Counting Down to Korea's Inaugural Formula One Grand Prix

      October 06, 2010 10:29

      After World War II, the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile elevated the status of motor racing from a European event to a global sporting competition and held its first match at England's Silverstone Circuit in 1950. An air base that served British fighter planes during the war was turned into a race track. Under the FIA's strict rules the cars had to comply with a single formula, resulting in the term "Formula One."

      Formula One, the world's premier auto racing series, is considered among the top three global sporting events along with the Olympics and the World Cup. F1 racers travel as fast as 350 km/h which is why they are called "machines" rather than simply cars. Each one costs around W10 billion (US$1=W1,131). Races are broadcast in 180 countries around the world drawing some 600 million viewers each season. With corporate sponsorships beginning in 1968, F1 machines soon became billboards on wheels.

      German-born Michael Schumacher is a legend in the sport, having won 91 races and seven World Championship titles between 1994 and 1995 and 2000 to 2004. He made US$80 million a year and was the world's top-earning athlete until Tiger Woods came along. Schumacher retired in 2006 but returned to the race track this year, and is currently ranked 10th overall this season.

      On Sunday the Seoul Metropolitan Government hosted an F1 demonstration on a 550-m stretch of downtown streets. The event was aimed at stirring up interest in Korea's inaugural F1 Grand Prix, set to take place in Yeongam, South Jeolla Province from Oct. 22 to 24. While the event sparked a few complaints over the traffic congestion, some 30,000 spectators were thrilled to see an F1 machine up close. The Renault F1 team raced along the streets at a blistering 300 km/h and even demonstrated some tricks including a doughnut.

      But the future of the Korea Grand Prix is uncertain. The race track is not finished yet, and a circuit inspection by the FIA that should have taken place in July has been postponed until next week. Some foreign media have even suggested that the race may be canceled. That would be not only unacceptable, after so much money has been invested, but internationally embarrassing, considering Korea's status as one of the world's top automakers. All steps must be taken to ensure that the race progresses smoothly and Korea makes a successful debut into the world of F1.

      By Chosun Ilbo columnist Cho Jung-hoon

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