allow views of Turns 14-15. Grandstands  I-a, I-b, J-a and J-b are more or less equivalent.

Grandstands L and M only offered a brief view of the cars, the latter being no longer available for 2012.


5. How spectators rate the event

Two reviewers have rated their Korean GP experience as good. Here is the detail:
- Ease of transportation to and from the track - average
- Atmosphere - average
- Program / schedule - not that great
- View of track action from seat - good
- View of TV screen from seat - good
- Quality of commentary (from track PA/radio) - average
- Availability of current season merchandise - average
- Quality of facilities/amenities - good
- Quality of food -  not that great
- Quality of beverages -  not that great
- Value for money - average
In essence, a good circuit but the overall experience is more akin to GP2 or F3 meetings, just a bit louder.

2011 Saturday track action: too many empty seats. Grandstand H-b (Image: MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula One Team)


6. GrandPrixAdvisor fixes for 2012

Having no local driver to cheer for (and none in the pipeline either), nor a strong history in motor sport, it makes sense to promote the F1 Korean GP in mature markets which understand Formula 1. European, Japanese, Brazilian or Australian visitors can instill their passion and knowledge to the locals as well as provide well needed tourism revenue to the region, so as to offset the cost of hosting such an expensive event.

Boost ticket sales by offering packages inclusive of accommodation. Whilst there is no shortage of hotel rooms in Korea, yogwans (love motels) are not what most foreigners travelling to the grand prix will be expecting. Business and functional hotels will be fine but lack the glamour of the sport. More must be done to change the image of the event.

Encourage foreign journalists and ticket holders to stay in Gwangju rather than Mokpo. Being a much larger city, it is better equipped to meet their shopping, culture or entertainment needs and will help to put a more positive twist on the weekend. Kuala Lumpur manages this quite well with its track located some 60 kilometres away by organising adequate transport to and from the circuit.

Only hand out free (or heavily discounted) tickets for Friday and Saturday to generate a buzz amongst the locals and satisfy their curiosity. Ticket prices for this grand prix are more expensive than the norm. As such, a disparity in prices will only help to create dissonance and tarnish the image of the event in the long term.

Offer three-day grandstand combinations. This will help to further drive the demand for tickets.

Encourage couples or groups of friends to all tag along by organising off-track events with DJs or K-pop artists performing during the weekend.

Impose a ban on the use of umbrellas in the grandstands as they block the view of fellow spectators and ensure there are enough ponchos for sale behind all grandstands.

Clockwise: Lower Main Grandstand, Grandstand A, Grandstand L and Pit building (Image: Sauber Motorsport AG)


7. Tips & recommendations

If organising tickets, transport and accommodation is too much of a hassle and you don't mind missing out on Friday free practices 1 and 2, then Waegook Travel organises a coach trip from Seoul leaving early on Saturday morning and returning after the race. Go to waegooktravel.com/f1bookings.htm for more information.

Whilst there are plenty of large TV screens and commentary provided in both Korean and English, it is advisable to rent a FanVision unit to avoid the disappointment of not understanding the action.

Temperatures vary between 16 and 23 degrees Celsius. Humidity can go up to 80%.


8. Useful websites for your Korean trip

koreangp.kr/html2012/en/koreangp/overview.jsp (Korean GP official site in English)
ticket.auction.co.kr/Home/F1Korean/F1EnglistInfo.aspx (official ticketing agent - some knowledge of Korean required to purchase tickets)
gpt.at/en/formula1/korea.html (Grand Prix Tickets by Christoph Ammann)
korean-grand-prix.com/en/2162-korea (tickets and accommodation - GooTickets.com)
korail.com (train tickets)
koreangp.kr/html2012/en/travel/accommodation.jsp (accommodation)
fanvision.com/f1 (portable TV units with choice of on-board cameras, BBC 5 Live or Sky commentary and statistics) Watch our interview for more details.
waegooktravel.com/f1bookings.htm (organised travel)


Finally, we would like to thank the following contributors for their help with this circuit guide:
- Lionel Ng (lioneldudephotography.com)
- John Jones (plus.google.com/116681991706444622421)
- Donie Walker (Donie Sofieyanto)


* Out of a total 120,000 seats, there were officially 70,000 occupied on Saturday and 80,000 on race day. Dieter Rencken reported on plus.autosport.com that the actual headcount was about half that. So even with two grandstands closed (15,000 seats) that would be 40,000 seats used out of 105,000.


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