The Korean Grand Prix from a tire point of view
Pirelli heads straight to Korea from Japan for the second long-haul back-to-back race of the season, following Malaysia and China at the start of the year.
The tight confines of the Yeongam circuit located in Mokpo - 250 miles to the south of Seoul - present a stark contrast to the flowing profile of Suzuka. But despite the severity of the circuit, Pirelli is bringing one of its most bold tire choices yet: P Zero Yellow soft and P Zero Red supersoft. These tires will face an exceptionally tough challenge at the Korean circuit, which was new to the Formula One calendar last year. There are several low-speed and technical corners, as well as some faster bends, which require the tires and the car set-up to be extremely versatile.
In its second year of use, the surface asphalt in Korea is also likely to have worn away, exposing the aggregate in its full sharpness before the stones have worn down. This will lead to an abrasive surface, which accelerates tire wear – particularly as there are a number of places on the track that require optimal traction.
The fast corners mean that Korea has the highest lateral loading of all the circuits where the soft and supersoft combination has been used: Monaco, Hungary, Canada and Singapore.
Just like Canada, Yeongam is a semi-permanent track; the section that runs alongside the harbor will utilize normal roads. This means that there are variable levels of grip that will affect the set-up. The long straight before the first proper sequence of corners does not help the tires to warm up effectively, and when they are suddenly subjected to severe bends when cold, the risk of cold tearing and graining is increased.
The weather in Korea is another important variable, with Mokpo’s coastal location making it susceptible to frequent isolated rainstorms. Last year the start was delayed and the race then interrupted for 45 minutes due to a downpour.
“Korea presents the supersoft tires in particular with their toughest test of the year, but with the championship decided this is a valuable opportunity for us to try out some alternative nominations in order to have some more information for next year,” said Paul Hembery, Pirelli’s Motorsport Director. “Because of the abrasive surface and comparatively high lateral loading in Korea we might expect a higher number of pit stops than usual from the drivers basing their strategies around the softer tire. Some may prefer to concentrate on the harder compound, so it’s going to be another very interesting race tactically. But all this speculation could come to nothing if it rains, which is quite possible too. Whatever happens, historically it will be an important event for us as it’s the first race we come to with a Pirelli-equipped Formula One world champion for more than 50 years.”
“Korea is an interesting track in that you go from one sector with large run off areas to another that’s more like a street circuit, with close walls and no margin for error,” said driver Heikki Kovalainen (Team Lotus). “Maximizing outright pace is pretty critical as the long straight out of Turn 2 with the very tight right at the end is a good chance to overtake, but then the rest of the lap is a mix of low and medium speed corners so we have to find a balance that gives us the best of both worlds. “One obvious difference to a lot of the circuits is the fact that it’s anti-clockwise,” Kovalainen continued. “That doesn’t really affect the set-up but it can have an effect on some of the drivers. We all train our neck muscles to cope with the demands of racing, but as most of the tracks run clockwise we have to work a bit harder on making sure we don’t have any problems, like you can do through the triple left-hander of Turn 8. “From a tire perspective I think it might be similar to Japan. We have the softs and the supersofts and as degradation is high in Korea, particularly from Turn 10 to Turn 17, I think strategy and tire wear will play a critical role. Last year it was obviously soaking so we didn’t see the tire strategies play out, but I think if it’s dry this year we will, and it’ll make for a fascinating race,” he concluded.
• The set-up for Korea is not dissimilar to the one used in Japan, with quite high levels of downforce. Getting good turn-in, balance, and traction is vital, particularly for the slower and more technical corners towards the end of the lap where the most time can be gained and lost.
• While the downforce pushes the car and tires onto the track with up to 1764 pounds of force per wheel, the surface can be quite slippery; particularly at the start of the weekend as the circuit has not been used extensively since last year. When the surface is slippery the car slides more, consequently increasing tire wear. This will be a significant factor on Friday especially.
• As a rough guide, the cars are expected to be on full throttle for around 53% of the lap and the brakes for 20% of the lap in Korea. The average speed will be in the region of 121mph while the top speed is approximately 195mph. The fastest corner is taken at 146mph, the slowest at around 40mph.