Focus turns to Korea in Formula One title fight

Click to follow

The compelling five-way fight for the Formula One drivers' championship moves to unfamiliar territory this weekend on a barely finished circuit in South Korea.

Australia's Mark Webber goes into the third-last race of the season with a 14-point lead in the standings from his Red Bull teammate Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso.

McLaren pair Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton remain in title contention but badly need strong results this weekend to increase pressure on the leaders.

Before they can start thinking about Sunday's race, all the drivers will be preoccupied with quickly learning the intricacies of the Yeongam circuit.

The circuit, about 400 kilometers (250 miles) south of Seoul, only passed an FIA inspection 10 days before the F1 cars will take to the track for practice on Friday.

That inspection concentrated mostly on the track surface, and pit facilities. However, other aspects such as fan facilities and associated infrastructure will be short of completion for the inaugural event.

Of most potential concern is the lateness of the final layering of track, which only took place in late September. It remains to be seen if the asphalt has baked together firmly enough to avoid problems or whether rain could cause the oil leech to the surface.

"From a driver's perspective the most important thing is that the tarmac lasts," Sauber's Nick Heidfeld said. "If the final layer is laid a short time before, it is generally understood it can be oily which, of course, would be extremely problematic."

The course layout does not appear on paper to suit any of the leading teams in particular. The early part of the lap has the long straights and heavy braking that would tend to suit McLaren, followed by some medium speed corners of the sort that the Red Bulls relish, then a twisty section similar to Singapore, where Alonso thrived.

"It'll reward commitment," Hamilton said. "As long as the track surface is nice and grippy, we're set for an enjoyable first race in Korea.

"We can have a positive race. While recent results haven't necessarily shown it, we've had a strong car. Now I'm hoping to get the chance to prove it on track."

McLaren's relatively poor results in the past two races in Singapore and Japan prompted many to write off the team's championship chances, but team principal Martin Whitmarsh said the team "won't give up without a fight."

"Both drivers have won world championships before," Whitmarsh said. "They understand the difficulties of such a unique situation, and both have learned how to deliver their best under high pressure.

"They will be ready for this battle. And it's a battle that will doubtless be won by consistency."

Webber learned the value of consistency in Japan, where he never threatened Vettel, yet by finishing ahead of Alonso, he managed to eke out his championship lead by three more points.

The Red Bull driver said he must chase victories in the remaining races, even if a more prudent approach might be instead to concentrate on accumulating points finishes rather than taking risks.

"I can't think like that, it won't be enough," Webber was quoted as saying by the BBC. "I need to keep racing hard and going for victories. I need to win again, and I am very confident I can do that.

"If my rivals have a rough weekend it makes it a bit harder for them and it gives me a bit more scope, but I'm not looking to abuse that because it can all go pear shaped very fast."